This moving tribute was the first in a series of events by Yorke Dance Project (YDP) dedicated to the memory of Sir Robert Cohan, and honoured his work on what would have been his 96th birthday. 

Yolande Yorke-Edgell (Artistic Director of YDP) described how after they met nine years ago, Cohan, who was already in his 80s, revived three works and created another four for the company.  Cohan continued to work with YDP until the end of his life, using Zoom to create during lockdown.  His last rehearsal was on 5 December 2020.

Filmmaker David McCormick shared a short film, narrated by Cohan, about the creation of the work Communion for YDP’s 20th Anniversary Season in 2019.  This is planned to be a chapter from a Film Book on Dance which will include Cohan talking about how to be a dancer and choreographer, alongside text, images and film.  Cohan’s work was instrumental to the development of contemporary dance practice in the United Kingdom, and he was not only a dancer and choreographer but also a gifted teacher and mentor.  He was fascinated by movement: if Communion is understood as an essay on dance through performance, McCormick’s film was a way of documenting Cohan’s wisdom, philosophy and beliefs.

Other contributions followed.  Lighting designer John B. Read, Roy M. Vestrich, and Yorke Dance Associate Director Stephen Pelton, spoke of how Cohan trusted his collaborators, and worked with the way that dancers moved, tuning into the vibrations that impel movement.  For Dane Hurst, whom those attending were privileged to see performing his solo from Communion in a separate short film by David Stewart, Cohan’s rehearsals were transformational experiences in which the ordinary became extraordinary, as he came to see the world with greater clarity.  Dancer Laurel Dalley Smith, who the following day gave an online master class on her solo from Communion, noted Cohan’s ability to find his dancers’ inner core.

The evening had moments of sadness, but it did not feel like an ending.  The Cohan Collective, an open residency programme for the creation of new choreography and music composition which aims to maintain the spirit of Cohan’s unique artistic legacy, will carry on, continuing to support dancers and choreographers on their journey to find themselves as creative artists, discovering the dance that lies within them.

Maggie Watson

9th April 2021

Find out more about the Cohan Collective here

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here

Watch excerpts from Communion by Sir Robert Cohan, as well as works by other choreographers influenced by Martha Graham, in online streamed performance by the Martha Graham Company 30th April to 2nd May; further information and booking details here

One of the few benefits of lockdown has been the proliferation of dance teaching material online.  The ability to watch and sample ballet classes from all over the world has enabled comparison and reflection on the characteristics and relative merits of different methods of schooling, which one would normally have little opportunity either to observe or experience.  Recent trawling for fresh ideas for my Zoom teaching lead me to look closely at films documenting the classes and pedagogic approaches of two established and respected teachers from the Paris Opera Ballet and its school, Alexandre Kalioujny and Raymond Franchetti.  Of Russian origin but born and brought up in Prague, Kalioujny had a long association with the company, initially as a dancer, but later after a distinguished performing career as a teacher of its leading dancers, forging a close relationship with Rudolf Nureyev who greatly respected his work.  His alumni include luminaries Elisabeth Platel and Charles Jude, who for the film La Classe d’ Alexandre Kalioujny teach a class demonstrating and explaining some of the principles and concerns which informed his teaching, shaping future generations of French ballet dancers. 

Discussion about this prompted a colleague to point me to a documentary about the teaching of Raymond Franchetti, himself a pupil of the renowned French teacher Gustave Ricaux, and dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet, before becoming a hugely respected teacher in his own right and subsequently Director of Dance at the Paris Opera in the 1970s.  A short but very informative documentary follows a class taught by Franchetti, interspersed with his own forthright observations on ballet technique and pedagogy, interview material, and reminiscences of historic dance studios. On 27th January the Paris Opera Ballet staged its grand opening Gala in the Palais Garnier; having studied these classes I was very keen to watch this programme, to see how the ethos and technique of the dancing visible in the studio translated into performance. 

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Anne Searcy’s scholarly and highly readable book examines the impact of US – Soviet cultural exchanges during the Cold War through the lens of the Bolshoi Ballet’s 1959 and 1962 tours of the USA, and the tours by American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet of the Soviet Union in 1960 and 1962 respectively.  Searcy draws on an impressive array of Russian and English archival resources and contemporaneous reviews to reconstruct and understand the way in which these companies, their works, and their performances were received by audiences at the time.  She offers new material and a new view point focussed on the reception of the dance, rather than its presentation.

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Another fascinating online dance event coming up from DANSOX: International choreographer, Kim Brandstrup, currently one of two Director’s Fellows at New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) for 2019/20, will give the lecture, Hearing Footsteps – the ear and the audible in dance and choreographic practice, with practical demonstration from dancers, Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec.

This event will be added to the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building’s YouTube channel from Wednesday 9th December. Watch this and more on the DANSOX playlist.

