The final week of April brought thought-provokingly contrasted dance performances to Oxford. On Tuesday 23rd at the New Theatre the BalletBoyz performed their latest programme Them/Us, shortly to be opening for their first West End season at the Vaudeville Theatre. This two-part programme involves all six male dancers in both pieces. Opening the evening Them was a collaborative choreographic venture by the dancers drawing on elements of their own individual movement, sharing them in a succession of often playful episodes and exchanges. Set in a twilight zone, a gleaming stainless steel tubular cube framework and sleek satin shell suits brought enlivening geometric dashes of light and colour, red, blue, green and purple. The cube defined shifting spaces which the dancers could manipulate, inhabit, swing from and climb up. Movement combined sharp crisp gesture with a lyrical contemporary idiom, integrating tumbling and floorwork in response to Charlotte Harding’s lively but dark toned score; suggestions of character and relationship were glimpsed and a feeling of camaraderie and group identity emerged, even if overall the episodic structure of the piece did not build a sense of narrative or situational development. The performers conveyed lithe fluidity and a smooth assurance, distinct from the rawness of previous BalletBoyz ensembles; no longer projecting a company narrative of emerging talent and inexperienced diamonds in the rough, but a polished professional group. (more…)

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Getting a ticket to a dance programme arouses comfortable expectations of pleasure – of colour, patterning and conformity. In Oxford’s Burton Taylor studio last week, Donald Hutera’s GOlive programme was satisfyingly full of all of these – but it was also never predictable, oddly fragmented and often deeply unsettling. And in my head the after-images are of faces as much as of body shapes – a heat of emotional impact – a sense of hope – a touch of catharsis.

The very ordering of the programme forced strange juxtapositions. It began with what Shane Shambhu described as his “lecture-demonstration” – a cogent dance drama through which his personal narrative wove a coherent thread. Twenty-seven years of bharatanatyam dance gave his work an assured technical underpinning. But it was its immediacy and variety that made it so accessible to academic, pensioner and child in the fifty-strong studio audience. For this was a narrative that flowed by Nritta – by taps and clicks and thumps – through sounds vocal and guttural – as well as by the mime and dance of Natya, the shifting registers of formal delivery, of conversational English, of interactive name games and the musicality of Shane’s native Kerala tongue. Never before have I been more aware of dance as one member of so intimately interconnected a family of languages. (more…)

If you enjoyed Margam or wished you hadn’t missed it, here is another Oxford opportunity to see dance informed by the rich and beautiful Bharata Natyam form, although here not seen in traditional guise but in forward looking contemporary mode at The North Wall Arts Centre.  Enlightening and evocative, Under My Skin is the third work from Sadhana Dance and sees choreographer and artistic director Subathra Subramaniam capturing the unspoken practices of the operating theatre.

Drawing on Bharata Natyam technique and contemporary choreography, three highly-skilled performers invite the audience to share a rare insight into the world of surgery where intricate detail, perfectly timed exchanges and analytical spatial patterns challenge the traditional boundaries between clinical practice and dance. Subramaniam aims to build on the idea of surgical simulation as a means of opening a closed and clinical world to a wider public view. (more…)

The four dancers in this Bharatanatyam performance – Sapna Shankar, Meena Anand, Aarti Jaganath and Anjana Rajukumar – are senior members of Kala Arpan, the Oxford-based dance organisation for the study, performance and appreciation of Indian classical dance.  Kala Arpan means ‘Offering of Art’, which sums up the main aims of the show: to share ‘the pure essence and joy of dancing’ while adding to our understanding of Bharatanatyam.  Margam: A Traditional Bharatanatyam Repertoire did both in abundance.  Margam means ‘The Path’, a metaphor for the structure and traditional repertoire of a secular Bharatanatyam recital, which began to evolve into its present form in the 18th century.  The informative programme notes told us this is a suite of independent dances, performed in a specific order, to display all components of the dance form(technique, expression and dance-drama). The symbolic and spiritual dimensions of ‘The Path’ are rooted in Bharatanatyam’s temple dance origins over 2000 years ago and the current repertoire has a devotional and celebratory intent inspired by the actions and different manifestations of Hindu deities, devotional poems and songs. (more…)

In my opinion the most remarkable of this year’s Dancin’ Oxford festival events, out of those I saw, was Decreasing Infinity, an evening of classical Indian dance and contemporary work at the Pegasus Theatre. First came two pieces for a solo male dancer in the Bharatanatyam dance form of the Tamil Nadu region in South India. It is very energetic and virile, with a lot of stamping, turning, and flexing of the hands. The stamps especially show great power, as if the force of the movement goes right into the ground below the dancer. Legs are held bent at the knee for long periods. The strength held in the thighs seems quite superhuman. In the jumps the dancer’s torso remains at the same height, moving only horizontally. He seems held up by the energy he has taken from the ground, while the legs move from stamp to stamp independently. (more…)