Spindrift is a special early evening event in the cafe of the Old Fire Station combining free improvisation by musicians of Oxford Improvisers and dance with special guest Helen Edwards.

Helen Edwards is an Oxford based dancer, artist and arts psychotherapist. She has studied Butoh and Amerta Movement in Indonesia, Japan, Europe and the UK. Helen will perform a solo piece of her own devising (Finding Stone) and also dance in duo with fellow Oxford-based dancer Lizzy Spight.

The evening will present a new piece for improvising musicians and dancers devised by Lawrence Casserley, a larger group piece by Paul Medley, and a piece by Bruno Guastalla using maqam techniques, for loutar and sinewaves.

Programme:

Siròc for loutar with sine waves performed by Bruno Guastalla

Finding Stone solo dance by Helen Edwards with musical accompaniment by Martin Hackett, Philipp Wachsmann, Paul Medley

HIPPO devised by Lawrence Casserley. Dancers: Helen Edwards and Lizzy Spight. Musicians: Lisa Reim, Chris Stubbs, Pete Watson. The five greatest threats to biodiversity can be summarized by the “HIPPO” acronym: (1) Habitat loss, (2) Invasives, (3) Pollution, (4) Population, and (5) Overexploitation. The score consists of five graphic images, which are drawn from some of the most endangered environments on earth: grasslands, oceans, broadleaf forest, arctic regions, Aral Sea.

Spindrift devised by Paul Medley for solo players and small groups

Squall, a text piece devised by Mark Browne for improvisers, that considers some of the many and diverse aspects of large bodies of water.

Performers:

Dancers: Helen Edwards, Lizzy Spight
Musicians: Andrew West, Chris Stubbs, Bruno Guastalla, Lisa Reim, Martin Hackett, Lawrence Casserley, Chris Dammers, Mark Browne, Pete Watson, Philipp Wachsmann, Dan Goren, Lizzy Spight, Paul Medley.

Date: Tuesday 22nd February 6.30pm

Venue: Old Fire Station Cafe, 40 George Street, Oxford OX1 2AQ

Tickets: on the door.

Find out more about Helen Edwards here

Find out more about Oxford Improvisers here

Find out about Lizzy Spight here

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.

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DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) enters 2022 with a fascinating thematic programme of events over the Hilary (Spring) term. Interrogating the Dance ‘Classics’ began with a sparkling occasion on 25th January bringing together Dame Monica Mason (former principal dancer and Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet) with Jane Pritchard, Dance Archivist at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They talked about The Sleeping Princess and The Sleeping Beauty in the centenary year of the first performances of Diaghilev’s legendary production of The Sleeping Princess in London, bringing the history of this seminal Petipa work and its influence on ballet in Britain up to the present day. Forthcoming events include:

Monday 7th February 1.00-2.30 GMT online

Marcus Bell (St Hilda’s, Oxford) and Marie-Louise Crawley (Coventry) – Listening to Grace: Embodying Hidden Pasts, Imagining Just Futures. This joint presentation and discussion forms part of the ongoing DANSOX/TORCH series Dance as Grace: Paradoxes and Possibilities

Wednesday 2nd March 5.30-7.00pm GMT in person at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Cowley Place, Oxford OX4 1DY

Alastair Macaulay, international writer and critic – Swan Lake

Attend in person or watch the live stream here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uoVO76hjZc

Tuesday 19th April 5.30-7.00pm BST in person at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building

Arabella Stanger (Sussex) – Dancing on Violent Ground: Utopia as Dispossession in Euro-American Theater Dance

For online joining links and enquiries please contact susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk and marcus.bell@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk.

Unless otherwise stated all DANSOX events are free and open to all; if held in person the event will be followed by refreshments.

All future in-person events may be moved online subject to COVID19 precautions.

Find out about DANSOX here and watch videos of past events here

Oxford Dance Forum are delighted finally to be back at Arts at the Old Fire Station to share an evening of new dance works in progress by ODF members, and invite feedback, comments and discussion with the audience.

Pragna Das – Bhoboghure

Moving ahead- sometimes it happens that we get stuck in a situation or a thing. This piece describes that feeling and the urge to move ahead, and how that process happens. The dilemma of being comfortable with people around, and when you are forced to move ahead without them as they were gone in the delinquent.

Susie Crow – Technical studies project

Over the course of the pandemic and under the limitations of lockdown I have been creating miniature dances arising from balletic technical challenges, that could be practised and performed at home. Western classical musicians have long written and published technical studies, making them available to all who wish to try playing them. I hope to make my dance studies similarly publicly available online, and am investigating appropriate formats and platforms for doing this.

Dancers: Ségolène Tarte, Evie Tucker and Thomas Page

Helen Edwards – Finding Stone

We are of the earth
Exploring a dialogue with stones found by the sea
Carrying these stones with me
My body feeling their weight, density, atmosphere and stories,
I am slowed by them,
Anchored in presence
The dance emerges from the body in the liminal spaces between the memories of stone and water
A residue of this ancient knowledge
The strata of life and layers of time

Date: Wednesday 9th February 7.30pm

Venue: Arts at the Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford OX1 2AQ

Tickets: £5 on the door or book online here

Oxford Dance Forum would like to thank Arts at the Old Fire Station and all their team for supporting this event.

