On Sunday, Oxford Dance Forum celebrated Evolution, its three-year professional development programme for dance artists, funded by Arts Council England and Oxford City Council. Events were free to attend, but had sold out quickly and I was lucky to catch performances by Jenny Parrott, Naomi Morris, and Joëlle Pappas with musician Christopher Redgate, before a discussion led by dance dramaturg Miranda Laurence.

Jenny Parrott’s part-planned, part-improvised performance of With or without (tea and cake) in the OFS Café created an intimate and friendly atmosphere as she led us through a daydream laced with absurdity and gentle humour, built around ordinary domestic objects (a cup of tea; a ball of wool; a hat …). Initially her props were hidden beneath a cloth but she was visible, then in a neat reversal she removed the cloth so that we could see the objects, before covering her face. It was an enjoyable opening to this part of the afternoon programme.

Next came Naomi Morris’ Falling Through II in the Loft, an unusual and mysterious dance, evocative of Celtic fairytales, and set in a luminous spider’s web that gleamed in the partial darkness. Daubed with paint that glowed under blue lighting, Morris seemed like a strange sea creature or siren as she sang and almost swam to a soundtrack of waves. The darkness sharpened my senses, and I was acutely aware of the sound of water as she seemed to wash her hair in a pool; a mermaid emerging from the sea.

Then it was back to the Café for Felix Klee’s Puppet Theatre, Joëlle Pappas’ collaboration with oboe-player Christopher Redgate to music composed by Douglas Young in response to the work of Paul Klee. Pappas and Redgate shared the space, responding to and interacting with each other. At times, Redgate seemed literally to blow her to and fro across the stage, at others, they competed, or challenged each other. There were echoes of Klee’s work in both costume design and choreography. Pappas is an accomplished and expressive dancer whom it is a great delight to watch, not least for her accuracy and attention to detail, and she performed with wit and variety.

Miranda Laurence convened a stimulating and enjoyable group discussion about how we watch and respond to dance … to which the answer was, in many different ways! It was an opportunity to share experiences and think about new ways of understanding dance. We talked about paying attention to dance, what it is that holds our interest, why a dance might lose our attention, and what is happening when our minds wander. These are large topics, and in the short time allotted, we encountered many ideas but drew no conclusions. I left OFS wishing that I had a ticket for the evening performances.

Maggie Watson

13th October 2019

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