The first edition of Oxford Dance Forum’s ODF Presents… at The Old Fire Station showcased work-in-progress by five Oxford based dance artists and companies, as part of a three year Arts Council England funded professional development programme.

Ana Barbour:  Rope, Rock, R…

The opening piece of the evening unwound from a quiet, subtle beginning to great sweeps of movement and sound. The idea of examining the way that a lifeless object such as a length of rope can move and change shape, was an intriguing one, and an original way to develop a performance piece. There was some interesting use of multimedia, with projected images which Ana interacted with quite directly at times, at other times providing a less prominent backdrop.  It felt as though a large span of emotions and characteristics was explored in a short time, from intricate delicate movements and a soft, almost caressing interaction with the hanging rope on stage, to a cheeky, flirtatious moment of tango, and the violent rage of the rock star. Throughout all of these elements, Ana maintained a relationship with the audience; from defiant stares to small smiles and moments where she was facing away from us, one felt included in the journey that played out. The quick switch between different temperaments and movement styles in an instant was impressive, as was her innovative use of the props and media. 

Smidgen Dance Company:  Impasse

There was a lot to enjoy in this graceful, understated piece. Jane Connelly’s style of movement was elegant and felt almost innocent, portraying a character who drew you in despite seeming somewhat shy and rarely looking directly into the audience, but who also had a quiet confidence. Although there was a simplicity to the character and movement, being taken into her world was still entertaining and surprising – sometimes it seemed wondrous and almost childlike, and at other times there seemed to be a burst of sudden inspiration and the want to expand. There was enough variety in the pacing of the movements and emotions portrayed that one always felt engaged and interested to see what was coming next. The gentle soundtrack suited the dance very well, and it felt easy to watch, a tender moment in the evening which left one feeling warmed and content.

My Johannson:  Negotiating Space

This was a stripped-back performance, removing outside elements such as a musical soundtrack, and conducted entirely from low on the stage floor. Because of this, the audience was focussed and honed in entirely on the movement and the sound simply coming from the contact of body and stage. It is a restriction of the venue that it was difficult for some of the audience to see parts of the performance, but My utilised the entire stage area so mostly this wasn’t a great issue. Although there wasn’t the variation of height and choreographic possibility that comes with being able to move from standing to sitting, lying, jumping and more, this was far from limiting – the range of sinuous, explosive, dynamic and controlled movements showed a scope of imagination and choreographic skill, and portrayed a character which seemed to travel through exploration, suffering, contentment and more.

Paulette Mae:  letters in the rain

Again interesting effects were used in this work, including the use of a live microphone system broadcasting a soundtrack that was created as the piece was performed. This gave a spontaneity, and also took the performance away from merely visual movement, expanding the audience’s awareness of the sounds as an interactive part of the performance rather than just a background. The movement itself was very expressive, seeming to me to depict the struggle to escape from some caging and controlling force, yet with moments of serenity. A second performer joined Paulette on stage to create more live soundtrack on cymbals; this created a slightly odd atmosphere as the two performers seemed remote from one another – this may well have been intentional, however, as the piece in general had an air of surreal other-worldliness and sometimes detachment. The final section included more live soundscape, this time from Paulette singing – her exceptional voice added an intimacy and bittersweet edge to the character that she portrayed. Overall an interesting if unexpected world was created, where the movement was just one of many elements being drawn in to the performance.

Lunas Dance Project:  There Are No Such Words

This was a touching, emotive performance from five dancers, choreographed by Eleonora Aldegheri and exploring themes of motherhood and family relationships. Two distinct ways of utilising the group emerged – firstly the use of single, distinct, independent characters whose solo and duet work sometimes seemed loving and familiar, and at other times pulled and struggled against each other; and secondly a unison of movement within the whole group which created a sense of family and bonding, but also a potential restriction of individuality which some characters sought to break out of.

Within a work which had larger sections displaying strong feelings and themes, there were also moments of quiet intimacy – a young woman looking in the mirror and trying on clothes, another sitting restlessly at a desk; these felt like snapshots into private lives, and they acted as a counterbalance to the bigger sections, creating variety in the tone and pace of the piece. The diverse soundtrack sometimes created a feeling of action, even agitation, and at other times a yearning and stillness, but it was always completely in sync with the mood created by the choreography, making the performance seamless to watch and listen to. The level of emotion which was created was powerful throughout, and it was a moving, affecting end to the evening.

Jess Ryan-Phillips

22nd July 2017