Find out more about Oxford Dance Forum via the website here and on Facebook here

This was a beautifully planned evening of song, readings and dance, culminating in a performance of Franz Liszt’s Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi sonata. Presented by the Oxford Dante Society to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, it formed part of a season of Dante themed activities programmed and supported by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, as part of their Humanities Cultural Programme.  There were some last minute changes: tenor Seb Hill had stepped in overnight learning three solos at short notice, and speaker Anthony Hunt was unable to attend; his essay was read by pianist Jonathan Katz, who devised the event and also acted as an informal master of ceremonies.

The programme included two original dances, created with the support of DANSOX, Dance Scholarship Oxford.  The first was ‘That even I’, a solo created with movement direction by Estela Merlos and danced by Thomasin Gülgeç to music by Joseph Kay made by sampling extracts of spoken word.  Merlos, Gülgeç and Kay have worked together before, notably at the DANSOX 2021 summer school, and this piece seemed a logical development of work they showed then, in respect of its intensity, the dancer’s close attentiveness to the score, and the sense that the work had grown as an organic whole.

The second dance, ‘In a dark wood’, a duo choreographed by Susie Crow to music by Jeremy Thurlow, conjured up Dante’s wanderings through the forest at the beginning of Canto 1 of the Inferno, initially alone and then under the tutelage of  Virgil.  Cameron Everitt, as Dante, seemed to move aside invisible curtains of foliage, weaving his way beneath branches until he encountered Virgil, a severe but charismatic figure danced by Nicholas Minns.  At the end, the two made a stately geometric progress, exchanging places in a square pattern, as if Virgil were formally opening the way for Dante to go through a door, and leading him further on. 

The tiny floor area in a fully lit hall with the audience looking down from above was a very exposed stage for all three dancers.  Gülgeç, Everitt and Minns were within touching distance of the spectators, but with their individual and distinctive dance styles, they succeeded in drawing us into their imaginary worlds.

The evening concluded with the Liszt sonata, played by Jonathan Katz, and preceded by Hunt’s introduction, which reminded us that Frederick Ashton used the music for his wartime ballet Dante Sonata; Dante’s poetry has long been an inspiration for dance, and this programme continued that tradition.

This event, and also the Oxford screening and discussion of choreographer Luc Petton’s ballet Ainsi la Nuit for human dancers, birds and animals, have been recorded and will become available on the TORCH YouTube channel.

Maggie Watson

28th November 2021

Find out more about and give your feedback on TORCH’s Dante 2021 Season here

Check out the Ashmolean exhibition Dante: the Invention of Celebrity here

Read Barbara Berrington’s account of a previous Dante programme Dante in the Chapel including choreography by Susie Crow here

Ballet Cymru’s Giselle treats the well known story in a fresh and original way that nevertheless respects the original text.  Both the score by Catrin Finch and Lee Child, and the choreography (attributed to Amy Doughty, Darius James and dancers of the company) draw on the nineteenth century ballet to create something completely new.  There are musical quotations from Adolphe Adam’s music, and the dances also echo the original in interesting ways, for example using the posés temps levés with ballonés that are traditionally Giselle’s on her first entrance for the whole cast.  Nevertheless, this is a wholly new creation.

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Agudo Dance Company’s Carmen takes a fresh look at a familiar narrative, using a movement vocabulary that draws on Flamenco, Kathak and contemporary dance.  At the start, seven beams of light from above gradually illuminate each of the dancers, as they crouch in darkness on the floor, slowly creeping towards the audience, their hands clasped behind their backs.  The four men and three women dance barefoot, so the sound of Flamenco rhythms comes not so much from their beating feet as from composer Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s percussive score.

Jose Agudo has created an expressive and exciting dance style that successfully integrates Kathak-like footwork with the strong oppositions, arched backs and intense focus of Flamenco, and the freedom and generous breadth of contemporary dance technique.  The dancers move with strongly supported upper backs and arms as they perform swift glissade-type steps, pirouettes en dehors in attitude, dramatic spinning turns that freeze abruptly, and quick backward flicks of the foot.

Although there is a story, taken direct from Prosper Mérimée’s novella rather than from Bizet’s opera, this is not a detailed retelling of the tale.  Carmen’s relationships with the other dancers form the heart of the work, whether she is competing angrily with another woman or ensnaring the man who will eventually kill her.  We know that he is an outsider from the subtle flashes of red in the lining of his jerkin, which match her scarlet dress as they perform a duet that consists almost entirely of complex and erotically charge lifts, in which she seems hardly to touch the ground.  The women’s swirling skirts, the rugged machismo of the men, and the music interwoven with a thread of Cuban Bolero create an exotic, dangerous and reckless atmosphere.  Carmen’s death seems inevitable, and when at the end her lover holds her lifeless body in his arms, she seems to be a sacrificial victim, mourned by her companions in a frenzied dance.

This was collective work, and as the cast list did not attribute roles to individuals, I name all the dancers:  Nikita Goile, Joshua Scott, Luke Watson, Yukiko Masui, Faye Stoeser, Juan Sánchez Plaza and Nicola Micallef.

