Scholarly biography and interests

Billy Cowie is a Scottish choreographer, composer and filmmaker. He works principally in the area of dance/theatre performance, screen dance and installation. He has made over twenty live performance pieces (in collaboration with Liz Aggiss) for Divas Dance Theatre and he has completed six major screen projects (two BBC Dance for Camera commissions ‘Beethoven in Love’ and ‘Motion Control’ and three ACE Capture projects ‘Anarchic Variations’, ‘Men in the Wall’ and ‘Doppelgänger’ and a Channel 4 commission ‘Break’). A book about this work entitled Anarchic Dance was published by Routledge in January 2006.

Cowie was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to write a new score including songs for Shakespeare's play 'The Tempest'. The play was directed by David Hunter and starred Philip Madoc as Prospero and Nina Wadia as Ariel. The programme was initially broadcast on Radio 3 in September 2001 and has since been released on CD and Cassette by BBC Worldwide LTD. In 2003 He was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write and design a sound-scape for the Philip Pullman 'Dark Materials' trilogy also released by BBC Worldwide on cd, and in 2005 he wrote the music for the experimental BBC Radio 4 programme 'Thinking Earth' directed by Pam Marshall.

His stereoscopic dance installations ‘In the Flesn’, ‘The Revery Alone’ and ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ have been screened worldwide and were featured in the British Council Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.

Cowie is a Principal Research Fellow at the University of Brighton where his key areas of research are writing performative texts; sound design; screen dance choreography; dance and learning difficulties; and installation art. Cowie gave a case study presentation on 'Motion Control' at the Brighton Festival Dance for Camera Dayschool May 2001, selected and presented South East Dance Agency 'First Shots' Dance for camera screening Cinematheque Brighton, was keynote speaker at the BBC/Arts Council Dance for Camera Still Moving Conference at University of Brighton 2002, and gave a masterclass lecture at the Constellation Screen Change National Film Theatre South Bank also in that year. Billy Cowie has been invited to be presenter for the British Council 'Forward Motion' Dance on Screen International touring programme and was Artist in Residence at National Review of Live Art 2004. In 2005 he presented a lecture at the National Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the Bodyparts Festival. In 2006 he gave a masterclass to students from the University of Smolny, St Petersburg and presented a paper Framing the Body at the ADF Screendance –State of the Art conference in North Carolina. 


Featured works and projects

Still from Tango showing Amy dancing and the 3D filming technique

Tango de Soledad

A life-sized stereoscopic dance installation

Billy Cowie: In The Flesh

In the Flesh

a virtual stereoscopic dance installation where computer manipulation produces the illusion that the audience is in the presence of a real dancer

Billy Cowie: Anarchic Dance

Anarchic Dance

The book celebrates Scottish choreographer, composer and filmmaker Billy Cowie's collaboration with Liz Aggiss.

Billy Cowie: Break

Break

A multi camera dance film by Billy Cowie commissioned by Channel 4 and ACE

Billy Cowie: Doppelgänger

Doppelgänger

Billy Cowie's film was shot entirely on location at the NAGW using its iconic architecture as a foil to the choreographed dancers

Billy Cowie: Ghosts In The Machine 3D

In the Flesh, The Revery Alone and Ghosts in the Machine

Three virtual dance installations which continued Billy Cowie’s development in the production of a solid dance presence by the use of stereoscopy

Research activity

Repository holdings 

Number of items: 15.

Cowie, Billy (2016) Attraverso i muri di bruma [Musical composition/Choreography/Art direction ]

Cowie, Billy (2016) Shakespeare Needs You [Musical composition/Choreography/Art direction ]

Cowie, Billy (2015) Edge of Nowhere [Musical composition/Choreography/Art direction ]

Cowie, Billy (2015) Tangos Cubanos [Musical composition/Choreography/Art direction ]

Cowie, Billy (2014) Tango Brasileiro [Musical composition/Choreography/Art direction ]

Cowie, Billy (2010) Tango de Soledad Installed at 26 festivals and galleries worldwide.

Cowie, Billy (2009) Ghosts in the Machine Lighthouse, Brighton, UK.

Cowie, Billy (2007) In the Flesh Sadler's Wells, London, UK.

Cowie, Billy (2006) Doppelganger New Art Gallery, Walsall, Walsall, UK.