Celebrate the new book from distinguished dance scholar Mark Franko with this online book launch hosted by DANSOX and hear Professor Franko discussing his work. Many DANSOX supporters have enjoyed his ongoing research for this book on previous occasions; you can read Susanna Reece’s account of his 2015 stimulating lecture The Fascist Legs of Serge Lifar about his emerging research here. The Fascist Turn in the Dance of Serge Lifar: Interwar French Ballet and the German Occupation is the latest publication in the prestigious series Oxford Studies in Dance Theory.

You will be able to find this event online on the DANSOX Playlist of the JduP YouTube Channel here from Tuesday 24th November.

You can purchase a copy of Professor Franko’s book online from Oxford University Press Academic here.

An exciting project initiated by Alice Oswald (Professor of Poetry University of Oxford), with dancers Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec, and composer Joseph Kay, in collaboration with Rocio Chacon (film-maker) and Kevin Mount (designer). TORCH is collaborating with the Oxford University English Faculty, Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (APGRD) and DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) as part of the Professor of Poetry Lecture Series, to invite participants to be part of a Poetry Performance, taking place at midnight on Monday 30th November. This event is led by Alice Oswald, current Professor of Poetry as part of the Humanities Cultural Programme. 

This event is an immersive experience, with limited availability now sold out. 500 signed up participants will be mailed a special copy of a poem written by Alice Oswald. At the stroke of midnight, participants are invited to open their poem and step outside to read it. If you signed up to receive one of the limited mailed copies of the poem written by Alice Oswald, you should receive this by 30th November. Full details will be found on your mailed poem.

If you were unable to sign up for the mailed copy, you can still enjoy a slightly different experience of the evening. Two copies of the poem will also be sent to two dancers who will be filmed opening and reading the poem, so there will be an online performance via YouTube happening at the same time. The performance will be released via the TORCH Oxford YouTube channel at midnight. Watch the performance here.  

Date: Monday 30th November 11.59pm​

Dance Fields is an important collection of papers, arising from a 2017 conference convened by the Centre for Dance Research (Coventry University), the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance  (De Montfort University) and the Centre for Dance Research (University of Roehampton).  The conference celebrated the coming of age of Dance Studies within the ‘academy’ and is evidence of the breadth, depth, and originality of research on dance in UK universities.  Stephanie Jordan’s Opening Panel Paper notes the vast range of dance scholarship, embracing areas as diverse as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, dance science, and of course the dance itself; its choreography and practice.  This collection, through its scope and varied styles of presentation, with examples of interaction between ‘traditional’ and practitioner modes of scholarship, demonstrates the intellectual extent and value of Dance Studies as a discipline in its own right.

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The Bournemouth three year Residency of the Cohan Collective began in 2018 with a two-week Intensive, followed by a Development Week in 2019, and finally a three-week creative period in summer 2020.  In a normal year the final phase would have culminated in a live showing before a selected audience, but this year, because of the pandemic, the artists shared their work in a Zoom meeting.

We saw two works; one created for film and therefore complete, the other for the stage and so by force of circumstance not yet in its final form.  The sharing event was well planned, with opportunities for questions and discussion.  After an introduction by the  event moderator, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Founder Director of the Cohan Collective alongside Sir Robert Cohan and composer pianist Eleanor Alberga, explained the purpose of the project: to enable artists to become their best creative selves through exploration and collaboration, with the support of mentors, and with the time and space to be both vulnerable and adventurous.  The moderator then posted the link to a film of the first work in the chat, so that we could all watch it simultaneously, before returning to the Zoom call for discussion.

We saw the first work, choreographer Edd Mitton’s The Quickening, without costumes, sets or lighting, filmed at the final point of preparation in the studio, before that vital shift when it should have transferred to the stage.  Three female dancers (Freya Jeffs, Sharia Johnson, and Abigail Attard Montalto), in black practice clothes, their heads initially swathed in white scarves that covered their faces, seemed to swim slowly in the air, drifting in space to Edmund Hunt’s composition for violin, double bass and piano.  The slow floating movements, to music that sounded like breaths of air punctuated by notes from a five-tone scale, evoked an atmosphere of the supernatural.  A man (Jordi Calpe Serrats) sits and seems to sense invisible presences, but not to see them.  He reaches out to hold them as they move around him marking the limits of his space as if they live within the four walls of his room.  He lies down, perhaps sleeping, and they carefully circle him anti-clockwise, extending their hands and hovering over him as if to draw him upwards with invisible threads.  They might be waking him, or they might be stealing his soul; they are like three witches, or spirits, or something that falls between reality and imagination.  They never quite touch him, until one clamps her outspread hand to his chest with the impact of an electric shock, and at last she dances with him.  In the end, they cradle him, and then let him slide to the ground and roll away, before each retreats to her own corner, leaving him downstage right, carefully moving his hand across the surface of the floor as if he can sense traces of ghostly footprints.

