As of now, she's officially installed at Dundee Rep and actively at the artistic helm of Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT). She's relocated from London, lock stock and family, and is wholeheartedly relishing the shift that was done and dusted in late summer. As for the recent arrival, he's a mere 12 weeks old when we meet and is her third son (Darkin and her husband already have two boys aged three and five). Any of these events would present mental and physical challenges. But all three at once?
Radical change seems to suit her, however. She breezes into Tramway, where she's meeting Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet's new artistic director, to talk through possible tie-ups between their organisations, and her enthusiasm for SDT is sparked through with a vivid appreciation of the countryside that's now on her doorstep.
No more to-ing and fro-ing across London; Darkin laughs with delight at the thought. Yes, she's had great experiences as a guest choreographer working with both theatre and dance companies, Edinburgh's Grid Iron and the Traverse among them. And running her own Darkin Ensemble has not only helped shape her as an artist, it's also prepared her for this next career step – even giving her a taste for what she calls "the entrepreneurial side of things". Planning, fund-raising, commissioning and networking entail hours behind a desk or on the phone, alongside face-to-face meetings like this one at Scottish Ballet, but that past is another country now, and Darkin seems too attuned to future possibilities to favour living in the past.
She doesn't actually say: "Bring it on!" but her whole demeanour underlines the intensity of her commitment to Scottish Dance Theatre. "What a gift this job is," she says at one point. "Every day, I wake up, and I still can't believe that I'm here. Not just at SDT, but living and working in a place that is so beautiful. When you walk into our studio at the Rep, you can look out and see landscape and it's inspirational. After 10 years in London – where we always seemed to be commuting, always juggling time, negotiating our existence day by day – just being somewhere you can be still and concentrate all your energies on dance -"
Darkin views her role at SDT as a way of channelling all that she's learned from her time operating in the independent sector. "You have to see the opportunities you're given, or search them out," she says. "You can't expect chances to drop into your lap. Above all, you can't allow yourself to get bitter when it gets tough, and it can get very tough."
You realise that Darkin doesn't regard dance as a nine-to-five kind of job. It's her way of life, and more than once she refers to it as a vocation. "When art points its finger at you – that's it," she says. "You're chosen. And once you realise that your art is what makes your heart sing, you have to keep faith with it. It's going to drag you to your knees, make you question everything, including yourself. But what else would you want to do? I think the secret to it is keeping an open heart, but be prepared to do whatever it takes to follow that vocation, that call."
Move country when you're about to give birth? "Oh, absolutely!" And the gloriously throaty chuckles bubble over again, because Darkin is so palpably thrilled with her situation. "SDT is now, utterly, 'my' company. Not in the sense that it's a 'Fleur Darkin machine'. But it's getting all my love, my heart, my ideas. Everything. I don't think there's any other company like it in the UK. It has this amazing symbolic status because of what it represents in terms of location – not just in Dundee, but as part of the theatre there – and in terms of the conditions it offers dancers, the work that comes out of that.
"I do have, now, a very real sense of responsibility because of that: a responsibility to the city I'm now in, to the country and also to the people, like Janet Smith and Royston Maldoom, who made SDT the amazing company I've just inherited. It's for me to build on all that. I'm hoping to make not just Dundee, but Scotland, a place where artists come to make work – where, like me, they respond to the soul that is in the land and the people here, and find it inspires them to be ambitious and creative. Well, why can't Dundee be Wuppertal?"
That German town wasn't on any dance map until Pina Bausch located her company there, and now, even after Bausch's death, Wuppertal is in the global dance lingo as shorthand for a certain kind of excellence. But, as Darkin says, why not? Her own influences on SDT will probably be seen on stage next summer, although she has already set an existing work for children, Innocence (about William Blake), on the dancers and hopes that it will "tour and tour".
"But really, it's part of getting to know them. They've been in India – how's that for international profile? – and now they'll be on stage at the Rep and on tour with two repertoire pieces, Dog and Luxuria. The spring double bill of new work by Jo Stromgren and Victor Quijada was in place before I arrived, but again this gives me a chance to witness how the company works. I have such a passion, an ambition, to enable artists – new and established – to try out their ideas with us, to bring in new audiences at home and abroad, and to involve people, young and old, in what we do. That's my starting point. The possibilities are immense, just mind-blowing."
Scottish Dance Theatre perform Dog and Luxuria at Dundee Rep tonight
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