Dull Roots / Spring Rain, performed by the Dream Again Dance Company at the O’Reilly Theatre, Keble College, Oxford on 6 February 2013

It is a great achievement for a group of students to form a dance company and be ready to perform original work within a few months. The evening consisted of three new works, danced in swift succession, the first by Martha Masoero, the second by Emily Romain, and the third a collaboration between the two choreographers, performed by a cast of female dancers. Although only the second work was a “story ballet”, the first and the third had narrative threads that gave them their structure. They were linked by shared themes and the allusion in their titles to the opening lines of The Waste Land. Programme notes informing the audience of the significance of each work, rather than letting it emerge from the performance perhaps revealed a lack of confidence. All three felt like early works, in which the choreographers were trying things out, and the dancers still seeking their own performance styles, and the result was an interesting and enjoyable evening.

It is very difficult to create dances for a group of individuals with such varied training and wide ranges of technical ability, but both choreographers did so competently. I think that it might have been better to focus even more on the patterns, dynamics and movement, and less on actual steps. In Masoero’s Spring, I felt that the fusion of classical, contemporary, modern and acrobatic vocabulary was sometimes disjointed, and wondered whether she had sometimes included a movement simply because the dancer was capable of doing it. In Romain’s Roots, which told the story of Persephone, I was also sometimes very conscious of dance steps, when I think I should have been more aware of the drama. All this may develop as the dancers embed themselves in their roles and the dancing between the steps emerges.

The dancers themselves seemed mostly to have some classical ballet training, and not all of them seemed comfortable in other styles. Masoero’s choreography suited small, quick dancers, and there were points at which it seemed a little difficult for some of the cast, particularly if they were tall. The most successful dance performances were by those with the confidence to use their own performance styles. I enjoyed watching Bronwyn Tarr’s solo in Roots, which showed a lovely quality of movement, and the very small dancer in Spring, who smiled radiantly as her grands jetés flew in sharp diagonals across the stage. A company such as this is never going to present a uniform appearance, but I hope that they are able to carry on working together, and gradually develop a collective style. There was sometimes too much concern to execute steps in a particular technical way, when it would have been better if each dancer had found her own way of performing them that was true to herself and to the intention behind the choreography, and in harmony with the ensemble.

For me, the least successful work was the collaborative Rain. One problem was the size of the stage, which was too small for the ten dancers and a clutter of boxes, but the main difficulty was the lack of a consistent choreographic voice. I could see reflections of movements that both Masoero and Romain had used earlier, but I thought that it resulted in a less interesting whole. Nevertheless, it promises very well that both Romain and Masoero are developing their own creative approaches to dance, and that they have gathered a company of dancers with such manifest energy and enthusiasm.

Maggie Watson