Maggie Watson

3rd November 2021

Find out more about Jose Agudo and his company here

The Midnight Bell, Matthew Bourne’s latest New Adventures production, presents a cast of ten characters and their personal tragedies.  Inspired by Patrick Hamilton’s novels, and set in a seedy 1930s pub and its environs, the music, designs and choreography capture a mood of gloom and desolation, punctuated by moments of humour and occasional happiness.  Bourne uses movement and dance to reveal the tension between the inner and outer lives of his characters.  Each has their own way of standing, sitting and walking, and there are continual shifts between external reality and inner fantasy, revealing a complex web of social and sexual relationships.  Amusing, touching, enraging and pathetic by turns, the six intersecting narrative plots gradually drew me in:  I felt like cheering when Miss Roach (played Michela Meazza), bound the wrists of the cad Ernest Ralph Gorse (Glenn Graham) to the bedstead in a down-at-heel hotel with his own tie, leaving him helpless and ridiculous with his trousers around his ankles.  Bryony Harrison gave a moving performance as Ella, a barmaid, who initially accepts a proposal of marriage, to social approbation, and then withdraws because she loves Bob, the waiter (Paris Fitzpatrick).  Bob, meanwhile, is infatuated with sex worker Jenny Maple (played by Bryony Wood), who touts for business under a lamp post.

The action begins a little slowly, as the characters are introduced, but the drama builds thoughout, and we share the shock when Albert (played by Liam Mower) realises that Frank (Andrew Monaghan), with whom he has had a homosexual encounter, is a policeman.  Likewise, we feel relief when the schizophrenic, played by Richard Winsor, discovers that he has not in fact strangled the actress (Daisy May Kemp) in a psychotic episode, and she is perfectly all right.

Lez Brotherston’s spectacular sets evoke the dingy poverty of a 1930s working-class area of London, offset by the changing colours of the skyline and the gorgeous pink and green of Jenny Maple’s costume.  Terry Davies’ original score ingeniously integrates the 1930s songs that the dancers lip-synch, the words confirming what their movement and dance already expresses.  Matthew Bourne’s work always excites and entertains; I found this to be his most interesting work since Play Without Words.  There are still chances to see it on tour in November https://new-adventures.net/the-midnight-bell#overview

Maggie Watson

31st October 2021

Maurice Béjart’s dance work L’Heure Exquise, inspired by and to some extent based on Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, is a totally enthralling theatrical experience.  In the visually spectacular opening scene, Alessandra Ferri emerges like a delicate flower from a vast mound of pointe shoes, which opens at the front, as it if were a huge skirt, allowing her to step out.  Upstage right, Carsten Jung sits facing away from us, plucking a guitar: he might be her lover, her partner, or perhaps even her minder or carer, perhaps all of these.  Ferri’s performance is breath-taking.  She seems to drift in and out of reality, checking a pair of shoes for performance, reciting and singing snatches of poetry, prayers and songs, or dancing fragmentary steps.  Beckett’s character Winnie speaks in clichés that reveal greater truths;  Ferri, as Béjart’s ‘She’, dances them, at one moment indicating a Swan Queen with her ports de bras, at another, dragging her folded red parasol snaking along the stage as Giselle does the sword.  Like Winnie, ‘She’ has a bag of pathetically limited possessions, which she lays out on the stage: there is a mirror, a rose, and (as in Beckett’s play) a gun.

By the second act, Ferri is buried to her neck at the top of the pointe shoe mountain, wrapped in a chiffon veil that could be the skirt of a romantic tutu, or a shroud.  She bravely wears a jaunty white pillbox hat with a feather, but her situation is clearly desperate.  Jung (Béjart’s ‘He’) has become indispensable as he lifts and carries her around the stage.  Ferri’s relentless optimism is heart-breaking; she slowly and carefully enunciates the lyrics of Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow waltz, from which Béjart’s piece takes its name, as if everything is slipping away from her; she sings almost to the end.  We know that when she is gone, the pointe shoes will be her only tangible remains, and the dance, temporarily captured and uniquely embodied within her, will be lost.  Dance is tragically ephemeral, and so is life itself.

Maggie Watson

27th October 2021

DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) and TORCH (The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities) join forces to present Yorke Dance Project in a moving tribute to Sir Robert Cohan, as an extension to The Grace Project, continuing the discussion “Dance as Grace: Paradoxes and Possibilities”. Director Yolande Yorke-Edgell will present Cohan’s ideas on grace. On 28th October dancers from the Company will show excerpts from Cohan’s works Canciones del alma and Communion, followed by discussion. On 29th October Yolande Yorke-Edgell will dance, and there will be a special screening of Cohan’s lockdown project – Lockdown Portraits – the last series of solos he created – followed by a discussion with the director of the film.

Dates: Thursday 28th October 4.00-6.00pm, Friday 29th October 4.00-6.00pm

Venue: Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Oxford OX4 1DY

Tickets: Admission free, but numbers limited for social distancing: book to reserve a seat by emailing susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk
and copying in marcus.bell@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk