The Oxford Dance Forum (ODF) Scratch Night was an opportunity for four choreographers to try out newly created dances in front of an audience.  Nathan Grassi introduced each work on behalf of ODF, and skilfully moderated the feedback discussions that followed each performance.

The evening started with a fragment from Andy Solway’s extended work 66 Dances, with which he plans to mark his sixty-sixth birthday over the course of two days at Littlemore Church in December.  Eight dancers, alongside musicians Malcolm Atkins and Paul Medley, presented an improvisation that included danced responses to haikus by Erica Ison, which were written on pieces of paper that were pinned to the back curtain and selected at random.  Imagery from the first haiku inspired a duet in which the dancers circled each other like birds.  Solway and Jenny Parrott responded to the second haiku with movement that conjured up the sense of dripping water; I could almost feel the rain splashing onto Parrott’s head and neck.

The second presentation, Under the Treetops, by Dew Dance, a guest company from High Wycombe, derived from work originally created for specific outdoor locations, which choreographer Liezl de Wouters is adapting and developing for the stage.  The three scenes reflected ways in which a tree can shelter, sustain life, and also be a metaphor for growth. The four female contemporary dancers, their hair braided around their heads, danced with grace and energy, bringing the feeling of the outdoor world into an indoor space.

After an interval Ségolène Tarte showed excerpts from her work in progress Peregrine Suite, which she danced with Solway and Parrott.  Using an ingenious bespoke prop (created by Tarte with help from Peter Street), she gathered together ideas about travel through time, space and within the mind.  The centre piece of her presentation was a beautifully structured ballet solo, danced by Tarte herself, to a recorded arrangement of Vivaldi’s ‘Cum Dederit’.

The final showing was Ayala Kingsley’s Intermediary, a powerful work of transformation to accompaniment by Atkins, which came out of Café Reason’s ‘Starting from Zero’ lockdown project.  Kingsley began sitting upstage centre, her back to the audience as a sheet that was spread out behind her seemed to creep towards her of its own volition.  When she turned around, we saw that she was wrapped in an array of lights that glowed as if from within her chest wall.

The feedback from the conversation after each work was full of interest, ranging from questions about staging, lighting, props and costumes, to explanations of sources and discussion of artistic intention.  It was notable that two of the pieces had made use of the Creative Labs offered by ODF, which provide informal opportunities for local artists to collaborate in testing out and developing initial ideas.  Arts at the Old Fire Station is also greatly to be commended for its generous support, not only by offering its theatre space for regular Scratch Nights in theatre, comedy, and dance, but by discounting rehearsal space for artists in its studio, further subsidised for Scratch Night participants by ODF.

 I feel fortunate and privileged to have seen these dances as works in progress and hope to see how they develop in future. 

Maggie Watson

8th October 2022

Find out more about Oxford Dance Forum’s activities here