February 2012

 Sensual Africa, Tavaziva Dance Company

Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, Saturday 25th February 2012, 8pm

by Caroline Potter

I went into this Saturday’s performance of Sensual Africa by Tavaziva Dance Company with mixed expectations. On the one hand I had heard good things about this company and expected a high level of professionalism from the choreographer and company dancers. As someone who has previously performed both contemporary and West African dance styles, I was also looking forward to seeing this company’s interpretation of African-contemporary fusion. On the other hand, the show’s marketing, which depicted the two Malawi-based tribes that inspired the piece as ‘untouched, pure, raw, natural, unearthed, mysterious and rich in culture and life’, made me (wearing my anthropologist hat) nervous that the show’s content might be nothing more than post-colonial exoticism of the worst kind.

On the first front, the company did not disappoint. The main show opened with musician Douglas Thorpe (himself also a professional contemporary dancer) hooking the audience in with a commanding percussive performance. Even from behind three drums and a mask, his gaze and bodily presence pierced the space during well-timed silences between an otherwise galloping crescendo of sound, punctuated by sharp slaps of the drumheads that demanded the audience’s attention. My fears of over-the-top exoticism were largely allayed when the first dancer took to the stage; the costuming, music (from this point on largely audio-recorded) and movement sequences signalled immediately that this was contemporary dance: African-inspired, but not attempting to pose as ‘African dance’ as such. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat attentively forward, eagerly watching the piece unfold.

The eight dancers (six women and two men) moved with powerful, punchy impact and never eased off from challenging both the audience and each other throughout the performance. The clarity of movement in every joint and the feverish, yet controlled energy generated by every dancer was compelling from the beginning. The dancers’ seemingly limitless vigour and unwavering stamina, combined with technical prowess, was a pleasure to watch throughout the roughly hour-long performance. The costumes – neutral-coloured short-legged unitards with minimal trim for the men, and two-piece sports bra and bike shorts with a single drape cloth and burnt orange accents for the women – were visually pleasing and effectively showed off the intense physicality of the movements. Additional production elements made the performance space feel thick: voices and calls that occasionally permeated from the wings, the periodic release of a hazy smoke that hung in the air, and the occasional accent of a live drum from off stage. The lingering patterns of sweat that two dancers left on the stage following floor sequences further emphasized the palpable heat generated by the performance.

My chief criticism stems from the non-development of the choreography. While exciting throughout, I never had a sense of journeying through the initiation ceremonies that supposedly inspired the piece. The interpersonal dynamics, conveyed especially through multiple duets of same- and opposite-sex partnerships, never moved away from struggle (manipulation/abuse of one dancer over another) or sexual play (lust/lascivious exploration between dancers)… were no other dynamics of sensuality (tenderness, vulnerability, acceptance, care) to be found during the choreographer’s research trip? The end of act one seemed a cohesive if somewhat underdeveloped end point, with the reappearance of a drum head and the drummer’s hands from the wings to accompany two masked dancers – the audience could have been forgiven for thinking that the show was then over, particularly in the absence of a programme (which gave the only indication of the 20-minute interval). The second act, although full of movement that was compelling for its own sake, did not lead me in any new direction. As one fellow audience member put it, it seemed that the choreographer was less concerned with conveying the process of ceremonial transformation than the moment of adolescent sexual becoming…to which his partner astutely responded that 80 minutes felt like a long time to linger in one moment.

Choreographic equilibrium aside, Bawren Tavaziva and the company’s talented dancers are to be lauded for bringing this energizing, high-quality performance to the Pegasus stage. An added bonus was the ‘curtain warmer’ performed by Oxford youth dancers, choreographed in line with the main show’s theme by two Tavaziva dancers. While lacking some of the technical clarity of the professionals, the youth dancers’ synchrony of dynamics, forceful intention and commitment to the movements was a compelling taster of the excitement to come. Tavaziva seems to have struck the right balance between displaying their own impressive talents and fostering the talents of others, and I for one hope to see the company continue its development in future tours.

A request for help for a dance focused research project by an Oxford student of anthropology.  If you are taking part in Dancin’ Oxford workshop activities please do consider participating in this interesting project:

Keen on dance?? Try some sessions at the

Dancin’ Oxford Festival! and earn £5 for participation in dance research…

Shows, workshops, classes – a month’s celebration of dance! Also, Oxford University is conducting a study about ‘Why do we dance?’ and if you take part, you will earn £5 for your participation!

Come to the Dancin’ Oxford Dance-A-Thon sessions (listed below) and follow this link if you are interested in being part of the study, having some fun and winning some money:


No previous experience necessary, the study only takes 15mins, so arrive early if you are wanting to take part!