The second work, What Remains, by choreographer Dane Hurst and filmmaker Pierre Tappon to music by Ryan Latimer, made use of different locations and special effects, but the focus was nevertheless on the dance itself.  Romany Pajdak, dressed in white and looking utterly defenceless stands in a narrow alley way hemmed in by the high brick walls on either side.  We see clips of her running (towards someone, or away from them?) and Hurst, her partner, fades in and out of the picture as if he is walking in and out of her mind.  They dance a duet that contests the narrow space as if they are trapped in a dysfunctional relationship. Then Hurst dances a solo in the dark, filmed partially from above, before we see Pajdak again, in a derelict attic, where she discovers Hurst lying on the floor.  They circle each other warily, like cats, and when they dance together they are often not face-to-face, but one behind the other.  In the final scene, Pajdak, her back against a wall, tips and swings in two dimensions like a pendulum, until she subsides to the ground.

In the first Question and Answer session someone asked whether The Quickening was about Coronovirus.  Although neither work was specifically about the pandemic, both dances seemed influenced by related themes:  loneliness, isolation, vulnerability, and an ever-present invisible threat.  The absence of physical touch in parts of The Quickening and of eye contact in parts of What Remains echoed the lack of connection that so many people have recently suffered.

In discussion we heard about the ways in which the choreographers, composers, musicians, dancers, and their mentors, often working remotely from one another, had successfully addressed this year’s particular challenges.  Sir Robert Cohan spoke at the end, emphasising the difference between being an artist for oneself (which is easy) and being an artist for your community, creating work and experiences for an audience that they can understand:  the true artist finds new ways to see life and emotion, and our society needs artists, if we are to grow as human beings.  Through this residency, the Cohan Collective, together with partners  Yorke Dance Project, Pavilion Dance South West and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and other supporters, has provided the professional guidance that prepares composers, choreographers, musicians, dancers and filmmakers to fulfil this essential role: it is good news that this year’s Birmingham Residency, although, perforce, postponed, is scheduled for 2–14 August 2021.

Maggie Watson

18th October 2020

You can find out more about the Cohan Collective here

Moving Together​ is a brand-new creative project by Oxford based physical theatre company Justice in Motion​, that explores loneliness and belonging. The company is working in partnership with anthropology researcher Dr Bronwyn Tarr, from the University of Oxford, posing the question ‘​Can we ease feelings of loneliness using movement and music​?’

Moving Together​ shows how shared experiences are important for personal and community health. This issue has become more relevant recently, as so many of us feel a sense of isolation.

Working with members of the public who are affected by loneliness, participants were asked to share their thoughts and ideas about their experiences. These conversations were recorded and set to original music composed by Quentin Lachapelle. Choreographer Gemma Peramiquel and dancers have taken these recordings and developed short dance pieces inspired by the voices and music. Filmmaker Michael Lynch has then created short films of the sequences that have been released online.

TAKE PART– Moving Together​ is part of the IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival in October 2020. A selection of works are being taught in a series of online workshops to be performed in an online ‘flashmob’ experience, bringing people together in synchronised movement. This free event is taking place on 24th October at 4pm.

The project culminates with a Short Film being screened on 29th October at 6:30pm, followed by a live Discussion panel with the creative team.

To take part and join in, details for the workshops, Flashmob and Short Film for Moving Together @IF Oxford can be found here: https://if-oxford.com/events/?_search=moving%20together

The collection of video gifts can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX1u8UK3cC5KvkPNOPwH1qA/featured

To find out more about Justice in Motion and catch up on Workshop tutorials visit the website: ​https://www.justiceinmotion.co.uk

How far would you go for a better life?

Justice in Motion is an Oxford based Physical Theatre company aimed at raising awareness about social injustices. To highlight Anti-Slavery Day, they will be premiering a screening of their moving and captivating piece, BOUND. This will be followed by a Live Q&A discussion panel including Dame Sara Thornton (UK Anti Slavery Commissioner), Sian Lea (Shiva Foundation), Eddie Tuttle (Chartered Institute of Builders) and Anja Meinhardt (Artistic Director, JiM)

BOUND​ is a compelling, thought-provoking story of dreams and broken promises. Three desperate people take on the biggest gamble of their lives in the hope of a better future. They find themselves bound by a dark, sad reality. The three characters define, shape and rebel against their isolation and exploitation. It is their hope, optimism and resilience that is at the core of this powerful piece.

In a dynamic fusion of dance, circus, music, poetry, parkour and film Justice in Motion brings you a story of strength in adversity.

“despair and compassion with moving brilliance.” Oxford Times ★★★★
“unveils stories of hope and desolation in an imaginative and articulated way.” Theatre Bubble ★★★

Date: Sunday 18th October from 6.00pm

To watch this Premiere event visit:

http://bit.ly/BOUND-VIDEO

To find out more about Justice in Motion and the project visit:

The performance and Q&A will be available to view for one week.

Read Eleanor Jones’ review of Bound here:

https://oxforddancewriters.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/justice-in-motion-in-bound-at-the-pegasus/