October 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.   The festival Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration hosted by the Royal Opera House brings together two weeks of performances of MacMillan repertoire by not only the Royal Ballet, but also Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Yorke Dance Project, who will be performing his late work Sea of Troubles in the Clore Studio and on tour.  Oxford Dance Writers pays its own hommage to the master here: Susie Crow, a founder member of chamber company Dance Advance for whom Sea of Troubles was originally made and and herself an original cast member, writes about the work, its genesis, and the experience of reviving it for performance by today’s dancers.

Sea of Troubles was commissioned from Kenneth MacMillan by Dance Advance for touring to small and mid-scale venues.  It was officially premiered on March 17th 1988 at the Brighton Festival.  A tour of over 35 performances in what was then the Southern, South East and Eastern regions followed, culminating in two performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. In the following year there were further performances by the company including at Madrid’s Festival de Otoño, and the company was supported by the British Council to perform it at festivals in China and Germany.  In 1991 the work entered the repertoire of Scottish Ballet for a few performances; and in 2002 it was performed by an ensemble lead by Adam Cooper and Sarah Wildor at the Exeter Festival in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of MacMillan’s death.  It was revived at short notice by Scottish Ballet for performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014; and in 2016 was remounted from the original notation by Jane Elliott for Yorke Dance Project, who are currently touring it and performing it at the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House as part of Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration.  I was called in as a member of the original cast to coach and rehearse a new generation of dancers. (more…)

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I found Sea of Troubles a tremendously complex piece – and would love to see it again. MacMillan’s grasp on the source text seems to me formidable. Indeed I think that at present my responses to it are only half formed, because it was so definitely not another production of – or even another version of Hamlet – but something very much of itself, an organic being, and generating its own difficulties for the lucky viewer required to grapple with the explorations in which it was engaged.

I was struck even before the piece began by the simplicity of the staging – even in a studio production. It was so effective having just the arras (and through that signalling the significance of what remains hidden and the immanence of an impending Death) because this arras also focused us on the silvery, ghostlike presence of dreams and nightmares: its form insubstantial and suggesting that nothing is solid – but at the same time asserting that all perceptions of the real are rarely right and often lead us astray. (more…)

As part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 Festival programme the Weston Library will be hosting the dynamic contemporary ballet company Yorke Dance Project directed by Yolande Yorke Edgell.  The company will be in residence on Sunday 18th September, presenting an open rehearsal and excerpts of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s rarely performed work, Sea of Troubles, based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with an ensemble of six outstanding dancers.  Nine separate scenes comprise MacMillan’s only bare-foot ballet, which focuses on Hamlet’s psychological state, interpreted through the physicality, emotion and complex partner-work of the choreography set to intense and evocative 20th century chamber music by Webern and Martinu.  Susie Crow, who danced in the original production commissioned from MacMillan in 1988 by innovative ballet company Dance Advance, will rehearse the dancers and explain the fascinating creative process.  The work will subsequently be touring as part of the company’s programme Rewind Forward, which also features works by master contemporary choreographer Robert Cohan, emerging talent Charlotte Edmonds and Yolande Yorke Edgell.

Date:  Sunday 18th September, 11.30-4.00pm

Venue:  Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford OX1

Free of charge

To fully immerse yourself in the process before the performances on Sunday 18th September, why not come to the:

Talk and Movement Workshop led by Struan Leslie and Susie Crow

Free of charge; open to all

7.30pm on Thursday 8th September at Summertown Library, South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JN.

You can see Yorke Dance Project in Rewind Forward in performance at the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury on Thursday 22nd September: book tickets here and find out about the Rewind Forward programme here

Susie Crow writes about the work of reviving Sea of Troubles here