reviews


The play opens with a projected image of Ida Rubinstein’s grave, which morphs into mysterious and exotic visions of Naomi Sorkin, who slowly unwinds and removes one veil after another.  She is at once Cléopâtre, Salomé and Rubinstein, gradually revealing her body, as she prepares to disclose layer upon layer of her past.  Sorkin’s compelling performance exudes magnetic power, as she plays an ageing femme fatale telling her life story to journalist Edward Clement (played by Max Wilson). 

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The third annual DANSOX summer school was a scholarly investigation into the relationship between dance and inscription.  It treated both concepts in the broadest sense: ‘dance’ encompassed Western movement styles ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary; ‘inscription’ embraced not only the written word and notation, but also the traces preserved in art, photography, film and the dancing body itself.  The format was hybrid, with a small socially distanced audience present in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, and a recorded live stream for external participants.

Alastair Macaulay’s opening lecture looked at literary sources of inspiration for dance and the role of notation in protecting, preserving, and challenging our perceptions of works.  Macaulay’s wide ranging discussion, liberally illustrated with film clips and photographs, raised themes developed in the subsequent lectures and dance workshops.  He noted the subtle ways in which choreographers such as Merce Cunningham have drawn on a literary sources, and cited Pam Tanowitz’ interweaving of dance, music and poetry in her Four Quartets.  Macaulay also discussed the ways in which dances change over time; the problems and inadequacies of recordings; the significance of context, and the readability or otherwise of notation, whether that of Vladimir Stepanov or Vaslav Nijinsky.

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The Grace Project is an interdisciplinary investigation into the concept of ‘grace’ in all its forms, which evolved from the research of Professor Sue Jones on literature and dance.  Grace has been central to the development of dance aesthetics, but it has also been challenged by practitioners of modern and contemporary dance.  These two seminars, which were attended by socially-distanced groups of academics, practitioners and interested local people, interrogated the question of what constitutes grace by examining five contrasting dances performed by, and discussed with, members of the Yorke Dance Project led by Yolande Yorke-Edgell.

The dancers presented works by Robert Cohan, Kenneth MacMillan and Yorke-Edgell, the latter consciously channelling the influences of Richard Alston and Bella Lewitzky (who was herself influenced by the choreographer Lester Horton).

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If I had to recommend just one book to a vocational dance student, it would be Ballet: The Essential Guide to Technique and Creative Practice.  In ten chapters, each written by an expert, the book covers the full range of material of which anyone embarking on a career in ballet needs understanding and awareness. 

The structure takes the reader logically from Ginny Brown’s and Anna Meadmore’s opening chapters on  ballet’s founding principles, cultural history and heritage, though the practical aspects of learning to dance, self-care, creativity and musicality, and on to guidance on the professional conduct, conventions and essential activities that all help bring a performance from the studio to the stage.

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It was great delight to attend the Royal Ballet School’s recreation of Ninette de Valois’ experimental study The Arts of the Theatre (1925) to the music of Ravel’s La Valse.  It was the culmination of a project resulting from archivist Anna Meadmore’s exciting discovery of Ursula Moreton’s choreographic notations in the School’s collections.

The evening fell into four parts:  an illustrated talk by Meadmore, followed by an initial performance of the work by five dancers from the Upper School.  Then, after a brief pause, Meadmore interviewed each of the young dancers, sensitively eliciting their individual responses to the work, and taking questions from the online audience.  Finally the dancers danced again, giving us all a second chance to watch a work that had not been performed since 1932.

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Lewys Holt is billed as an “interdisciplinary dance artist”.  His double bill of two extended performance pieces cannot really be described as primarily dance solos – involving, as they do, not only Holt’s particular movement, collapsing and reconstituting itself in wayward unexpected ways, but also articulate verbal narrative and interjections of projected images, sound and music.  A studio setting provides a small performing space demarcated by a black curtain with simple white chair and table; but shifting camera work allow viewers to glimpse behind and around it the clutter of a working space and its prosaic furnishings, with radiators, coarse chipboard, and miscellaneous equipment pushed aside – in contrast to the unrealistic abstracted framing of theatre’s conventional black box.  A masked collaborative technical team visible filming from different angles or following Holt within the performing space are occasionally drawn into his rambling monologue to answer questions and offer comments or suggestions.  

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During the fascinating discussion between Professor Susan Jones and Professor Mark Franko, in celebration of the publication of this book, held for DANSOX members via Zoom in November 2020,[1] Franko says: “I worry that the Occupation chapter is overpowering the book”, because the critical responses received thus far, had only written about that chapter. I will attempt to review more of Franko’s tour de force than this chapter, although it is rich with new archival material which uncovers much about the relationship between Serge Lifar at the Paris Opera and the Nazi Occupation.

