Oxford Dance Writers provides a place for posting reviews and accounts of performances or dance events.  You can either email a review to the moderator for posting on the Home Page (advisable if you are writing at more length or wish to initiate debate), or you can comment briefly on an existing post.  We welcome strong views on matters cultural and professional, on works and on performance, but please avoid comments likely to give personal offence.

To read previous reviews click on Reviews in the Categories box to the right of this and scroll back.

11 Responses to “Reviews”

  1. Annonymous Says:

    A fun night out, what else are we looking for?

    Platform at O’Reilly has been running for nearly a week now, such a wide ranging performance. It was a fun night and a showcase of some dance. A critical look would be able to pull each of the dances apart, but the show was fun.

    The night opened with Heart on your Sleeve and your Soul in your Shoes, a comedic piece by Beckie Ryan. In the second half of the piece, the dancers started to grin and have some fun with it. This made it enjoyable and greatly suited the piece. One or two of the dancers didn’t engage with this comedy, and looked weak, and this had nothing to do with any technical standards. The performance really is the key. This reoccurred again-and-again throughout the performance. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to pick up some of the dancers, shake them and tell them to start enjoying it, or at least engage with it and make it charismatic. Perhaps this was a symptom of it being the penultimate performance, but in general more energy was needed.

    Some pieces did, however, provide this energy, especially the finale, Not To Step On The Cracks, by Rachel Dedman, Joe Phillimore and Will McCallum. These three dancers were playing out a fairly standard love triangle story, but did it with energy and enthusiasm.

    Throughout the whole show, standard ballet classroom moves highlighted weakness in the technical standards of the dancers, and were used all too regularly for my liking. The first piece used some of these balletic moves, it was unclear whether this was done on purpose, in comedy, or it was a cop out. If it was the former, than it was good although it was pulled off unconvincingly.

    Paulette May provided us with Exploding Star in Conversation, the most contemporary piece in the show, and the reception by the audience was mixed. There were comments such as ‘far too intellectual for me’ and ‘I had no idea what that was about’. The piece worked for me, it conjured some nice images and emotions. Yes, the dancers weren’t quite rehearsed well enough and the choreography not yet matured, but these weren’t the problems that the audience seemed to have. The problem arises when the audience is expecting the piece to be ‘trying to hard’ and therefore watch it as if it was ‘trying too hard’. Many of the pieces that live on the more jazzy side also didn’t have a story, but they weren’t being watched as if they did. A story is not necessary within contemporary pieces, a story-line, definitely, but that is a very different thing. You don’t have to work hard to watch a contemporary piece, you’re not supposed to understand everything that’s going on, just sit back and relax, just as you would do to another piece. You should just engage with the emotions.

    The show wasn’t a blow-away performance, but I managed to relax and take it as it comes, and I had a good time and the show should be appreciated for that.

  2. susiecrow Says:

    I attended opening night of Platform with a colleague. It was good to see more men dancing this year, especially in the percussive forms of tap and flamenco where they showed some skill and confidence; and as always there was commitment and energy enjoyably on display. However I missed the characteristic creative emphases of last year’s Platform and previous performances; one being the joint improvisations bringing together all the performers in the evening whatever their genre. Although unpredictable this had a laudable effect of bonding the group and drawing individual performers – and audience – outside their comfort zone, giving an edge of excitement. I also missed the involvement of live music and of musicians evidently participating in the creative process. Without it there was a prevalence of pop tracks which allow for and impose limited choreographic structure and interest, so that numbers became more routines and displays of skills and steps, more dancing school show than platform performance. I think that the University’s dance talent should aspire beyond this – and without, as said, running the risk of pieces being overly intellectual, there is room for more thoughtful and varied expression in dance that the audience can still enjoy. Freefall showed what was possible in the thought provoking and imaginative evening of work shared with students of London Contemporary Dance School at the Playhouse last year – I was disappointed not to see more work at this level in this year’s Platform.

  3. “Looking at two representations: one of the body, a set of drawings by Domenico Tintoretto, and one by the body, a film of a performance by Camille Mutel , “Effraction de l’Oubli”.”
    Work in progress posted on the page below:

  4. local dancers Says:

    Invitation for comments. Did anyone see the ‘Moving with the Times’ performance at The Pegasus? As a rare event showcasing the work of local choreographers it would be good to hear of any opinions from audience members/reviewers.

