Yorke Dance Project’s Figure Ground is a glorious evening of pure dance. To see three really good new dance works and a revival of another in one programme was a rare treat.

The evening at Swindon Dance opened with a short original piece by students, that drew on ideas and movement motifs that would be seen later on. The programme proper then began with Charlotte Edmonds’ No Strings Attached to a score by Michael Gordon. It opens to the sound of rainfall with three men (Jonathan Goddard, Benjamin Warbis and Edd Mitton) powerfully dominating the space in full pliés in second with their arms extended, seeming to fill the stage. They are joined by Laurel Dalley Smith, Amy Thake and Hannah Windows, but the dancers work more as a group than as three pairs. Edmonds’ response to the music is subtle, using the underlying pulses and not just the more obvious surface rhythms for her movement patterns. Nothing is predictable, there are hints of narrative or relationships – here, the notion of the group and those outside the group; there, the suggestion of a couple – and she creates balance on stage without resorting to the purely symmetrical in this very satisfying work.

Canciones Del Alma is a revival of a solo choreographed by Robert Cohan and seen only once before in the UK, in 1979. Yolande York-Edgell gave a deeply moving performance, extraordinarily focussed and intent, in a dance that seemed to me to be about what it is to be a woman and about love, suffering and loss. I am so glad that this piece has been rediscovered for audiences in this country.

Cohan’s new work, Lingua Franca is for four dancers (Goddard, Phil Sanger, Dalley Smith and Yorke-Edgell). It begins in the studio. A solitary man carefully unrolls himself down onto his back and starts listening to his i-pod. The other dancers start by working alone, using a tablet or a laptop, then gradually begin to collaborate as they try out new movements and we hear Cohan’s voice quietly exhorting them to use their backs, and push the floor. Then the appliances are taken away and the dancers’ movements begin to cohere into a single dance to Bach’s Chaconne in D minor until in the end they are no longer just individuals speaking their own dance languages but a company sharing the sheer joy of movement and dancing together.

The final work, Unfold to Centre, by Yorke-Edgell brought all her company on stage dancing with a projected animation of lines, circles and dots that played on the back drop, the floor and sometimes the dancers’ bodies, giving the impression of a conversation between the dancers and the film. At times the patterns of light seemed to inspire the dance, at others to pick out and emphasise aspects of the movement, such as the perfect geometry of an arabesque. There was so much visual information to absorb that I should like to see this very beautiful work again: indeed the entire programme would merit further viewing.

Cohan has been with the company throughout the creation of Figure Ground. His pre-show talk was inspirational (and not only for aspiring choreographers) as he calmly advocated the importance of doing what you need to do and not letting yourself get in the way of your work. Like many of my generation, I owe my earliest experience of contemporary dance to Cohan, in my case through the evening classes taught by students from The Place at the Oxford College of FE in the 1970s. It was not unusual in those days for a first encounter with contemporary dance to be in the studio, rather than the theatre, and I shall always be grateful for the way in which it opened my eyes to a different approach, a new range of movement and a glimmering of understanding about the use of the whole body to convey meaning.

Maggie Watson

1 March 2015

 

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