Sunday 26th Feb: Pegasus Theatre

Butoh (2pm)

Contemporary (4pm)

 Monday 27th Feb: Oxford Playhouse

Flamenco (6pm)

Sunday 11th March: Oxford Playhouse

Ceroc (1pm)

Kathak (3pm)

Sunday 18th March: Pegasus Theatre

Tap Rhythm (2pm)

Breakdance (4pm)

Monday 19th March: Oxford Playhouse

Hip Hop (6pm)

Dance practice exists on the margins of Oxford University life, without facilities and with little institutional support, despite the huge popularity of Dancesport.   But a good audience in Keble College’s O’Reilly Theatre on a Wednesday evening suggested that this year’s spring term dance show The Barefaced Night is successfully attracting an audience and meeting a demand.  Based on a Scandinavian folk tale perhaps more widely known as East of the Sun, West of the Moon, this full length piece tells the tale of the wayward princess Fayra, courted and married by an enchanted bear who at night turns back into a prince in the darkness of the bedchamber.  When her curiosity to see his face perpetuates the curse, Fayra must pay a terrible price to be finally reunited with her lover.

Co-choreographer and director Hannah Moore draws on an assortment of devices to tell and structure this resonant narrative.  A mixed chorus in uniform green frames the central characters as trees of the forest, courtiers, soldiers, waves of the sea; a trio of speakers in white clarify the action in poetic interventions; an ensemble of musicians offers chamber accompaniment both onstage and from the gallery to the side of the auditorium. One must admire the ambition of this undertaking, the commitment of performers and the desire to integrate dance, poetry and music, even if conveying the narrative convincingly in dance is sometimes beyond the capabilities of the company.  Guest performers from outside the university lend authority through their skilful performance; Anja Meinhardt sustaining the capricious energy of Fayra to the end, moving in her transition from selfishness to selfless sacrifice, Alan Buckley a storyteller of gravitas and foreboding.

A sometimes clunky amalgam of dance movement and performance genres includes snatches of contemporary, flamenco skirt swishing, capoeira for combat scenes, some balletic clichées as well as ballroom vocabulary and partnering.  It was good to see a few men showing technical competence and performing with confidence, but the already cramped space of the O’Reilly stage is further restricted by an uninteresting arrangement of scenic elements, allowing the chorus little room for manoeuvre and limiting the potential for dramatic spatial arrangement of the dancers.  Bringing the musicians into an already crowded space without involving them more creatively in the action sometimes seemed unnecessary and slowed the pace.  Fayra and her bear prince’s duets are too literal and lacking in dance invention.   The production would benefit from some rigorous pruning, honing of dance skills and more attention to production details – even if budgets are tight, and costumes are rudimentary, the least experienced company can and should aspire to professional standards of neatness in presentation – press those dresses!

Susie Crow

The Barefaced Night is an innovative new piece of dance theatre combining movement, live music, poetry and storytelling to retell a Scandinavian folk tale.

Fayra’s true love is cursed to be a bear by day, a man only in the dark of night. She has never seen his face. When the temptation to look becomes too great, she loses that which she loves more than anything. She is left only with his first question to her, “have you ever seen more clearly than you see now…?”

With styles ranging from ballet to salsa, contemporary to ballroom, the show is a heady mix of integrated arts showcasing the best Oxford has to offer in a variety of dance styles magically woven together.

The Barefaced Night will be at Keble College’s O’Reilly Theatre in 6th week from Tuesday 21st to Saturday 25th of February, doors open 7.00pm for 7.30pm start. Tickets are £7/£5.


Press release:
The cast and crew of student-led theatre production The Barefaced Night are bursting onto the streets of Oxford on Saturday 18th, appearing on Cornmarket Street for one day only. Hoping to win over a big audience for their newly-devised fusion of dance, music and spoken word, coming to Keble College’s O’Reilly Theatre from February 21st – 25th, the BFN team will be shocking shoppers with a display of live music, modern, street and jazz dance, paso doble and even capoeira, the Brazilian martial art based dance
According to director and co-choreographer Hannah Moore, this is but a fraction of the art forms and styles – from ballroom and ballet to hip hop and military drill! Alongside storytelling, improvised music and live recording – incorporated into this adapted Scandinavian folktale: the story of a princess who finds love with a man cursed to be a bear by day and human only in darkness; when her desire to see him drives him away, she begins an epic journey to win him back.

Not content with blurring the boundaries of form, the show also hopes to remove some of the barriers which exist between town and gown performers in Oxford. With new material from talented local writers (such as Alan Buckley, a regular at the popular Catweazle open mic, who also stars as the princess’s father) and dancers and musicians from across town and from many walks of life, this is much more than your average student show.

