“Modern dance is a bottomless pit of possibilities and I have only scratched the surface” (Paul Taylor)

This year’s DANSOX Summer School was, of course, conducted online. At a time when the coronavirus has made us acutely aware of our bodily fragility, I was particularly struck by a focus on the corporeal in these seven lectures, the first two concentrating on American choreographer Paul Taylor, the second of which is discussed in detail here. All of the lectures remain available on YouTube via the St Hilda’s website.

I must confess to not having heard of Taylor – but was relieved to hear from the webinar that followed that I was not alone. As well as Alastair Macauley’s guest lecture, I highly recommend his obituary of Taylor in the New York Times – the comments are a joy to read and show how highly regarded Taylor was in his native land. (more…)

The second DANSOX summer school was a triumph. Delivered remotely in the middle of a pandemic that has driven theatrical and academic activities online, it was a wonderful opportunity for an international audience to enjoy seven pre-recorded lectures on dance by practitioners, early career researchers, and a leading dance critic. The programme fell into two halves: a two-lecture memorial to Paul Taylor, followed by five lectures investigating the inter-textual and interdisciplinary nature of dance, and a concluding live Webinar on Zoom chaired by Professor Sue Jones.

Alastair Macaulay’s opening lecture was actually the last talk to be uploaded after which it was well worth returning to listen again to all the lectures in their correct order: Macaulay’s talk prepared the ground, sowing seeds for themes that the other speakers, whether by accident or design, picked up upon, including modernism and post modernism; the corporeal and abstraction; musicality; classicism; the visual arts, and the choreographer as dramatic poet. (more…)

Following the success of the inaugural Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) Summer School in 2019 at St Hilda’s College Oxford, a second, this time virtual Summer School is being programmed by Professor Susan Jones.  Events will be available to view on the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building’s YouTube channel from 16th July 2020.

DANSOX Virtual Summer School 2020 includes two strands:

Celebrating the work of the distinguished American dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor (1930-2018):

Alastair Macaulay (international dance critic and writer): lecture on the life and work
Parisa Kobdeh (ex-Paul Taylor dancer): on practice and technique.

New Scholarship on Dance: text and practice

Joseph Kay (composer) on musical notation and dance notation
Susie Crow (choreographer and writer): aspects of the ballet class
Marcus Bell (DPhil student, St Hilda’s) on Pina Bausch and the classics
Megan Smith (2020 English Finalist, Oxford): literary criticism meets fiction and performance in John Haskell’s The Complete Ballet: A Fictional Essay in Five Acts (2017)
Anna Chamberlain (2020 Art History Finalist, Oxford): Hilde Holge, German Expressionist dance and photography.

Find out more about DANSOX here and get ready for the Summer School by watching some past events here.

Alastair Macaulay’s lecture on George Balanchine developed ideas about the role of women in Balanchine’s work, which were raised last year at the 2019 DANSOX Summer School at St Hilda’s.  Macaulay provocatively proposed that ballet is unlike the other arts in that it is by its very nature sexist, being predicated on the bodies of men and women.  He further suggested, that sexism and the idealisation of women are intrinsic to Balanchine’s supported adagios, in which women, supported by men, become works of perfect geometry.  In short, Balanchine recognised and exploited the allegorical qualities that Western society has imposed upon the female body for centuries, and elevated women through objectification.

Trained in St Petersburg, Balanchine’s work both embodied and extended the Russian danse d’école of the early twentieth century.  Drawing on musical scores intended for the concert hall as well as those composed for ballet, he pushed ballet technique to new levels, embracing speed, extreme extensions, and daring off-centre balances.  He created a dance style perceived as typically American, yet he retained the chivalry, hierarchy, ceremony, symmetry and harmony derived from his St Petersburg schooling. (more…)

Following his rich contributions at the 2019 DANSOX Summer School, Dance Scholarship Oxford has scheduled another opportunity for Oxford dance enthusiasts to hear the immensely knowledgeable Alastair Macaulay, former Chief Dance Critic of The New York Times, in a guest lecture on the great twentieth-century choreographer, George Balanchine.

Date:  Thursday 5th March 17:30 – 19:00

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

The event is free and open to all and will be followed by a drinks reception. Registration required on Eventbrite here

The DANSOX event Making “The Cellist” was an exciting opportunity to watch choreographer Cathy Marston’s creative process as she rehearsed her ballet based on the life of Jacqueline du Pré.  Du Pré, who died of multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of forty-two in 1987, was an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s, and the evening began, fittingly, with a performance of Fauré’s Elegy in C Minor by St Hilda’s musicians Holly Jackson and David Palmer.  An open rehearsal, with Royal Ballet dancers Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Calvin Richardson, and discussion of Marston’s work followed.

Interviewed by her scenarist Edward Kemp, Marston eloquently described how her sister, a drama teacher, had used an old cello to stimulate improvisation, and realised that the idea held great potential for a ballet.  Marston is acutely aware of the sensitivity of her subject matter (her mother has MS), and rather than trying to reproduce the symptoms, she seeks to express what it feels like to have the disease.  She approached du Pré’s widower Daniel Barenboim at an early stage to gain his blessing, but the ballet is not an exploration of family relationships; it is about the gift and burden of talent. (more…)

Dance Scholarship Oxford, DANSOX begins its 2020 programme with an exciting evening of music and dance: Making The Cellist.

In the lead up to the highly anticipated premiere of The Cellist in February, the Royal Ballet and choreographer Cathy Marston come to Oxford to discuss Cathy’s choreographic process for her new work for the Royal Ballet inspired by the momentous life and career of the renowned cellist, Jacqueline du Pré, in the building named after her; including live demonstration by dancers from the company.

