What I’ve Learned with HELEN PICKETT

Dance Gazette, Issue 2, 2013, The Magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance

They lyrical American choreographer is in increasing demand. She discusses fear, love and taking responsibility.

• Listening is a huge component of success. A teacher once told me. ‘It’s about keeping your antennae open."

• When I was eight, my mother won tickets to The Nutcracker. She says I was dissatisfied because I thought the ballerina should be on pointe the whole time! On the way home, I found a single pointe shoe in a bin. Maybe that's why my right foot is better…

• I had just turned 19 when William Forsythe came to San Francisco Ballet. He was very hands on - challenging the dancers, asking them questions. I was sitting in the doorway, watching, then he invited me in to try some things. At the end of that week, I realized this was the person I wanted to dance with.

• I spent my whole dancing career with Forsythe at Frankfurt. Improvisation was a constant part of our life. Bill would deconstruct phrases, take them apart and put them together again. Taking apart phrases to make a solo or duet started the idea of structure, reinvention and storytelling.

• It rook me years to realize I was unhappy because I wasn't in the studio. Dance was always my first love, I couldn't live without it.

• I was that dancer who loved rehearsing, so choreography connected to the joy of dance. I was terrified of failure, of course, but all the fortuitous moments in my life are about me saying. 'Yes, I’ll try it.’

• If you are unhappy with what you see from a dancer, it's never the dancer’s fault. It’s your fault. I read something beautiful the other day: 'Ask different questions. Ask better question.'

• As resident choreographer at Atlanta Ballet, I'm proud of being a female choreographer, but really I just love what I do. Why are there still so few women? The only thing I can make sense of is that we're still considered the muse.

• I've been with my husband for 2I years. I try to limit my time away for no more than three weeks, and we Skype twice a day.

• My new quartet for Scottish Ballet is based on Sartre’s play No Exit, with the line ‘Hell is other people.' It's such meaty fodder - spending eternity with people who can never reciprocate your desire. That sounds like hell to me.

• You have to take responsibility, take an active part in you life. Get over right or wrong - just make a decision, and if you don't like it, choose a different way.

Scottish Ballet perform Helen Pickett’s No Exit and Trace at the Edinburgh Festival 16-19 August, 2013.