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

This was a stunning evening of new dance works, alongside extracts from Kenneth MacMillan’s newly revived ballet Playground.  The curtain raiser Who’s It?!, choreographed collaboratively by Edd Mitton and Jordi Calpe Serrats with students from the Centre for Advanced Training at Swindon Dance Centre, was an ingenious preparation for MacMillan’s deeply disturbing work with its references to children’s games. In the duets from Playground that followed, Oxana Panchenko as the Girl with make-up and Jonathan Goddard as The Youth portrayed an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship, enmeshed within violent and coercive social forces, in a ballet that pushes game-playing to a horrible conclusion. (more…)

Yorke Dance Project currently celebrates 20 years of performing inspiring dance by past masters and emerging artists from the UK and USA. This celebratory programme features works by world renowned choreographers Kenneth MacMillan and Robert Cohan alongside emerging Los Angeles choreographer Sophia Stoller with a commissioned score by Justin Scheid. Completing the programme is an exciting new work by artistic director Yolande Yorke-Edgell. April brings a not to be missed opportunity to see the company at the Mill Arts Centre, Banbury.

MacMillan’s Playground is one of the featured works in this anniversary programme, its first restaging since its premiere at the 1979 Edinburgh Festival and performed to music by Gordon Crosse. Costumes and set have been reimagined by Charlotte MacMillan.  Also featured is Cohan’s Communion set to music by Nils Frahm and designed by past Cohan collaborator from London Contemporary Dance Theatre,  John B Read.  Completing the programme is a Cohan Collective commission from Stoller and composer Justin Scheid Between and Within. The final work Imprint by Yorke-Edgell reflects her own experience of working with dance legends Richard Alston, Bella Lewtizky and Robert Cohan.  With highly acclaimed and athletic dancers performing engaging, thought provoking and enlightening new work, this is a rare evening of exceptional dance.

Dancers for the tour of this programme include wonderful guest artists Jonathan Goddard, Romany Pajdak (Royal Ballet Company), Dane Hurst, and Oxana Panchenko (Michael Clark Company). Ben Warbis will be returning to YDP as will last year’s apprentice, Ellie Ferguson, dancing alongside company members Edd Mitton, Abigail Attard Montalto and Freya Jeffs.  Yorke Dance Project is also excited to be working again with lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli.

The performance at Banbury will include a curtain raiser by The Mill’s own Remarkable Dance Company.

Performance:  Thursday 4th April 7.30pm

Venue:  The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Park, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5QE

Tickets:  from £15, book online here or call the Box Office on 01295 279002

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here