With her focus split across different areas, Yarit Dor tells Rosemary Waugh why ‘movement practitioner’ is the term that best describes her work and says dual crediting is a big step for intimacy direction on stage
Yarit Dor is an expert multitasker. The 35-year-old splits her work between being a movement director, a fight director and an intimacy director. “I don’t like to be boxed in,” she says. “From the get-go I didn’t want to block myself off as just a movement director, or just a fight director, or just an intimacy director… I didn’t want to drop any of those balls.” If anything, she suggests “movement practitioner” would be an adequate term to encapsulate her work. Her interest lies in “physical storytelling”, whether in the moments when the stakes are highest – as with a fight scene – or in the subtlest additions to an actor’s movements during a monologue.
The three roles are mutually supportive and come under what she calls the “movement umbrella”. Indeed, for the transfer of the Young Vic’s Death of a Salesman to the Piccadilly Theatre, Dor is both fight and intimacy director, marking the first time a creative has been dual-credited as such for a West End show.
The dual crediting is important, she says. “I think it’s a big step for intimacy in the UK. So it’s not inherently: ‘Oh that’s just what a movement director does’ or ‘I’ll just have my fight director have a quick look at this simulated sex non-consensual action’.”
What was your first professional theatre job?
Working as assistant director to Antonia Doggett on A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh at the White Bear Theatre in 2008. That was the first time I had an encounter with McDonagh’s plays. I found it hilarious and deadly at the same time.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
There is no ‘right way’. The path is not always: training, getting the first job, getting noticed, getting an agent and then getting more jobs. If you have many interests, it’s okay not to fit the agreed way of doing things.
Who or what is your biggest influence?
I like a mixture of installation art and films that are very visual, even animation…there’s the amazing show now at the Tate. Olafur Eliasson is amazing. The stuff that he said, and how he frames things it’s just… I like his installations because they give you an experience.
If you hadn’t been a movement/fight/intimacy director, what would you have been?
I would probably go into the prop-making or set-making department. In a theatre environment, that’s the place I like to go and just stare at what they do, because I find their work fascinating. They create fantasy that comes out of a pair of hands and a couple materials. The stuff they make, and the way they make you feel like you’re in this space or a different world, is phenomenal.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
Sometimes I find myself going to sit in the balconies of the theatre way before tech begins, like on the first day of tech. I do believe there is this kind of ‘tech spirit’ that unless you kind of clean out, sometimes stays there. I admit that before the first performance of Hamlet with Michelle Terry, I did go and talk to the swords.
Dor is a co-founder of Intimacy Directors International UK, a network of intimacy directors and coordinators promoting and providing intimacy support on stage and screen. ‘Intimacy’, in their definition, extends to more than just simulated sex and nudity. It can also include, for example, intimacy between friends and intimacy between parents and children.
“It’s almost like if you had a health and safety grid, your nudity and simulated sex would be in the red zone,” Dor says. However, seemingly small actions are also worthy of attention. “We inherently think a kiss is really simple but it’s actually something that connects people the most, because it’s a transfer of saliva. A kiss tells so much of a story: Who initiates? Why do they initiate? What do they want? Where are they going with it? There are so many options there.”
Ultimately though, she sees intimacy direction as “a health and safety role”. This, interestingly, is what she also labels a fight director. To Dor, it’s no surprise that intimacy direction as a recognised role was first introduced to the US by professionals with previous experience in stage combat. Safety, above all, is inherent in how a fight director works: “The first thing is reassuring [the actors] that it is safe, that this is how safely you can do this, this is how safely you can get there.”
That said, there are aspects of intimacy direction Dor hopes to see introduced to fight direction in the near future. She describes this as the “mental health and wellness side”, adding: “We assume actors will be triggered by certain intimacy moments, whether it’s nudity, simulated sex or much lighter moments of intimacy, but as a fight director or a stage combat teacher, I’ve met a lot of actors who have pulled me to the side and said: ‘I just want you to know this and this and this’ regarding certain violent actions they’d prefer not to engage in because they are fearful it makes them react in a certain way.”
