How fitting that on the day that a woman took over at 10 Downing Street, Oxford was celebrating the work of women choreographers and dancers in first night of the Women GOlive programme.

Curator Donald Hutera has brought together an impressively novel and varied selection of works by local, national and international artists, which last night ranged from an intensely focussed Butoh-based solo by Ana Barbour, through Jane Connelly’s liquid contemporary dance style, to the disconcerting humour and provocative wit of Susan Kempster, performance poet Jemima Foxtrot and Aliki Mbakoyianni.

A series of short pieces is an opportunity for artists and audience to venture into new territory, while not completely forsaking the familiar.   An Oxford dance audience knows how to respond positively to a solo such as Burnt Norton by Richard Chappell (the only male performer, other than Hutera himself) and the gentle humour of Cecilia Macfarlane’s interaction with cellist Jacqueline Johnson was delightfully accessible.   Kempster’s solo citron pressé to Cole Porter’s I Love Paris was hilarious: clad in gold lamé, resembling simultaneously an exotic insect and a child who has raided her mother’s ball gowns, she demonstrated ballet steps, uttering their names, interspersed with items from a French café menu. Kempster is a thoughtful and adventurous artist: Eye, a work in progress that uses a camera to project her face on screen, was inspired by an acutely awkward adolescent experience, and went far beyond the conventional conception of dance in its exploration of what dance might mean for a middle-aged woman.

Such variety challenges the audience in unexpected ways, and if we were sometimes diffident or uncertain in our responses it was because the boundaries between the funny, the political and the personal can feel uncomfortable and insecure. Joining in can be difficult, and certainly, some of us were too hesitant or reticent to join Mbakoyianni (aka ‘Lorna V’) on stage in the concluding conga line; but who could ever forget that it was as part of her Aliki Speaks dance lecture, on that most political day, that we discovered that Boris Jonson was the new Foreign Secretary? At every turn, this programme demonstrated the relevance of dance to daily life.

The unmissable Women GOlive runs at OFS until Saturday 16 July, with a different programme every night.

Maggie Watson

14 July 2016