  5. Andy Solway Says:

    No, didn’t see moving with the times, but I did go to the last performance of the Cohesion Festival at Pegasus on 4 Deceember. Review follows:

    Cohesion Festival 2011
    Pegasus Theatre, 3 December 2011
    Seven musicians, four dancers and three artists – an intriguing line-up for the final performance of this year’s Cohesion Festival, put together by musicians Pat Thomas, Bruno Guastalla, Malcolm Atkins, and Anne Ryan of Oxford Improvisers.

    The evening began with the musicians. There were three guest artists – Tunde Jegede (kora), Hafeez Al-Karrar (percussion) and Ahmed Abdul Rahman (erhu) – plus four members of Oxford Improvisors: Pete McPhail (flute/sax), Jill Elliott (viola), Sarah Verney Caird (voice) and Pat Thomas (electronics). The group had only played together once before, earlier in the day, and this was apparent in the first piece. Some contributions were fairly tentative, as each player tried to find their place in the music. The first two pieces featured some beautiful kora playing from Tnde Jegede. However, it was in the third piece, when Ahmed Abdul Rahman was the featured musician, that the ensemble began to gel. Rahman’s plangent ehru playing seemed to give the other musicians more opportunities to connect and interact. By the end of the first half, everyone really began to relax and enjoy each other’s sounds.

    The second improvisation of the evening introduced the dancers. Ana Barbour entered first, alone. Barbour’s combination of superb technique, a strong stage presence and an exceptional improvisational intelligence made her a treat to watch all evening. One of my favourite moments was in the second half, when she went round the musicians and some of the audience blowing lightly on their hand or cheek. Each breath was like a gift.

    Barbour was joined in the first dance piece by ballet dancer Susie Crow. For me, her work was less impressive. Her improvisations were often quite obvious interpretations of one element in the music or dance. She also worked very much with gesture, which restricted her range. In this piece there were a few nice moments between the two dancers. However, like the musicians, the dancers had not worked together before, and it took them some time to develop any rapport.

    The third improvisation featured dancers Aya Kobayashi and Jason Manito from Anjali Dance Company. Aya Kobayashi’s movement is strong, clean and varied: she is clearly a gifted contemporary dancer. However, as an improviser she was restless, never taking time to focus on an idea and follow it through. She also sometimes failed to understand how what she was doing fitted in with other people. Jason Manito was less strong technically, but had a real sense of exploration and of delight in the moment that made him a pleasure to watch. Kobayashi and Manito worked well together throughout the evening. But it would have been nice if they had worked more with the other dancers. In the second half of the evening there was a really enjoyable section where Barbour, Kobayashi and Manito together played with the idea of birds and fluttering wings. But the dancers were unable to build on this connection.

    The third element in this Cohesion performance was the work of graphic artists Clare Bassett, Kassandra Isaacson and Susan Moxley. They worked live, and their work was projected onto a backdrop behind the dancers. This element of the performance surprised and utterly delighted me. The artists had very different rhythms in their work, one rapid and darting, another with a slow, confident flow to her brush strokes. Time and again, the artist’s work would complement what was happening in the dance or music. It also produced moments of sheer magic, as lightning brush strokes followed the fluttering hand movements of a dancer, or a wash of colour flowed across the backdrop and transformed the setting. The final improvisation, in which the artists worked for a time without the dancers, was completely absorbing.

    Multi-disciplinary arts events can be a minefield. The idea is often more attractive than the reality. However, the Pegasus Cohesion evening was put together with intelligence and creativity. This resulted in an intriguing, absorbing and at times magical evening. However, the performance was let down a little by a lack of improvisational intelligence in some of the dance work.

  6. Malcolm Atkins Says:

    I think Andy’s review is very good but I feel he is coming from a particular perspective on dance improvisation.

    I actually think Susie’s use of gestural interpretation is fascinating and it is an attempt to use a narrative style similar to Kathak whilst using the technical language of ballet. It’s different to much contemporary dance improvisation which is often more playful and abstracted. I felt that some of his critique of Aya was valid and at times she did act like a skilled music improviser displaying the expected atonal angst that can typify some free improv performances where individual expression can take precedence over structural integrity and use of space. I actually felt that Susie and Ana framed this well and created useful contrasts here. Also, Aya and Jason did work particularly well together and I found the contrast of their maximalism with Ana and Susie’s minimalism was very effective.

