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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Another fascinating online dance event coming up from DANSOX: International choreographer, Kim Brandstrup, currently one of two Director’s Fellows at New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) for 2019/20, will give the lecture, Hearing Footsteps – the ear and the audible in dance and choreographic practice, with practical demonstration from dancers, Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec.

This event will be added to the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building’s YouTube channel from Wednesday 9th December. Watch this and more on the DANSOX playlist.

Celebrate the new book from distinguished dance scholar Mark Franko with this online book launch hosted by DANSOX and hear Professor Franko discussing his work. Many DANSOX supporters have enjoyed his ongoing research for this book on previous occasions; you can read Susanna Reece’s account of his 2015 stimulating lecture The Fascist Legs of Serge Lifar about his emerging research here. The Fascist Turn in the Dance of Serge Lifar: Interwar French Ballet and the German Occupation is the latest publication in the prestigious series Oxford Studies in Dance Theory.

You will be able to find this event online on the DANSOX Playlist of the JduP YouTube Channel here from Tuesday 24th November.

You can purchase a copy of Professor Franko’s book online from Oxford University Press Academic here.

An exciting project initiated by Alice Oswald (Professor of Poetry University of Oxford), with dancers Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gulgec, and composer Joseph Kay, in collaboration with Rocio Chacon (film-maker) and Kevin Mount (designer). TORCH is collaborating with the Oxford University English Faculty, Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (APGRD) and DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) as part of the Professor of Poetry Lecture Series, to invite participants to be part of a Poetry Performance, taking place at midnight on Monday 30th November. This event is led by Alice Oswald, current Professor of Poetry as part of the Humanities Cultural Programme. 

This event is an immersive experience, with limited availability now sold out. 500 signed up participants will be mailed a special copy of a poem written by Alice Oswald. At the stroke of midnight, participants are invited to open their poem and step outside to read it. If you signed up to receive one of the limited mailed copies of the poem written by Alice Oswald, you should receive this by 30th November. Full details will be found on your mailed poem.

If you were unable to sign up for the mailed copy, you can still enjoy a slightly different experience of the evening. Two copies of the poem will also be sent to two dancers who will be filmed opening and reading the poem, so there will be an online performance via YouTube happening at the same time. The performance will be released via the TORCH Oxford YouTube channel at midnight. Watch the performance here.  

Date: Monday 30th November 11.59pm​

Dance Fields is an important collection of papers, arising from a 2017 conference convened by the Centre for Dance Research (Coventry University), the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance  (De Montfort University) and the Centre for Dance Research (University of Roehampton).  The conference celebrated the coming of age of Dance Studies within the ‘academy’ and is evidence of the breadth, depth, and originality of research on dance in UK universities.  Stephanie Jordan’s Opening Panel Paper notes the vast range of dance scholarship, embracing areas as diverse as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, dance science, and of course the dance itself; its choreography and practice.  This collection, through its scope and varied styles of presentation, with examples of interaction between ‘traditional’ and practitioner modes of scholarship, demonstrates the intellectual extent and value of Dance Studies as a discipline in its own right.

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