The Dancing Lives conference at Wolfson College offered an exceptional opportunity for archivists, academics and dance practitioners to discuss and discover new ways to research and write about dance and dancers’ lives.

The speakers for first panel, on Historical Dancing, demonstrated the vast range of material that dance historians draw upon to investigate the past. Mike Webb and Jennifer Thorp used Jeffrey Boys’s manuscript annotations in his almanac of 1667 to paint a picture of the social dancing scene in seventeenth century London; Michael Burden used caricatures vividly to recreate and interpret the scandalous adventures of Mademoiselle Mercandotti, and Julia Bührle showed how the technological invention of the lithograph helped to make Marie Taglioni a ‘superstar’. While the first four speakers showed how creatively scholars use documents, images and ephemera to advance our knowledge, the plenary session, in which Sue Jones expertly interviewed Jennifer Homans, began to explore what the dance itself can reveal. (more…)

How do people write about the lives of dancers and choreographers?  How does dance as a silent form represent life stories?  The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) are hosting a one-day colloquium Dancing Lives on Saturday 8th July exploring this.  The day will feature: Jennifer Homans, Founder and Director of The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University, in conversation with Professor Sue Jones; Dame Monica Mason, former ballet dancer, teacher, and artistic director of the Royal Ballet, on travelling and dancing; contributions from Michael Burden, Mike Webb, Jennifer Thorp, Jane Pritchard, Judith Mackrell, Michael Huxley, Funmi Adewole, and Ramsay Burt; and a closing performance by Simone Damberg Würtz & Liam Francis from the Rambert Contemporary Dance Company.

Date:  Saturday 8th July, 9.00am-6.30pm

Venue:  Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD

Tickets:  £20, or £10 for unwaged delegates. Booking here: http://bit.ly/OCLW-Dance

There are a small number of B&B rooms available at Wolfson College for 7th and 8th July. These can be booked here using the Promotional Code: DANCE2017

For more details please contact The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing here

Download the full colloquium programme here

Apollo’s angels:  a history of ballet / Jennifer Homans

I began reading this book with high expectations.  The author is described as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Columbia, and quotations on the flyleaf and back cover include statements such as “Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet” (International Herald Tribune) and “It will doubtless come to rank as the standard and authoritative work in the field” (Literary Review).  Although it is not published by an academic press, it bears some of the hallmarks of a scholarly work, with its extensive bibliographies, footnotes and evidence of original research.

The early chapters of the book dealt with periods of which I am largely ignorant until on p.39, I came across this footnote:  “Molière was gone:  he died onstage in 1673 while performing Le Malade imaginaire”.  Not so, according to Ivor Guest[1] or the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, according to which he collapsed on stage and was carried back to his house, where he died.  This concerned me, and from Chapter 8, East goes west:  Russian modernism and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, when the book moves territory with which I am more familiar, I became progressively more uneasy. (more…)

Reading the elegiac epilogue of Jennifer Homans’ history of ballet Apollo’s Angels, I am struck by her sense of doom.  As a ballet practitioner I have found much of the book a gripping and exciting account, and have been stirred by its scope and the provocation of its ideas as to ballet’s place in an often inimical world.   Yet aspects of her thesis trouble me; arising from her interpretation, inevitably condensed and therefore incomplete, of the rise and as she sees it decline of British ballet in the 20th century. This is a period part of which I have lived from the inside; as a child growing up schooled through that peculiarly British institution the Royal Academy of Dancing, inspired by images of Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, later as a student at the Royal Ballet School, and then as a young dancer in the Royal Ballet companies experiencing the most richly varied ballet repertoire in the world in my own body, now transmuting this learning to communicate through teaching and choreography. (more…)