    I also feel Susie’s approach worked especially well in combination with Ana’s approach which is often a more surreal and lateral gestural interpreration – the blowing on players is an obvious but brilliant interpretation of the idea of the dance leading the music which was the general instruction for this piece.

    I wonder if Andy in his desire for a structural coherence is like a choreographer with a specific vision or even a hard line free improviser who might criticise the music for being tonally limited and not using sufficient contrasting key and rhythm – this is a possible music criticism but I felt that the integrity of the music transcended the concordance of the players. It actually was cohesive but I worried occasionally that it was too polite – especially in the first half.

    The comments on the tentativeness of the music at the start and the visual element were very astute. What was particularly effective in this performance was the way the visual art became a performative art especially with Susie Moxley’s solo. Also, the interaction of dance and visual response was very effective with some very strong interaction of movement and drawn line in the first section of the second half.

  7. Andy Solway Says:

    Wow! I’ve never been called a hard line free improviser before. I’m flattered, I think. I do think that my reactions to the dance were more extreme than to the music or the visual art, and probably less rational. But I’m certainly not a hard-liner. I’m a great fan of form and structure. I probably like Ana’s work because she has a very strong structural sense when she is improvising.

    I don’t agree with your comment about Aya acting like a skilled movement improviser. I think she had great skill as a dancer, but less as an improviser. Or perhaps more accurately (and fairly) less skill in improvising for performance.

    I’m interested in your comments on Susie’s work. Maybe I will be persuaded more to your viewpoint in the future. I missed the Kathak connection myself. There is an interpretive strand to Kathak, but it is allied with nritta, pure dance.

    I’m not sure that I said anything about the music not being cohesive. In the second half the ensemble was great: really relaxed and comfortable with each other, and even when the interactions were tentative, the music was still of a high standard. If you are saying that I was being hard line about the dance being ‘tonally limited’ – no, not that either. My concern was that, taken as a whole, the dance had a somewhat limited improvisational awareness, particularly with regard to its theatrical impact.

    I agree entirely that the visual art was like a performance, and especially in the final piece (was that Susie Moxley?) I was surprised by how delicate and refined tha actual pieces of art looked, after seeing them being created on such a huge canvas.

  8. Malcolm Atkins Says:

    I was comparing you to a hard-line improviser in the sense that I know that many would be critical of the concordance of the music and the lack of atonality and of arrhythmic exploration. I felt that your criticism of Susie seemed to be from a particular perspective on structural relations of dancers – which is perhaps like someone criticising music for its particular genre approach. I liked the fact that each dancer brought a different improvising tradition to bear in their approach but I did think that Susie and Ana had an awareness of space which Susie found through simple – almost classical gesture – and Ana through both simple and surreal gesture and a real sense of poise and play. This seemed to complement Jason and Aya when it worked at its best.

    My comments about the music being cohesive were actually a defence of its lack of diversity from my perspective rather than relating to what you had said.. For me the music was very good but it bordered on being polite and I feel this was about cohesion because the guest musicians were accommodated and not challenged. This was fine but unusual because normally we would move the music to different areas and create more tension even if this was finally resolved. It is interesting that I would be more critical of the music than dance in a review – although I felt that both music and dance were exceptional. This was an outstanding performance overall. The concordance and the beauty of the music could also be considered in the context of the entire festival as this was the only event that explored this musically and therefore it complemented by its difference in scope the diversity of the other events which included far more dialectical opposition of sound worlds and vocabularies. In fact there was more contrast in this performance in dance techniques and drawing to dance. It may be that this encouraged a more concordant style of music as the musicians were often operating as a unit in contrasting with the other arts – perhaps in a more ‘choreographed’ style.