Performing fights or violence requires actors to get in touch with a part of their psyches they might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, making support paramount. “It’s that question of how do you take an actor to perform an act of such a dark nature and make sure they’re all right the moment they exit it?”
A split focus across different areas of expertise was also a feature of Dor’s training and earlier career. Having originally trained as a dancer, she first worked in the UK as a dancer and dramaturg for Hagit Yakira Dance Company. Following this, she went on to complete a MA in theatre practice (directing pathway) at Rose Bruford, before doing a two-year Jacques Lecoq-devised physical theatre course at the London International School of Performing Arts.
She is also a certified stage combat teacher with the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat, and a Pilates teacher.
Dor knew early on that she didn’t want to be a career dancer, and instead felt drawn towards choreography or a similar job. Currently, along with Death of a Salesman, she’s working as fight director for the National Youth Theatre’s Great Expectations, and on a number of onscreen projects for HBO, Amazon, Starz and Netflix.
“This is going to sound quite cheesy, but I was born to support another person rather than to be the person on the stage being supported by other people,” Dor says.
Before settling on her current path, she explored becoming a director and considered choreographing works to be performed in galleries as part of installation artworks.
There have, though, been some constants. Shakespeare is a recurrent feature on her credit list, including three seasons at the Globe under Michelle Terry, the same theatre she once volunteered at as a steward. “I like plays that have fights in them, not because there are fights but because it means that the level of emotion goes so high that something happens… and I find Shakespeare really understood that.” For example, “What’s interesting is seeing Romeo turn from someone who is willing to shake the hand of his worst enemy” to being a murderer.
‘I was born to support another person rather than to be the person on the stage being supported by other people’
The other recurrence is a focus on collaboration. Dor considers it key to her ‘health and safety’ roles, but also her work as a movement director. It’s rare that she’ll arrive at rehearsal with choreography or movement already fixed. Instead, she prefers to work alongside performers and directors, bouncing ideas back and forth and establishing together the movement direction that works best. For Death of a Salesman, co-directors Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell have this ethos in spades, she says. “I’ve never [worked on] a big production that has such a sense of a company, a family and love. There’s honest to God love in that room, and a lot of respect and listening.”
Making time to listen to each other and find out what everyone needs is at the heart of better intimacy practices. Dor suggests that a previous lack of adequate support when directing intimacy scenes wasn’t down to inherently “malicious” behaviour from directors, but a combination of work pressures and a genuine lack of knowledge – maybe even embarrassment – around how they were meant to handle these moments. Offering a recognised intimacy director or coordinator has been met with relief: “When you talk to a lot of directors some of them just go: ‘Oh, thank fuck someone is there to do this now.’”
The workshops run by Intimacy Directors International UK are attended by a large number of directors, she says, including a noticeable wave of younger practitioners who are especially sensitive to creating a safe environment for actors to work in. She doesn’t, however, want valid concerns about safety to lead to people avoiding intimate scenes on stage: “I do hope playwrights will continue to write intimacy and not shy away from it… because it can be done very well and very safely.”
Training: Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; MA in theatre practice, Rose Bruford; London International School of
Performing Arts – two-year Jacques Lecoq physical theatre programme; Le Jeu and Clown with Philippe Gaulier; BASSC stage combat teacher training; Intimacy Directors International intimacy choreographer’s training and apprenticeship programme; commedia dell’arte training with Fabio Mangolini; intimacy coordination training led by Alicia Rodis (intimacy coordinator at HBO)
• As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe (2018)
• Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe (2018)
• Wild East, Young Vic (2019)
• Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe (2019)
• Death of a Salesman, Young Vic (2019)
• Strange Fruit, Bush Theatre (2019)
• Macbeth, Manchester Royal Exchange (2019)
Agent: Samantha Tooby, Simon and How Associates