Sharon Skeel’s biography of Catherine Littlefield underlines the fragility and ephemeral nature of dance careers, schools and companies. During the course of her short life, Littlefield, building on work begun by her mother, became Philadelphia’s foremost ballerina, teacher and choreographer. She headed up her own ballet company, the Philadelphia Ballet, which toured widely in North America and even to Paris, Brussels and London, and her school provided several dancers for Balanchine’s inaugural class at School of American Ballet. Since she died aged 46 in 1951, her contribution to the development of ballet in the United States has largely faded from memory. (more…)

“Modern dance is a bottomless pit of possibilities and I have only scratched the surface” (Paul Taylor)

This year’s DANSOX Summer School was, of course, conducted online. At a time when the coronavirus has made us acutely aware of our bodily fragility, I was particularly struck by a focus on the corporeal in these seven lectures, the first two concentrating on American choreographer Paul Taylor, the second of which is discussed in detail here. All of the lectures remain available on YouTube via the St Hilda’s website.

I must confess to not having heard of Taylor – but was relieved to hear from the webinar that followed that I was not alone. As well as Alastair Macauley’s guest lecture, I highly recommend his obituary of Taylor in the New York Times – the comments are a joy to read and show how highly regarded Taylor was in his native land. (more…)

The second DANSOX summer school was a triumph. Delivered remotely in the middle of a pandemic that has driven theatrical and academic activities online, it was a wonderful opportunity for an international audience to enjoy seven pre-recorded lectures on dance by practitioners, early career researchers, and a leading dance critic. The programme fell into two halves: a two-lecture memorial to Paul Taylor, followed by five lectures investigating the inter-textual and interdisciplinary nature of dance, and a concluding live Webinar on Zoom chaired by Professor Sue Jones.

Alastair Macaulay’s opening lecture was actually the last talk to be uploaded after which it was well worth returning to listen again to all the lectures in their correct order: Macaulay’s talk prepared the ground, sowing seeds for themes that the other speakers, whether by accident or design, picked up upon, including modernism and post modernism; the corporeal and abstraction; musicality; classicism; the visual arts, and the choreographer as dramatic poet. (more…)

Performing Epic or Telling Tales is a monograph companion to the edited volume Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century (OUP, 2018). The monograph offers authors Fiona Macintosh and Justine McConnell an opportunity to investigate and seek to account for the increased popularity of story-telling and narrative in live theatre since the turn of the twenty-first century. It is not a book about dance, but the earlier edited volume contained contributions by dance scholars, and this monograph includes a chapter on ‘Telling Tales with the Body’.

Macintosh and McConnell start from the premise that twentieth-century theatre saw an anti-narrative turn (seen, for example, in the work of Samuel Beckett), and they seek to chart and hypothesise reasons for the subsequent (re-)turn to narrative that they perceive in theatrical works, including dances, since the millennium. In their Preface, they propose that this twenty-first century ‘narrative’/storytelling (re-)turn is often a turn to Graeco-Roman epic. However, their definition of ‘epic’ in the context of performance extends beyond ancient Greece and Rome, embracing other cultures and story-telling traditions, and oral modes of creating, improvising and performing, as they reflect on the ways in which epic can cast an alternative gaze upon contemporary society.

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Following the success of the inaugural Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) Summer School in 2019 at St Hilda’s College Oxford, a second, this time virtual Summer School is being programmed by Professor Susan Jones.  Events will be available to view on the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building’s YouTube channel from 16th July 2020.

DANSOX Virtual Summer School 2020 includes two strands:

Celebrating the work of the distinguished American dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor (1930-2018):

Alastair Macaulay (international dance critic and writer): lecture on the life and work
Parisa Kobdeh (ex-Paul Taylor dancer): on practice and technique.

New Scholarship on Dance: text and practice

Joseph Kay (composer) on musical notation and dance notation
Susie Crow (choreographer and writer): aspects of the ballet class
Marcus Bell (DPhil student, St Hilda’s) on Pina Bausch and the classics
Megan Smith (2020 English Finalist, Oxford): literary criticism meets fiction and performance in John Haskell’s The Complete Ballet: A Fictional Essay in Five Acts (2017)
Anna Chamberlain (2020 Art History Finalist, Oxford): Hilde Holge, German Expressionist dance and photography.