Visit http://www.barefacednight.co.uk

Dance Writers of the Future 2012

Following the successful Dance Writers of the Future project initiated by Ballet in Small Spaces in 2009, Oxford Dance Writers announces a second competition to find talented young writers on dance.  This year’s competition focuses on Dancin’ Oxford 2012, whose programme of exciting dance events, activities and performances from 18th February to 28th March provides multiple opportunities for reflective writing and critique.

  • Entrants are asked to submit a piece of original critical writing about an event taking place as part of the Dancin’ Oxford 2012 programme.  This could be a review of a performance, an account of a workshop experienced, discussion of a talk or conference presentation etc.
  • Length to be approximately 400 words.
  • Entries to be sent to Susie Crow of Oxford Dance Writers either by email, or hard copy by mail – see contact details below.  Please include with your entry your full contact details, including postal address, telephone and email, also date of birth.  Incomplete submissions cannot be accepted.
  • Deadline for submissions 5.00pm Monday 2nd April.
  • A panel of experienced professionals will judge entries and select winners in two categories; under 18 years and 18-22 years.
  • Prizes will include pairs of tickets for forthcoming dance performances in Oxford, including Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker, and dancers of English National Ballet and Flawless in Against Time at the New Theatre, and joint subscriptions to Dancing Times and Dance Today.
  • A selection of entries including the winners will be published online on the Oxford Dance Writers website, and the competition will be publicised in Oxford Times and nationally through Dancing Times who will publish two winning entries online.

Guidelines for writers:

“Good dance criticism is a multi-faceted endeavour.  It involves – at a minimum – description, interpretation and value judgement.”  – Roger Copeland

The judges will be looking for:

  • Flair, imaginative response
  • Evidence of some informed understanding
  • Inclusion of specific detail and useful information
  • Quality of written English

For the full Dancin’ Oxford 2012 programme:

http://www.dancinoxford.co .uk

For information and samples of writing from the previous competition:

For further information about the competition, and to submit entries:

Susie Crow, Oxford Dance Writers

28 Victoria Road, Oxford OX2 7QD

Tel:  01865 557098              Email:  susiecrow@gmail.com

It’s that time of year again!

The 2012 edition of Oxford’s very own dance festival, Dancin’ Oxford, opens on Saturday 18th February and continues through until Wednesday 28th March, with an exciting programme of theatre performances, open air events, workshops, exhibition and talks, including the Digital Dance Trail and the Dance and Academia one day symposium.  Guest companies include festival favourites Tavaziva Dance Company in Sensual Africa, aerial dance Compagnie Retourament in their spectacular Danse des Cariatides, Sonia Sabri Company in Kathakbox, and Blanca Li Company in Electro Kif.  Contributions from Oxford based artists include Flamenco Intimo, A Suitcase for all occasions by Paulette Mae, and the Moving with the Times showcase of work by Oxford dance artists, to say nothing of the ever popular Dance-A-Thon programme of taster workshops and a day of intergenerational dance led by the established Oxford company Crossover.

Don’t forget to purchase a Festival pass to gain reductions on ticket prices and other benefits.

For full details of the Dancin’ Oxford programme:



Dance and Academia: Moving the Boundaries


‘Space to Dance – Exploring Movement, Site and Surroundings’

at Dancin’ Oxford 2012

Convenor: Miranda Laurence

This one-day symposium brings together dance practitioners, academics and professionals from different fields to gain an insight into movement in, through and around space. The day will contain a practical workshop as well as papers, time for discussion and a unique opportunity to explore the spaces around us both physically and mentally.

Speakers will be addressing diverse themes including choreographing audiences through mobile technology, exploring urban design through the perspective of movement, the design of bespoke dance buildings, the use of aerial space for dance, and understandings of movement and dance in human geography fields.

All welcome.

SATURDAY 24th MARCH 2012, 10am-6pm (workshop 10-12, presentations and city tour 12-6)

Old Fire Station, George Street, Oxford OX1 2AQ

Clive Albert (Malcolm Fraser Architects)
Lesley Cotton (Architect and Landscape Architect)
Fabrice Guillot (Choreographer, Compagnie Retouramont)
Struan Leslie (Head of Movement, Royal Shakespeare Company)
Rita Marcalo (Choreographer, Instant Dissidence)
Derek McCormack (School of Geography and The Environment, Oxford University)

Tickets: £18, conc £16

£20, conc £18 including 2 hour movement workshop with Struan Leslie, 10am-12pm

All tickets include light lunch

Advance booking required through Tickets Oxford

http://www.ticketsoxford.com or 01865 305 305.

On 24th March at 7.30pm, Compagnie Retouramont will perform outdoor aerial work ‘Danse des Cariatides’ at Oxford Castle. Entry is free and all conference delegates are welcome to attend.

For more information please visit http://www.dancinoxford.co.uk or email miranda.c.laurence@gmail.com