Aggiss, Liz, Cowie, Billy and Bramley, Ian (2006) Anarchic Dance [Edited Collections]

Aggiss, Liz and Cowie, Billy (2006) Hi Jinx Liz Aggiss; Billy Cowie, Brighton, UK.

Cowie, Billy (2005) Break ACE, Channel 4 Dance Programme, UK.

Aggiss, Liz and Cowie, Billy (2003) Men in the Wall (a screen dance installation) [Digital and visual media]

Aggiss, Liz and Cowie, Billy (2002) Anarchic Variations (a screen dance film) [Digital and visual media]

Aggiss, Liz, Cowie, Billy and Anderson, David (2002) Motion Control (a screen dance film) [Digital and visual media]

This list was generated on Sun Jul 15 15:44:05 2018 BST.

Additional selected works 

2010

  • Tango de Soledad, Installation. See Portfolio of Works.

2009

  • Stereoscopic dance installations: ‘In the Flesh’, ‘The Revery Alone’ and ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ screened worldwide and  featured in the British Council Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009
  • Invited lecture, 'Temps D’Image' Dusseldorf 2009
  • Invited lecture, Biarritz Dance festival 2009
  • Commission, Lighthouse – 'Ghosts in machine'
  • Commission, SED – 'Tango de soledad'
  • Commission, Wapping Project – 'music for Death Drive'

2007

'In the Flesh' (installation), Paradiso Cinedans Festival Amsterdam (July).

2006

  • 'Anarchic Dance' (edited book), published by Routledge (January)
  • 'Break', Channel 4 Broadcast 2006 (film) 2006 British Dance Edition Best of British Screen Dance Shorts Leeds; 2007 Internationales Filmwochenende Würzburg; 25th International Festival of Films on Art Montreal; Videodansa Barcelona; Moving Pictures Toronto Canada; Dance Camera West Festival Los Angeles; South East Dance UK Tour to Havant Worcester; The Point
  • 'Framing the Body'. Conference paper at ADF Dance conference South Carolina
  • 'Doppleganger' (video installation). New Art Gallery Walsall from 10 February - 23 April.

2003

'Men in the Wall', Capture Comission (video installation). 2004 ICA London; South Gallery University of Brighton; Trinity Square Gallery Toronto Canada; The Arches National Review of Live Art Glasgow; 2005 New Art Gallery Walsall; Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum Leamington Spa Royal Pump Rooms; Corn Exchange Newbury; Shrewsbury Old Market Hall; IMZ Screen Dance Festival Brighton; 2006 Wimbledon School of Art; Havant Arts Centre; Moderna Dans Teatern Stockholm Sweden; Pro-Arte Institute St. Petersburg Russia.

2002

ANARCHIC VARIATIONS (film). 2002/3 IMZ Monaco; Dance Screen London; MediaWaves Hungary; Brighton Festival; Chichester Film Fest Conversations at the Edge Performance Festival; Chicago School of Art Gene Siskal Film Centre; Invideo Milan; 20th Kasseler Dokumentarfilm und videofest; Toronto Moving Picture; Capture 2 UK Tour by South East Dance; 2004 Alter-Native 11th International Film festival Madisz Romania; SK Stiftung Kultur Cologne; Inport Estonia; IMZ Tanzmedial Koln; Dancebase Edinburgh Festival; 17th Instants Video Numerique et Poetique Festival Marseilles; Capture 2 UK Tour by South East Dance.

2001

MOTION CONTROL (film). 2001/2 Ultima Festival of Music and Dance Oslo Norway; 10th Archipelago Festival Rome; TTV Rimini & Naples Film Festival Italy; Videodance Athens & Thessaloniki; Sitges International Film Festival Spain; LA Shorts USA; Toronto Moving Pictures; IMZ Monaco; 2003 DFA New York; Constellation Screen Change London; Shorts! Amsterdam; Kinodance St Petersburg & Moscow; 36th World FilmFest Houston USA; Mediawaves Hungary; British Independent Film Festival Berlin; British Council UK Film at the 56th Cannes; Moviementofilmfest Germany; International Short Films Munich; Conversations at the Edge Festival Chicago; Take 7 UK Tour by South East Dance; 2004 Salt Lake City; Bern Bewegte Tanzbilder; Visions du Temps Zurich; Homo Novus Riga Lativa; Framed Festival Oporto Portugal; Canada tour: Durham and Tom Thomson Art Galleries; British Council tour: Macedonia, Korea, Tunisia, Taiwan, Thailand, Rio de Janeiro; 2005/6 Best of 15 years of Mediawaves Hungary Shoot! Festival Gothenburg; Moderndans Theatern Stockholm; Kinodance St Petersburg; Live Screen Lilian Baylis London; 2007 ArteTV Copenhagen, Tulsa Oklahoma.