Find out more about DANSOX here and get ready for the Summer School by watching some past events here.

balletLORENT’s Rumpelstiltskin, is an engrossing story of love, parental betrayal and redemption. Rumpelstiltskin, a little boy rejected by his father the King following the death of the child’s mother, is cast out to live in the woods and hedgerows. Only the Shepherd’s Daughter is kind to him. They grow up, and when the Shepherd foolishly boasts that his daughter (Natalie Trewinnard) can spin straw into gold, the miserly King sets her to work, threatening to slaughter their sheep if she fails. (This is particularly poignant as the sheep are played by small children on all fours with sheepskins on their backs). Rumpelstiltskin (Gavin Coward) appears and for three long nights spins the straw into gold, in exchange for a ring, a kiss, and finally her first born child when she marries his father. When Rumpelstiltskin comes to claim the baby (there is an implication that the child is his), she breaks the contract by guessing his name. The outcast prince is re-united with his father, who conveniently dies, enabling the couple to marry. (more…)

Sonia Tycko is a member of Susie Crow’s intermediate ballet class in Oxford.  Huge thanks to her for providing this useful user’s starter guide to some of the vast amount of ballet training material online, as dancers seek for ways to keep their practice going at home… please do feel free to add your thoughts and comments below this post, and share other resources you may have found.  Sonia writes:

Although we cannot take class together in our studio for the time being, we can safely maintain and even build elements of our dance practices at home with online classes. In this post, I’ll point out a few resources that I’ve collected this week. Full-length online dance class offerings might be divided into two categories: live and pre-recorded.

LIVE

Live videos form a community of dancers, which motivates you to not only start but also complete a dance class in your kitchen. On YouTube or Instagram Live, you can see how many other dancers are watching the live videos along with you. Your fellow dancers’ written comments and “likes” throughout the session will give you some sense of their energy and engagement. It’s great that these videos start at a specific time because that can add structure to the day. The teachers are recording their videos in their own homes, and will only set material that you can fit into a small space. On the downside, live videos can have technical issues with sound and lighting, and of course they might not suit your schedule.

To locate a class, one starting point is Dancing Alone Together, which compiles a list of many styles of live-streamed dance classes, organized as a calendar: https://www.dancingalonetogether.org (more…)

Alastair Macaulay’s lecture on George Balanchine developed ideas about the role of women in Balanchine’s work, which were raised last year at the 2019 DANSOX Summer School at St Hilda’s.  Macaulay provocatively proposed that ballet is unlike the other arts in that it is by its very nature sexist, being predicated on the bodies of men and women.  He further suggested, that sexism and the idealisation of women are intrinsic to Balanchine’s supported adagios, in which women, supported by men, become works of perfect geometry.  In short, Balanchine recognised and exploited the allegorical qualities that Western society has imposed upon the female body for centuries, and elevated women through objectification.

Trained in St Petersburg, Balanchine’s work both embodied and extended the Russian danse d’école of the early twentieth century.  Drawing on musical scores intended for the concert hall as well as those composed for ballet, he pushed ballet technique to new levels, embracing speed, extreme extensions, and daring off-centre balances.  He created a dance style perceived as typically American, yet he retained the chivalry, hierarchy, ceremony, symmetry and harmony derived from his St Petersburg schooling. (more…)

A Little Space is an artful collaboration between Gecko and Mind the Gap; exploring all the ways it means to be alone.  The show is fantastic physical theatre, in that it explores the complex emotional and institutional features of its main theme using a full range of theatrical tools.  The cast begin inside an apartment, where a group of people gather, speaking to each other through the rise and fall of their hands and shoulders, shifting weight, traveling through breath, and chattering casually with deft gestures.  From here we dive through the floorboards of the apartment, into memory, trauma, fear, and fantasy.  The boundary lines between each is successfully blurred.  But this abstraction doesn’t veer into the anti-emotional territories of other vignette fans: late modern (Cunningham) or early American post-modern dance (Yvonne Rainer).  Instead, A Little Space stays with feeling until the work begins to take on a haunting sense of associative logic.  This allows the show to attend to the aggregate sensations of joy, fear, hope, paranoia, and loneliness that accompany being alone, a complex physical state for many people currently, in a moment where large swathes of the world’s population are considering to self-isolation. (more…)

Vivian Durante Company’s homage to Isadora Duncan is a superbly staged production. As the audience assembles, waves of light wash across the stage like water on a beach, to the sound of the sea. The lights dim and our eyes are drawn to the bowl, upstage left, that crackles and sparks, becoming a crucible of flames. Dancers emerge from the darkness; horrible crawling creatures that explode into dance with demonic passion in Isadora Duncan’s Dance of the Furies to music by Gluck, restaged by Barbara Kane and Viviana Durante. The intense energy condensed into violent movement and gesture conveys the dramatic force of Duncan’s work, but the repetitive patterns and limited movement vocabulary suggest that her choreography relied on shock quality as well as artistry for impact. At the end, the dancers slowly process past the glowing bowl, each sprinkling an offering into it as she passes. (more…)