News of exciting new research with both academic and artistic strands happening here in Oxford.  Here the Avid for Ovid team introduce themselves, what has happened so far and plans for forthcoming work.

Who we are and why we are

Avid for Ovid is a group of performing artists interested in exploring the potential of using principles and ideas from ancient dance and music in contemporary performance. As performers we are keen to research ancient performance principles and to broaden our vocabularies by incorporating elements from the unique cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome in order to use them to develop narrative pieces that are meaningful within a contemporary context.

Core members of the group are Malcolm Atkins, musician; Susie Crow, dancer: and Ségolène Tarte, dancer.  Our interest in this work was crystallised through our participation in the Oxford University research project Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers in the summer of 2013.  Conducted by classicist Dr. Helen Slaney, social anthropologist Dr. Caroline Potter, and doctoral researcher Sophie Bocksberger, with the support of TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford), the aim of this practice-based project is to explore the nature and physicality of Ancient Roman Pantomime.  The research seeks to establish collaborative settings where dancers and classicists combine their expertise, initially to interpret and create dance sketches based on a text from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, using evidence from contemporary writings as a source and prompt for movement material.  A musical setting of the text was specially composed by Malcolm Atkins, and a range of differing danced interpretations resulted from the 2013 workshops, each evoking in their own ways aspects of Ancient Roman Pantomime.

With Avid for Ovid, we aim to establish an artistically-motivated and performance-oriented group that will maintain the dialogue with the Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers’s practice-based research. In a sense, Avid for Ovid is the research-based practice pendant to Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers’ practice-based research.

We felt that the richness of the research-based material and ideas hold a world of potential for contemporary communication through performance.  Our impetus is to take forward the work of the Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers research in investigating Roman pantomime from our perspective as artists. By creating works for performance that reflect what we have learned so far about Ancient Roman Pantomime, we are also opening up further artistic avenues for exploration. Liaising with the Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers academic research team, we are establishing a collaboration whereby we mutually benefit from the sharing of our respective processes and findings. A set of further practice-based research workshops, funded by TORCH in May 2014 explored relevant and related techniques:

  • a workshop on storytelling in Kathak dance with Anuradha Chaturvedi
  • a Butoh influenced physical storytelling workshop with Yael Karavan
  • a workshop on neutral mask technique with Marie-Louise Crawley.

Performance project

In parallel and in consultation with the Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers team we are working on a dramatization of an attempt to reconstruct a dance form from ancient Greece and Rome, inspired by archaeological and textual evidence. Classicist Dr Helen Slaney, from the Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers research project, who is also an actress and director, will actively take part in this performance project.


Ancient Roman pantomime is a dance form for which little musical and choreographic evidence remains. We aim to present a piece that involves the researcher as a performer, telling the contemporary story of what it is like to create a piece that, in antiquity, would have told a universally known story. Through the mediation of the researcher present on stage, acting as a director and expert consultant to the performers, commenting on various aspects of the reconstructed Ancient Roman Pantomime and leading the creation of the piece, we will be able to invite the audience to reflect with us on issues such as: what it might mean to attempt to be literal when telling a story, what types of movement can be associated with what kind of emotions, and what kind of expressions might be assumed to be universal when they might be intrinsically of their own time and place.

Working with text from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and using evidence from contemporary writings as a source and prompt for movement material, we will create a range of musical settings of the text and of differing danced interpretations, attempting to evoke aspects of Roman pantomime and how ancient narratives may be relevant to our time. Two specific flavours are of particular interest: one the striving to be authentic, inviting comments and reflection around the possibility of ever being authentic; and one the aim to be understood by a present-day audience, thus concentrating on aspects of story-telling and inviting comments and reflections on what our current understanding of archetypal story and human emotions are.

We will be working on developing the piece during the summer of 2014 for an informal presentation at the end of August. Details of public performance will follow; and further news about the ongoing research will be available via a dedicated Avid for Ovid page on the Ballet in Small Spaces blog as well as on the TORCH website.