Franko runs the major theme of the baroque in neoclassicism in ballet, through the body of Serge Lifar, throughout his book. He dissects the French baroque of the seventeenth century and the German baroque of the eighteenth century, their similarities and differences, their nationalist links and how they are reflected in Lifar’s ballets at different stages of Lifar’s career in Paris (1929-1958).

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This moving tribute was the first in a series of events by Yorke Dance Project (YDP) dedicated to the memory of Sir Robert Cohan, and honoured his work on what would have been his 96th birthday. 

Yolande Yorke-Edgell (Artistic Director of YDP) described how after they met nine years ago, Cohan, who was already in his 80s, revived three works and created another four for the company.  Cohan continued to work with YDP until the end of his life, using Zoom to create during lockdown.  His last rehearsal was on 5 December 2020.

Filmmaker David McCormick shared a short film, narrated by Cohan, about the creation of the work Communion for YDP’s 20th Anniversary Season in 2019.  This is planned to be a chapter from a Film Book on Dance which will include Cohan talking about how to be a dancer and choreographer, alongside text, images and film.  Cohan’s work was instrumental to the development of contemporary dance practice in the United Kingdom, and he was not only a dancer and choreographer but also a gifted teacher and mentor.  He was fascinated by movement: if Communion is understood as an essay on dance through performance, McCormick’s film was a way of documenting Cohan’s wisdom, philosophy and beliefs.

Other contributions followed.  Lighting designer John B. Read, Roy M. Vestrich, and Yorke Dance Associate Director Stephen Pelton, spoke of how Cohan trusted his collaborators, and worked with the way that dancers moved, tuning into the vibrations that impel movement.  For Dane Hurst, whom those attending were privileged to see performing his solo from Communion in a separate short film by David Stewart, Cohan’s rehearsals were transformational experiences in which the ordinary became extraordinary, as he came to see the world with greater clarity.  Dancer Laurel Dalley Smith, who the following day gave an online master class on her solo from Communion, noted Cohan’s ability to find his dancers’ inner core.

The evening had moments of sadness, but it did not feel like an ending.  The Cohan Collective, an open residency programme for the creation of new choreography and music composition which aims to maintain the spirit of Cohan’s unique artistic legacy, will carry on, continuing to support dancers and choreographers on their journey to find themselves as creative artists, discovering the dance that lies within them.

Maggie Watson

9th April 2021

Find out more about the Cohan Collective here

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here

Watch excerpts from Communion by Sir Robert Cohan, as well as works by other choreographers influenced by Martha Graham, in online streamed performance by the Martha Graham Company 30th April to 2nd May; further information and booking details here

One of the few benefits of lockdown has been the proliferation of dance teaching material online.  The ability to watch and sample ballet classes from all over the world has enabled comparison and reflection on the characteristics and relative merits of different methods of schooling, which one would normally have little opportunity either to observe or experience.  Recent trawling for fresh ideas for my Zoom teaching lead me to look closely at films documenting the classes and pedagogic approaches of two established and respected teachers from the Paris Opera Ballet and its school, Alexandre Kalioujny and Raymond Franchetti.  Of Russian origin but born and brought up in Prague, Kalioujny had a long association with the company, initially as a dancer, but later after a distinguished performing career as a teacher of its leading dancers, forging a close relationship with Rudolf Nureyev who greatly respected his work.  His alumni include luminaries Elisabeth Platel and Charles Jude, who for the film La Classe d’ Alexandre Kalioujny teach a class demonstrating and explaining some of the principles and concerns which informed his teaching, shaping future generations of French ballet dancers. 

Discussion about this prompted a colleague to point me to a documentary about the teaching of Raymond Franchetti, himself a pupil of the renowned French teacher Gustave Ricaux, and dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet, before becoming a hugely respected teacher in his own right and subsequently Director of Dance at the Paris Opera in the 1970s.  A short but very informative documentary follows a class taught by Franchetti, interspersed with his own forthright observations on ballet technique and pedagogy, interview material, and reminiscences of historic dance studios. On 27th January the Paris Opera Ballet staged its grand opening Gala in the Palais Garnier; having studied these classes I was very keen to watch this programme, to see how the ethos and technique of the dancing visible in the studio translated into performance. 

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Anne Searcy’s scholarly and highly readable book examines the impact of US – Soviet cultural exchanges during the Cold War through the lens of the Bolshoi Ballet’s 1959 and 1962 tours of the USA, and the tours by American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet of the Soviet Union in 1960 and 1962 respectively.  Searcy draws on an impressive array of Russian and English archival resources and contemporaneous reviews to reconstruct and understand the way in which these companies, their works, and their performances were received by audiences at the time.  She offers new material and a new view point focussed on the reception of the dance, rather than its presentation.

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