Wednesday 9th February saw the first Dance Scratch Night at the Old Fire Station since the start of the pandemic.   Three local makers, Pragna Das, Susie Crow and Helen Edwards shared new work with an audience, and invited feedback and suggestions during discussions moderated by Jenny Parrott on behalf of Oxford Dance Forum (ODF).  Although they work in different dance and movement genres, all three artists draw on a vast corpus of knowledge and understanding: for Pragna Das and Susie Crow, the heritage of Kathak and ballet; for Helen Edwards, Asian movement traditions including Butoh, and the ancient materiality of the natural world.

Pragna Das presented Bhoboghure, a dance about the dilemma of how to break free from a situation and move forward.  Clothed in a costume that reflected the shared elements between Kathak and Flamenco, her dance was strikingly modern and relevant, as she conveyed a situation in which she was initially hemmed in, before escaping by means of a cathartic manège of whirling turns.

In contrast, Susie Crow’s Technical Studies Project was not so much an emotional response to the pandemic as a practical one.  Dancers Evie Tucker, Ségolène Tarte and Thomas Page danced solos created with the needs of particular dancers in mind, and technical studies designed to address glissades, adage, and small jumps in the context of the ballet class.  These miniature dances are designed for study in a studio rather than on stage, and offer a dance equivalent to the studies used by Western musicians to develop technique and musicality. While Tarte and Page danced solos made specifically for them, Tucker danced one made for another dancer, showing how a study designed specifically for one dancer can offer another the opportunity to make it their own.

The evening concluded with Helen Edward’s Finding Stone, in which she explored the relationship between the transient dancing body and the relative permanency of the earth’s geology.  Discussion afterwards included practical suggestions about costumes, and ranged widely across the ideas, feelings and imagery evoked by her slow perfectly balanced movements as she carefully carried a small pyramid of stones across the stage.

All three creators demonstrated their versatility and adaptability when working in very difficult circumstances.  Edwards, who dances outside in nature had created new work indoors; Crow had choreographed  dances for small spaces and ordinary floor surfaces, teaching them over Zoom; Pragna Das had worked remotely with musician Mohit Gangani, her percussive footwork in performance interacting with a recording that had been made thousands of miles away in India.  The evening was confirmation that despite the difficulties of the past two years, dance in Oxford is innovative, exciting and very much alive.

Maggie Watson

13th February 2022