    With Aya I was comparing her to some improvisers who let their personal expression take precedence over the structural integrity of a work. This often happens with skilled players who are keen to explore their personal vocabulary. It’s not something that always works but it is a common approach and a reason why technique can be a disadvantage in improvisation as the moment so often only requires a modicum of someone’s potential for expression. It is nonetheless extremely exciting when someone loses themselves in this and draws the audience with them. I feel she did this – especially when working with Jason – and her dancing did work in its contrast with Ana and Susie’s more measured comment. I felt the strength of the dance was often in this degree of contrast even where the dancers did not directly engage with one another. In this sense the dance was also cohesive but in a less obvious way than in terms of direct physical engagement that typifies contact or other contemporary dance styles. Perhaps it was more ‘musical’ in its layering of meaning through fast, slow, loud and soft and positioning of voices. Similarly the visual artists adopted performance styles we would associate with music in the delivery of statement, response and comment. This was far more dynamic dialogue than detached observation.

  9. Andy Solway Says:

    That’s a very interesting analysis of the music. I agree that it was cohesive, and exceptionally good, despite bordering on politeness.

    Wrt the dance I accept your general points about contrast and opposition, different traditions of improvisation and the idea of personal expression taking precedence over the structural integrity of a work. But I’m afraid I don’t accept that these were the things that were going on in this performance. Of course contrast and opposition can work just as well as harmony and concordance. But you have to be on some level aware and in control. It has to be on some level a choice to follow your own expression and not interact with other performers/the music/the visual work. My argument is that often these things happened through limitations of awareness – of the space, of other performers, of the theatrical space. The visual artists followed their own expressive process and were not always consciously aware of what was going on in the music (I asked). But they had a really good awareness of the impact of what they were doing, and a strong feel for the dynamics of what was going on, for the arc of time. As a result, their work really engaged the audience. The musicians had this kind of awareness, too. But with the dance, it was more patchy. There were definitely times when one dancer or another seemed not to have this kind of awareness. And the problem is that with dance or physical theatre, audiences really notice this. Humans have an incredibly acute sensitivity to physical signals, and it makes the job of a physical performer that much harder.

    I also wanted to moan about your assumption that that because I have done contact and contemporary dance, I look at things from this perspective. But – enough already!

  10. susiecrow Says:

    Have enjoyed this discussion, it has given a lot to think about. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to dance with such a choice musical ensemble, and the artists’ work seemed really inspired. But I think that from a dance perspective I was not completely satisfied with what I did, and it is useful to hear how it appeared, to get some clues as to how to improve the interaction in future. One very practical consideration; this was the first time we have done this work with the artists in such a complex grouping in a theatrical pros arch space with lighting. Last year we were in the Pegasus studio, so although also a black box (which really shows off the projection to advantage), we were still in a shared space with audience sitting round on three sides. In the theatre space with wings the musicians and artists were in the performing space all the time, but there were times when the dancers were not. It was sometimes impossible to see what was going on with other dancers when not on the stage. In retrospect I think this may have been unhelpful; hard to sustain a sense of the development of what other dancers are doing and therefore how you might relate to it when you miss chunks of it, as though going out of the room.

    This work is developing, very much a process of finding things out as one goes along. Improvisation across genres in dance highlights different aesthetics, philosophies and performing conventions; arguably trying to be aware and read different signals can make one tentative and excessively “polite” in intervening where there are more likely to be physical consequences to misunderstanding. As with the music there is a tension between striving to be cohesive and to blend, and exploring one’s own individual train of thought and movement within a specific genre. More opportunites needed to gain experience and strategies for dealing with this in the dance.

    Re the comments about Kathak, I find that as a ballet dancer I greatly admire aspects of its classical tradition, and empathize with its use of defined dance vocabulary in combination with sophisticated narrative gesture. Though no practitioner, I have worked with a Kathak dancer, and occasionally consciously borrowed ideas and gestures.

  11. leslie tomkins Says:

    …with my dance classes and rehearsal shutting down until New Year I found my way to Thomas Page’s open workshop for professional dancers at HMG in High Str; as publicised by Oxford Dance Forum and to say that I was in awe of their energy, agility, suppleness and body articulation is an understatement…at their invitation I stayed for 2+ hrs and witnessed warm-up, conditioning and complex movements taught in blocks leading to exhausting (just to watch) full on dancing.. Thomas and his administrator Jazzulla were attentive and informative with information about their company plans and aspirations.. I would recommend my initiative to any enthusiastic dancer, young or old to approach visiting companies with a request like mine to be allowed to observe their professional practice and witness what is possible


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.