Date:  Monday, 20th January, 8:00pm

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

Tickets: The event is free and open to all, but booking is essential. Book online here

Refreshments will be available.

 

In November 2019 Oxford Dance Writers (ODW) celebrated its 10th anniversary with a reception at the North Wall Arts Centre to mark the occasion. The evening provided a joyful opportunity for members of the wider Oxford dance and performing arts community to come together and catch up.  A panel of guest speakers discussed dance writing each from their own specific perspective.  Dance critic and historian Nadine Meisner entertained us with stories of the dance reviewer’s rackety life, but also described her experiences drawing together her authoritative biography of Marius Petipa published in the summer.  Dance artist Nicholas Minns, reflected thoughtfully on his emergence as a dance blogger and online critic covering a wide spectrum of dance performance, and the writers influencing him in developing a distinctive voice and perspective.  Professor Susan Jones, the driving force behind Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) which has scheduled so many fascinating events (talks, seminars, lecture demonstrations, residencies) in recent years, gave insight into the place and potential of dance within Oxford University, and its enriching contribution to innovative interdisciplinary research projects and outreach. Oxford University Press mounted an impressive display of its varied publications on dance for those attending to browse and purchase.

ODW emerged from Ballet in Small Spaces’ The Solos Project in 2009 as an initiative to encourage critical writing and online discussion of dance, and generate informed reviews of the work of local dance artists.  Since then it has become a valuable record of dance performance activity in and around Oxford, listing forthcoming events as well as reviewing, bearing witness to dance in Oxford; generating an archive of the diverse and idiosyncratic dance history of a particular place.  Aiming to be a space for informed debate it has played a significant part in raising the profile of dance in Oxford, and developing its audience.  ODW has run three Dance Writers of the Future competitions to encourage younger writers.  It tracks and reports on academic dance initiatives such as Dance Scholarship Oxford and Dance and Academia events, and regularly reviews dance publications both academic and popular.  It has had the support of Oxfordshire venues who provide press tickets for ODW reviewers, and of publishers who have provided review copies of dance books.

Over the last ten years 40 writers have been featured, with substantial contributions from Susie Crow and Maggie Watson.  As well as academics (such as Miranda Laurence, Dana Mills) contributors have included local dance artists (including Ana Barbour, Jane Connelly, Rachel Gildea, Lisia Newmark); occasional guest writers (Nicholas Minns of writingaboutdance.com, Rebecca Nice, Emily May, art historian Barbara Berrington, former Oxford Times dance critic David Bellan); local dance lovers (such as Jess Ryan-Phillips, Susannah Harris-Wilson, Susanna Reece); and young writers who have entered our competitions.   ODW reaches a significant number of dance professionals and enthusiasts in the Oxfordshire area, and despite its mainly local focus the site also has an international following.

ODW now extends its grateful thanks to all who have contributed writing and who have supported the site in other ways over the years.  A special thanks to Maggie Watson who has recently completed with distinction an MA in Ballet Studies at the University of Roehampton, for so regularly contributing thoughtful, perceptive and empathetic reviews of a wide range of performances and publications.  With particular reference to our anniversary celebration, special mention must go to our wise and encouraging speakers, to Oxford Dance Forum for its generous support, to The North Wall for hosting us in such welcoming fashion, and to Oxford University Press for its enticing display of dance publications which prompted much pre Christmas buying.  And a final shout out for local dance and visual artist Naomi Morris for her beautiful images for ODW publicity materials.

We look forward to continuing… watch this space!  Your interest and comments will be greatly valued.

Wishing you all the best for 2020 and the coming decade,

Susie Crow

 

You can find information about Nadine Meisner’s biography Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master here or why not drop into the OUP Bookshop at 116-117, High St, Oxford OX1 4BZ.

Read Nicholas Minns’ latest reviews on his blog writingaboutdance.com here

Find out about Dance Scholarship Oxford, DANSOX, here

and about Dance and Academia here

Information about Oxford Dance Forum and its activities can be found here

Professor Richard Beacham’s account of the rediscovery and re-generation of Hellerau as the European Centre for the Arts was both romantic and inspiring. Founded by Karl Schmidt and Wolf Dohrn in 1909 as a garden suburb of Dresden, Hellerau was an ideological attempt to create a community that would live and work in social equality and harmony in an idyllic setting. Hellerau became the home of an Institute and Festspielhaus that drew together the ideas and practice of the progressive innovators , and has been cited as the birthplace of modern theatre. Experimental work at Hellerau embodied theories in which architecture was subservient to rhythm, light created space, and the human body became the medium of transmission between dramatist and audience. These works of living art influenced dance, theatre, music and design in ways that are visible not only on stage but also in our urban surroundings today. (more…)

Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) presents a one-day conference on the life and work of the great twentieth-century choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992). MacMillan stands among the great innovators of his time in theatre, film, art, music, and dance. This not-to-be-missed conference will discuss his work, the challenges of preserving the record, and explore little known early work, his literary and musical choices, design, and choreographic method. Guest speakers include: the artist and widow of Sir Kenneth, Lady MacMillan; the former Principal and Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason; the music expert, Natalie Wheen; and choreologist, Anna Trevien. Dancers, artists, and filmmakers who worked with Kenneth will join the conversation. A performance/lecture of the reconstruction of Playground with Yorke Dance will conclude the conference.

Date:  Saturday 16th March 10.00am-6.00pm

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

Tickets: Free and open to all, please book tickets here at Eventbrite