Grants and Awards

2012: British Council Italy New Connections Award

2012: Arts Council England Award £24.5K

2011: Arts Council England Award £9k

2009: Arts Council England Award £10k

2007: Delegates Prize at IMZ Conference for ‘In the Flesh’

2007: Arts Council England Award £5k

Commissions

2012

  • Kyoto Experiment Festival and South East Dance commission ‘Art of Movement’
  • Festival Teatro a Corte, Turin commission ‘Jenseits’
  • Tumi commission music for Passaggio Installation at Da Vinci Museum, Salone Milan

2011

  • Wapping Project commission music for Making Waves Yohji Yamamoto Installation
  • Swarovski commission music for Crystal Palace Installations at Salone Milan

2010

  • South East Dance with support from Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation commission ‘Tango de Soledad’

2009

  • Lighthouse, Brighton commission ‘Ghosts in the Machine’

Masterclasses

Week long masterclasses in choreography and dance for film in:

  • Rio de Janeiro, 2010
  • Sao Paulo, 2010
  • Buenos Aires, 2010
  • Santiago, 2011
  • Bucharest, 2011 

Citations and reviews

On ‘Tango de Soledad’:

‘The quirky, lyrical, imaginative, arresting, romantic fantasies of Billy Cowie deeply impressed me.’
Mikhail Baryshnikov

‘the installation is full of passion and poetry… a brilliant dancer in a new universe’
Christina Molander, Director Moderna Dansteatern, Stockholm

‘another wonderful work from Billy Cowie, Tango de Soledad is short, tender and melancholic. It is danced by Amy Hollingsworth with truth and simplicity. You just want to see it again, right away.’
Emma Gladstone, Producer Sadler's Wells

‘Seldom do we get something that exceeds on all levels, gorgeous.’
Lynette Kestler, Director Dance Camera West LA

‘Absolutely beautiful – moving, deeply yet without sentimentality – vulnerable without rawness . Leaves a soft melancholy and a memory of a fantastically strong woman’s presence.’
Helene Lesterine, Dance Curator EMPAC, New York State

'Tango de Soledad is a terrific piece of work. A stereoscopic video installation, featuring the athletic Amy Hollingsworth performing a solo tango against a background, and a literal ground, drawn by Silke Mansholt. 3D glasses put the life-sized dancer solidly into the drawn, room-sized space in front of you. Everything about it is perfectly judged.'
Aidan Dunne The Irish Times 22 July 2011

There’s wonderful craft in Cowie’s illusions, but in the solitary dancing of Amy Hollingsworth in Tango de Soledad there is a profound reflection on the rituals we revisit when love, or a tango partner, has gone. And maybe we feel like that absent partner, voyeuristically observing the lonely beauty, the elegant resolve of a dancer who is, in every sense, out of our reach.
Mary Brennan, Glasgow Herald 27 Aug 2011

On ‘In the Flesh’:

"So beautiful and moving, a miniature masterpiece"
Alistair Spalding - Artistic Director Sadler's Wells

“The most uncanny thing I have ever seen”
Deborah Levy – Novelist

‘Beautiful choreography, so intricate, delicate, human and real’
Professor Joan Frosch, Asst Dir. Schl. Theatre and Dance, University of Florida

In the Flesh is a small jewel of a video installation. Within a dark space it bewitches with its harmony between music and words and a dancer suspended in the air in front of those who watch. Complete on both aesthetic and ethical levels, In the Flesh is a continuous flow between volumes and voids, between white and black, it feels on the skin like a tactile poem of love.'
Elfi Reiter - Il Manifesto Bologna del 20 Giugno 08

