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…)

This luxurious large scale coffee table book celebrates an icon of British ballet, but within a wider context than life as member of a major company. The young Darcey Bussell shot to stardom at the Royal Ballet when, still a teenager, she was selected by Kenneth MacMillan to create the central role of Princess Rose in his ballet of 1989 The Prince of the Pagodas; after its premiere becoming the company’s youngest principal dancer. Her elegantly long physique and sunny charm coupled with technical clarity, strength and assurance enabled her to shine not only in ballet’s classic 19th century repertoire but also in major works by MacMillan and Ashton, Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon. She retired from the Royal Ballet at the age of 38 but has managed to make a seamless transition to a wider career as a much loved celebrity, exploring other dance genres in performance and on television, but also as a presenter of dance transmissions and documentaries, and perhaps most famously of late as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. (more…)

Nick Higham’s interview with Darcey Bussell in the Sheldonian Theatre was the only dance-related event in this year’s Oxford Literary Festival, and it was sold out. I was sitting right at the top, next to a family with two small girls, who were very anxious about whether they would be able to see. Happily, we turned out to be on the best side of the Gallery, and had a good view of Bussell, who seemed to be channelling her inner Audrey Hepburn, in slacks, pumps and a polka-dot blouse.

Higham opened the discussion by talking about her book Darcey Bussell: Evolved, which is a collection of images of Bussell in locations ranging from the top of the Albert Memorial to the London Eye. Higham asked what it is like to be a photographer’s muse, to which Bussell replied that it is part of the job of promoting her art form. (more…)

‘I’m always accused of dealing only with sex and violence but what I really deal with is life and death.’  Thus quoted Monica Mason, opening the St Hilda’s College/DANSOX Conference Kenneth MacMillan: Making Dance Beyond the Boundaries held on Saturday 16th March 2019.

Dame Monica, former Principal Dancer and Director of the Royal Ballet Company, was just one of many sharing their memories of MacMillan and his creative approach at this smörgåsbord of delights blending academic research, choreography and performance. On a wet and windy day, in political and climatic times that can sometimes feel reminiscent of the dark events triggered at Mayerling, we were treated to talks by MacMillan’s widow Deborah on how MacMillan worked with designers, Guest Lecturer Natalie Wheen on his innovative use of music, choreologists on how Benesh notation helps to preserve his choreography, and academic specialists on his historical imagination. The conference concluded with excerpts from a reconstruction of Playground by Yorke Dance. (more…)

The DANSOX Conference Kenneth MacMillan: Making Dance Beyond the Boundaries was an opportunity to reflect on and discover more about one of the twentieth century’s greatest choreographers. It was attended by distinguished practitioners and scholars in dance, and generously open to the wider University and general public.

Dame Monica Mason and Deborah, Lady MacMillan gave insights into what it was like to work with Kenneth MacMillan, his interest in contemporaneous events in society and the arts, his willingness to engage with designers new to the theatre, and his relationship with and support from Ninette de Valois. (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

 

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

 

The Theatre at Chipping Norton in the heart of the leafy Cotswold countryside is a picturesque small venue, which provided the dancers of Ballet Central, the graduate performing company of Central School of Ballet, with a warmly welcoming family audience and an almost full house for their annual visit. The lopsided stage is narrow but deep, giving viewers in the side galleries problematic sightlines, but this is made up for by intimacy and potential connection between viewers and doers. The company earned my profound respect for their ability to fit energetic ensemble dancing into this space without any problems or collisions.

This year’s programme promised storytelling with iconic ballet titles such as Black Swan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. These were not simply cut down versions of full-scale classics, but re-workings made for touring and playing to the strengths of this company of talented youngsters in an unashamedly narrative conception of ballet. All set against the neutrality of black drapes, enlivened and given a sense of place by the use of props, and designer Dante Baylor’s colourful often asymmetric costumes which brought both variety and a sense of overall stylistic unity to the evening. (more…)

Central School of Ballet’s renowned graduate performing company Ballet Central brings its annual nationwide tour to The Theatre, Chipping Norton on Saturday 2nd June at 7.45 pm. Under the artistic direction of Christopher Marney, Ballet Central’s diverse range of dance and theatre will be performed in 20 towns and cities in England and Wales across a five month period.

