Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interview: Pamela Stephenson-Connolly

Known for her varied career, Pamela Stephenson-Connolly is currently busy with her brand new dance show entitled Brazouka. She is the writer, lead-producer and “driving force” behind the production. The show is directed by Arlene Phillips and has narration from Pamela’s husband, Billy Connolly.

Following its successful world premiere at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, Brazouka is set to make its London debut at the New Wimbledon Theatre later this month for a limited run between Tuesday 16th and Saturday 20th September 2014. The show will then launch an international tour, visiting South Africa and Australia.

Brazouka stars Brazil's most thrilling new troupe, who introduce the sensational dance language of LambaZouk and other authentic Afro-Brazilian dances in a stunning variety of styles.

Pamela Stephenson-Connolly began her career performing leading stage, film and television roles throughout Australia. In the mid 70’s, Pamela left Australia to study theatre worldwide. After arriving in London she was cast in new BBC topical comedy show Not The Nine O’Clock News. She has appeared in international films and worked as a stand-up comedian. She spent a year starring as Mabel in the West End production of Pirates of Penzance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

After moving to the United States with her husband Billy Connolly, Pamela trained as a psychologist and received her doctorate in 1996. As an author, four million copies of her best-selling biography about her husband were sold worldwide. In 2008 Pamela returned to TV to present Shrink Rap and in 2012 she became a finalist on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing which saw her rediscover her passion for dance. 

I recently spoke to Pamela about the inspirations behind Brazouka, taking her career in a new direction and Brazouka’s international success… 

So let’s start with Strictly Come Dancing. Everybody told you not to do it…
Not just don’t do it… it was more like, “Don’t do it because you will make a total arse of yourself!”

[laughs] …but you did it! Did you ever think Strictly would lead on to you creating your own dance show?
It is a bit weird, but my whole life has been like that. I get these crazy passions for things and they lead me down these unusual paths, which is kind of exciting. It doesn’t always feel like I’m totally in control [laughs]! I had a wonderful time on Strictly and didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep dancing because I had spent all those years without dancing and then rediscovered it and realised how happy it made me. I had to figure out a way to do it!

Sadly you can’t stay on Strictly forever!
You can’t! I looked around and couldn’t find a dance family that I loved. For example with Tango I didn’t like having to sit there waiting for a guy to invite me to dance and the Salsa thing was a bit weird for me because I… [laughs] I had a bit of an incident [laughs] and just had the feeling people would be laughing at me if I went into a Salsa class. I didn’t quite make it out of a floor spin; can you imagine me on the dance floor with people just sort of imitating me all around?! Nothing really gelled and I wanted to feel part of something. 

How did you come across LambaZouk?
Well sort of by accident! It is bursting onto the club scene all around the world. It’s basically what Lambada has developed into – it’s evolved into this new and very contemporary form. It still has some of the basic moves of Lambada, but they started dancing in Brazil to Zouk music from the Caribbean and developed all these different styles. It’s danced in about 51 countries now! 

Why did you fall in love with it?
When I stumbled upon it I immediately loved the dance because I love partner dancing and with LambaZouk there is this wonderful partner connection, it’s amazing with hair flying all over the place, these wonderful head rolls and beautiful undulating hip movements. It’s very sensual and very connected but at the same time it felt very safe and inclusive – women of all shapes and sizes were doing it and could invite the guys to dance. It was just a very nice environment!

Tell me what happened when you found your way to Brazil…
I went to Brazil and saw where it was happening and saw all these styles. I absolutely fell in love with it and also fell in love with Brazilian culture. Then I saw this other dance that I loved called samba de gaffiera. When I started learning these dances and meeting some of the masters of these dances I couldn’t understand why we hadn’t seen them before and why they weren’t already widespread, popular dances. All you see on Strictly and on all these other shows are the same dances over again, but I thought these new dances I was discovering were just as much fun, just as beautiful and just as skilled. I just thought, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to do a show and use these dances’! I started to dream about this idea…

Is this when Arlene Phillips came on board?
Well I had this little workshop in London and invited various people and one of them was Arlene. She came along and immediately got it. She said, “Pamela, I’ve been dancing my whole life and have never seen anything like that!” The guys will steal you on the dance floor – it’s really exciting and fun. We put it together and I started co-creating this show with Arlene and I found a Brazilian story to use with a really interesting background. The story and the event have a lot of different layers, on the one hand there are these 16 amazing dancers who are so beautiful; they are gorgeous, gorgeous dancers and are so skilled! They also dance with incredible passion which really transmits to the audience and brings them to their feet which we discovered when we opened in Scotland. It was amazing to see 800 Scottish people all standing up and moving those Scottish hips to the beat [laughs]!

You were at the Edinburgh Festival in 1981 with your own stand-up show, so what was it like to return this year with your own dance show?!
I didn’t throw up as much this year as I did the first time [laughs]! It was really horrible the first time because I was doing a one-woman show and stand-up for the first time which was terrifying. It’s hard, I mean there’s incredible competition in Edinburgh but we were very lucky to get good word of mouth and had people coming back to see it four times. We want to encourage people to come and see the show in Wimbledon because this is their only opportunity before we go off on the world tour to South Africa and Australia! 

Is the show still evolving?
Well in Edinburgh you can only do a short show and ours was just 75 minutes, so now we’ve added 15 minutes which is what Arlene has been doing in rehearsals since we’ve been in London. It’s very exciting; we’ve now got an interval and this amazing opening number for the beginning of the second act as well as a few treats. It is in very good shape!

What has Arlene been like to work with?
She’s fantastic! She has incredible vision and is very strong. Arlene knows what she wants and commands enormous respect, she’s just incredible! It has not been easy because any new show with a new type of dance, new performers and a new story is always going to be tough. Arlene has never lost faith and has always believed in it. She’s kept up her passion which has been fantastic.

Is this a new direction for you? Have you caught the dance show bug?!
[laughs] Let’s just get through Wimbledon! It’s a joy and I am surrounded by these fabulous dancers! Every now and again they put up with dancing with me so I can’t complain [laughs]!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Brazouka runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre between Tuesday 16th and Saturday 20th September 2014. Please visit for further information and tickets.

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