Viewers for Billy Cowie’s In the Flesh (2007) lift a tent-like flap to enter a physically confined and darkened area akin to a magician’s cabinet, as a space set apart from the rules of everyday reality. Georges Méliès wrote of the potential for the moving image to contain “all of the illusions that can be produced by prestidigitation, optics, photographic tricks.” Using a projector, an angled mirror, and a pair of 3D spectacles, Cowie transforms a flattened, floor-based image into what he terms “a Spectrefilm” as a female figure manifests, simultaneously solid and insubstantial, as a William Gibsonesque life-size virtual presence, capable of reaching out towards the viewer and eerily connecting gaze. The pared down simplicity of this concept extended to a minimal soundtrack, consisting of piano and spoken word, and to a slowly-paced and carefully considered movement vocabulary, as a hand reaches to connect with an upwardly angled foot in an infant-like exploration of the limits of physical form. A shift from a foetal curl into an angled arrangement of elbows and knees ends with a careful placement of hand, feet and forehead to ground before the figure vanishes entirely into the darkness of a momentary blackout, subsequently rematerialising to start her brief life cycle over again.
Christinn Whyte RealTime issue#83

The title, In the Flesh, is a gentle tease, but Cowie’s cunning presentation of a solo dancer, in reality a two-dimensional projection, does actually ensnare you in an exquisite illusion, namely, that the performer is solidly ‘in the space’. And when dancer Sara Popowa reaches up, one arm extending towards you, the urge to stretch forward and touch her fingertips is surprisingly potent.
Her stay is brief: a mere four minutes. But it’s long enough for Cowie to shade in the piece with movement and score in a way that calls on the imagination to create mini-narratives: is she a captive in some bottle-dungeon? Is she a girl caught up in a private reverie in her bedroom – and are we voyeurs?; or, as the wistful song that figures on the sound-score suggests, is she some Persephone figure who represents the natural cycle of growth, decay and re-growth?
Whatever directions your thoughts take, or indeed whether you just want to appreciate Cowie’s craft and creativity, this hauntingly delicate vignette of ‘cinema haiku’ is an oasis of multi-dimensional enchantments. And it proved worth watching over and over I found.
Mary Brennan – The Glasgow Herald 12/5/8

On ‘The Revery Alone’

Billy Cowie's The Revery Alone, a seven-minute looped 3-D installation that is projected on to the ceiling, was compelling in its own right. Lying on the floor, we gazed up at the palely naked, flexing and contorting body of performer Eleonore Ansari. Our 3-D glasses brought her arching back within inches of our faces, confounding reality and replacing it with something mystical, haunting, rare. When she looked down, only once, dark eyes locking with ours, it felt as if she saw .s Afterthoughts are turbulent. Voyeurism is an increasingly tainted accusation. Yet we are, in our daily lives, forever watching and being watched. No blindfolds to absolve us here MARY BRENNAN Glasgow Herald February 17 2009

The red/blue anaglyph glasses create a 3D holographic effect, tricking your mind into believing that the dancer is actually hanging from the ceiling above you. So convincing is it that I couldn’t help worrying that the elegant and gracious hologram above me might slip out of the projection and fall on top of me. Ansari’s naked body moves in a slow, graceful but haunting manner, her hands and feet gripping four handles, which both restrict and define her movement. The simple movements are captivating, and seem to be amplified by their dilatoriness. The unclothed figure’s movements are choreographed and have sculptural feel, but on occasion her eyes catch yours and her accusatory expression bring home the human emotion and makes you feel as if you are experiencing the performance live rather than watching a film.
It is a fascinating piece, utilising a challenging medium. The Revery Alone combines the movement of the human body at its most basic and pure level with a complex 3D medium. Being placed below the performance in an almost submissive stance compels you to feel more engaged and even become a part of the experience.
Ralph Miller LATEST 7 Magazine Dec 2008

Hanging by her hands and feet from the ceiling a naked dancer contorts and stretches before giving the observer below her a look that is best described as withering.
This is the amazing new seven-minute 3D creation by Brighton-based filmmaker Billy Cowie.
Duncan Hall THE ARGUS Dec 2008 

On 'Men in the Wall'

"Credentials don't explain results. Men In The Wall enormously expands video's horizon. As each guy occupies his own space — now dancing, now playing the guitar while singing lieder — each acts as human semaphore, sending human-shaped signals. It's as tightly constructed as a classic American sitcom, and funnier than most."
(Toronto Star Peter Goddard 2004)