This season’s breadth of repertoire is testament to the distinguished choreographers that support the young dance company: Matthew Bourne of New Adventures honours Ballet Central with the Fairies Prologue from his gothic-reworking of Sleeping Beauty and, for the first time, Ballet Central will present an excerpt from FAR by multi award-winning choreographer and director Wayne McGregor.

After the success of last year’s Romeo & Juliet, choreographer Jenna Lee returns to Ballet Central with her brand new creation Black Swan, a dark twist on the iconic classic.

To celebrate the life and work of Kenneth MacMillan, Ballet Central introduces an excerpt from his rarely-seen 1983 ballet Valley of Shadows inspired by Georgio Bassani’s haunting novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

And finally, to close this year’s performance, Christopher Marney will revive scenes from Christopher Gable’s Cinderella on the 25th anniversary of its creation. Set to an acclaimed score by Ballet Central’s resident composer Philip Feeney, this is a timeless version of a much-loved fairy tale.

Ballet Central is the touring company of Central School of Ballet in London, one of the leading centres for professional dance training and education. Students in the final year of their three-year BA (Hons) degree course in Professional Dance and Performance join Ballet Central to gain invaluable touring experience before graduation, enabling them to join premier dance companies.  Recent Central graduates are currently employed with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Ballet Ireland, National Ballet of Estonia, Ballet Black, Northern Ballet, K Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Singapore Dance Theatre, Michael Clark Company, The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and An American in Paris.

Performance:  Saturday 2nd June 7.45pm

Venue:  The Theatre Chipping Norton, 2 Spring Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon OX7 5NL

Tickets:  Adults £15.50, concessions £13.50

Book online here, or call the Box Office on 01608 642350

For more information visit: www.balletcentral.co.uk and www.centralschoolofballet.co.uk

Twitter: @balletcentral
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_ballet_central_/

There was much to celebrate tonight at St Hilda’s, when five years of fascinating DANSOX events programmed by Professor Susan Jones coincided with the 125th anniversary of the college that so generously hosts these events. It was a wonderfully inclusive evening that centred round a screening of Lynne Wake’s New Wave Ballet, a documentary film about the early ballets of Kenneth MacMillan, before a packed audience that included members of the college and wider University, participants in the local dance community, practitioners and dance scholars from further afield, Dame Monica Mason, and Deborah, Lady MacMillan.

Wake’s introductory talk vividly described how eager she had been to see Edmée Wood’s films of Royal Ballet productions, her initial disappointment at the poor quality examples that she found, her excitement at discovering the original recordings, and the work involved in their restoration for the Royal Opera House. Her documentary is an outstanding example of the use of archival footage to bring back to life the essence of dances that might otherwise be lost, by showing film alongside interviews with the actual dancers, who know the works from the inside.

Next, Dame Monica spoke about her experiences working with MacMillan, as a dancer and as his répétiteur, noting the wide range of his artistic interests, his willingness to take risks and work with new collaborators, and his ability to reprove but then move on. Almost five years to the day since she spoke at the first DANSOX event celebrating the centenary of The Rite of Spring, she described what it was like to be the Chosen Maiden, dancing between the criss-crossing legs of the corps de ballet as they lay face down on the stage, or being passed from hand-to hand high overhead (an image reminiscent to me of Greek vase paintings of the sacrifice of Iphigenia). I remember seeing her in the role in 1982, and still carry pictures of her performance in my head.

At the reception following the brief question and answer session, St Hilda’s Vice Principal Dr Georgina Paul thanked DANSOX patron Sheila Forbes (the former Principal of St Hilda’s) and proposed a toast to DANSOX’ other patron, Dame Monica, to mark the fact that she is now an Honorary Fellow of the College.

Maggie Watson

19 February 2018