This was a beautifully planned evening of song, readings and dance, culminating in a performance of Franz Liszt’s Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi sonata. Presented by the Oxford Dante Society to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, it formed part of a season of Dante themed activities programmed and supported by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, as part of their Humanities Cultural Programme.  There were some last minute changes: tenor Seb Hill had stepped in overnight learning three solos at short notice, and speaker Anthony Hunt was unable to attend; his essay was read by pianist Jonathan Katz, who devised the event and also acted as an informal master of ceremonies.

The programme included two original dances, created with the support of DANSOX, Dance Scholarship Oxford.  The first was ‘That even I’, a solo created with movement direction by Estela Merlos and danced by Thomasin Gülgeç to music by Joseph Kay made by sampling extracts of spoken word.  Merlos, Gülgeç and Kay have worked together before, notably at the DANSOX 2021 summer school, and this piece seemed a logical development of work they showed then, in respect of its intensity, the dancer’s close attentiveness to the score, and the sense that the work had grown as an organic whole.

The second dance, ‘In a dark wood’, a duo choreographed by Susie Crow to music by Jeremy Thurlow, conjured up Dante’s wanderings through the forest at the beginning of Canto 1 of the Inferno, initially alone and then under the tutelage of  Virgil.  Cameron Everitt, as Dante, seemed to move aside invisible curtains of foliage, weaving his way beneath branches until he encountered Virgil, a severe but charismatic figure danced by Nicholas Minns.  At the end, the two made a stately geometric progress, exchanging places in a square pattern, as if Virgil were formally opening the way for Dante to go through a door, and leading him further on. 

The tiny floor area in a fully lit hall with the audience looking down from above was a very exposed stage for all three dancers.  Gülgeç, Everitt and Minns were within touching distance of the spectators, but with their individual and distinctive dance styles, they succeeded in drawing us into their imaginary worlds.

The evening concluded with the Liszt sonata, played by Jonathan Katz, and preceded by Hunt’s introduction, which reminded us that Frederick Ashton used the music for his wartime ballet Dante Sonata; Dante’s poetry has long been an inspiration for dance, and this programme continued that tradition.

This event, and also the Oxford screening and discussion of choreographer Luc Petton’s ballet Ainsi la Nuit for human dancers, birds and animals, have been recorded and will become available on the TORCH YouTube channel.

Maggie Watson

28th November 2021

Find out more about and give your feedback on TORCH’s Dante 2021 Season here

Check out the Ashmolean exhibition Dante: the Invention of Celebrity here

Read Barbara Berrington’s account of a previous Dante programme Dante in the Chapel including choreography by Susie Crow here

DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) and TORCH (The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities) join forces to present Yorke Dance Project in a moving tribute to Sir Robert Cohan, as an extension to The Grace Project, continuing the discussion “Dance as Grace: Paradoxes and Possibilities”. Director Yolande Yorke-Edgell will present Cohan’s ideas on grace. On 28th October dancers from the Company will show excerpts from Cohan’s works Canciones del alma and Communion, followed by discussion. On 29th October Yolande Yorke-Edgell will dance, and there will be a special screening of Cohan’s lockdown project – Lockdown Portraits – the last series of solos he created – followed by a discussion with the director of the film.

Dates: Thursday 28th October 4.00-6.00pm, Friday 29th October 4.00-6.00pm

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

Tickets: Admission free, but numbers limited for social distancing: book to reserve a seat by emailing susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk
and copying in marcus.bell@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk

The third annual DANSOX summer school was a scholarly investigation into the relationship between dance and inscription.  It treated both concepts in the broadest sense: ‘dance’ encompassed Western movement styles ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary; ‘inscription’ embraced not only the written word and notation, but also the traces preserved in art, photography, film and the dancing body itself.  The format was hybrid, with a small socially distanced audience present in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, and a recorded live stream for external participants.

Alastair Macaulay’s opening lecture looked at literary sources of inspiration for dance and the role of notation in protecting, preserving, and challenging our perceptions of works.  Macaulay’s wide ranging discussion, liberally illustrated with film clips and photographs, raised themes developed in the subsequent lectures and dance workshops.  He noted the subtle ways in which choreographers such as Merce Cunningham have drawn on a literary sources, and cited Pam Tanowitz’ interweaving of dance, music and poetry in her Four Quartets.  Macaulay also discussed the ways in which dances change over time; the problems and inadequacies of recordings; the significance of context, and the readability or otherwise of notation, whether that of Vladimir Stepanov or Vaslav Nijinsky.

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During July a week-long summer residency sponsored by TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) and supported by DANSOX and APGRD (Archive of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama) took place in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Curated by Marina Warner the residency brought together international choreographer Kim Brandstrup and two renowned dancers, Laurel Dalley Smith and Liam Riddick to develop a new dance-piece Cupid and Psyche with commissioned score by Edmund Finnis as part of the Dancing with Apollo project, originally devised by violinist Sara Trickey.

Read Professor Sue Jones‘ account of the project here

And view a short film of the residency made by Rocio Chacon now available to view on YouTube here

DANSOX Summer Programme 2021 continues…

DANSOX invites you to a sharing of new choreography Sum Dance – A Collaborative Response by renowned Rambert dancers, Liam Francis and Simone Damberg Würtz.

Date: Sunday 22nd August 2pm.

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

No charge, but limited seating, so please rsvp susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk and
cc marcus.bell@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk to confirm a place.

You are welcome to drop in to watch the making of the work any day/time between 17th and 22nd August but please email us first (Covid rules).

DANSOX looks forward to welcoming you during the week or for an after-lunch Sunday treat.

Find out more about DANSOX here

Watch previous DANSOX events on the DANSOX YouTube channel here

The Grace Project is an interdisciplinary investigation into the concept of ‘grace’ in all its forms, which evolved from the research of Professor Sue Jones on literature and dance.  Grace has been central to the development of dance aesthetics, but it has also been challenged by practitioners of modern and contemporary dance.  These two seminars, which were attended by socially-distanced groups of academics, practitioners and interested local people, interrogated the question of what constitutes grace by examining five contrasting dances performed by, and discussed with, members of the Yorke Dance Project led by Yolande Yorke-Edgell.

The dancers presented works by Robert Cohan, Kenneth MacMillan and Yorke-Edgell, the latter consciously channelling the influences of Richard Alston and Bella Lewitzky (who was herself influenced by the choreographer Lester Horton).

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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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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​