"Aggiss' and Cowie’s impression on the dance film excellence and innovation cannot be overestimated."
(Ballet Tanz Lizzy Le Quesne 2004)

"Delightful. Situated against various backdrops (day, night, urban, coastal, etc), each male, a mixed batch of builds, temperaments and nationalities, dwells in his own walled square. They talk, sing, play music and move in a fashion stamped with the Aggiss/Cowie signature of quirky-humoured poetry and askew beauty."
(Dance Europe April 2004 Donald Hutera)

On 'Anarchic Dance'

"Liz Aggiss and Billy Cowie dedicate Anarchic Dance to themselves, in celebration of their long-term collaboration and friendship. And good on them: their moment has come, and Aggiss and Cowie are a formidable team."
(Total Theatre Vol.18/1 Spring 2006)

"With honesty and directness, the artists explain how they work, and the influences upon it, while others provide insightful analysis and context. Academic perceptions are seriously and accessibly brought to bear on the output of Aggiss' and Cowie's more than 20 year collaboration - deconstructing and discussing it in terms of feminism, hybridity, Expressionism, the 'grotesque', abstraction and narrative, linguistic play and addressing the multiple and playful textures that define it: sound, space, shape, language."
(Lizzy Le Quesne Ballet Tanz)

"Sparking debate is what Divas' work has always done and Anarchic Dance will no doubt continue this legacy. If you are a dancer, student of dance, dance enthusiast or someone who is interested in artists who continually seek to push boundaries, I recommend reading this book."
(Lisa Haight for londondance.com)

On 'Hi Jinx'

"A beautifully fabricated parody of our desire to create icons from the past."
(Total Theatre, 14.1.2002)

Grants and awards

2007

  • Arts Council Award to make 'In the Flesh', £5 000.

2006

  • Arts Council South East Forward Projection Plan Award (with Aggiss) to develop a strategy, revision and research for organizational and professional development, £20K.

2005

  • Channel 4 Commission (with Aggiss) to make the 4 minute screen dance 'Break', £12K.

2004

  • Arts Council England and Capture Production Award (with Aggiss) to make stereoscopic screen dance installation 'Doppelganger', £20K and FRSF Award, £10K
  • Arts Council South East Production Award (with Aggiss) to develop the Performance Installation 'Scripted to Within an Inch of Her Life', £10K
  • Special Mention Award Naples Film Festival 2004

2003

  • Arts Council England and Capture Award (with Aggiss) to make stereoscopic screen dance installation 'Men in the Wall' £20K and FRSF Award £10K
  • Romanian National Office of Cinematography Prize
  • Special Jury Golden Award World FilmFest, Houston, USA
  • Best Female Film, Mediawaves, Hungary

2002

  • Arts Council England and Capture Award (with Aggiss) to make 7 minute screen dance 'Anarchic Variations', £20K. This award funds screen based initiatives that utilise a range of moving-image media and encourage the use of new and emergent media as well as the use of video and film. Anarchic Variations won the Honourable Mention Paula Citron Award, Toronto, Canada.

2001-2002

  • Regional Arts Lottery Project (RALP) Award (with Aggiss) to record and contextualise personal performance and screen archive material in order to develop the publication Anarchic Dance (Published by Routledge for Taylor and Francis 2006) £32K.

2000

  • Arts Council England and BBC Dance for Camera Production Award for 8 minute screen dance Motion Control (broadcast March 2003) £50K. This film explores an aging dancers physical and emotional entrapment in private and personal spaces. Shot on 35mm, super 8, digibeta it is unique in its interplay with different tape stock, use of Motion Control camera and animation techniques. Motion Control won the Czech Crystal Golden Prague Television Award, Czech Republic.

1997

  • Taped Up production Award for Meridian TV for screen dance Sea of Heads, £2K.

1994

  • Arts Council England and BBC Dance for Camera Production Award (with Aggiss) for 15-minute screen dance Beethoven in Love. Shot on 16mm, Beethoven in Love explored the Outsider Performer and his troubled relationships. The integration of a performer with learning difficulties was a unique achievement in the dance for camera genre.
         
Back to top