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

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Dance Scholarship Oxford‘s first event of 2018 is a real treat; a film night featuring a screening of New Wave Ballet, Lynne Wake‘s documentary film about the early work of twentieth-century choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, newly reversioned for last autumn’s anniversary festival Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration.  The film includes historic and lovingly restored footage of some of the ballets as well as interviews with original interpreters.  The showing will be followed by a talk by Lynne Wake on the making of the film, and Dame Monica Mason will also talk about the experience of working with Kenneth MacMillan.  Not to be missed!

Date:  Monday 19th February 5.30pm

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

Free and open to all followed by drinks reception, but booking advised

Book here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dansox-presents-film-night- new-wave-ballet-tickets-41209915968

Further information about DANSOX and its programme of events can be found here

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…)

Last year saw the revival of a little known late work by the renowned choreographer Kenneth MacMillan by the enterprising company Yorke Dance Project as part of their programme of works old and new, Rewind Forward.   Sea of Troubles based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet was originally created for Dance Advance in 1988, a company founded by a group of six dancers who broke away from the Royal Ballet with the intention of creating and performing new ballet based work on a more intimate scale.  Their venture was supported by MacMillan whom they commissioned to create a new work for the company’s first programme.  Sea of Troubles toured small venues and was performed by Dance Advance across the UK, later in Spain, Germany and China.  Scottish Ballet adopted the work two years later but it remains a work that is seldom seen.  DANSOX presents original cast member Susie Crow and Yolande Yorke-Edgell with dancers of Yorke Dance Project in a rehearsal/lecture demonstration exploring how this fascinating work has been brought back to life for a new generation of dancers.

Date:  Thursday 16th February, 5.30-7.00pm

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

The event will be followed by a drinks reception. Free and open to all – booking essential at Eventbrite.

Book your place here

Find more information about DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) here

or by contacting Dr Susan Jones here

And find more information about Yorke Dance Project here

This is ‘not a conventional autobiography’ but it is a fascinating and inspiring account of 75 years of work in dance and theatre. Immensely humorous, Wright seems to have known almost everybody in the ballet world, and he conjures up vivid images of dips in the freezing January sea with Henry Danton at Eastbourne in the 1940s, Princess Margaret backstage at the Birmingham Hippodrome holding her breath to avoid the whiff from the gents’ loo, or of Michael Somes who could be ‘very difficult’, ‘particularly at full moon’.

For those of us outside the professional ballet world, the book sometimes ‘joins the dots’, and fills the gaps that other, more discreet, accounts have left in obscurity. I imagine that Wright’s colleagues and acquaintances will have looked for their names in the index with some trepidation, for he is almost as frank about the living as he is about the dead. (more…)

The Royal Ballet presents a major revival of a work by Kenneth MacMillan in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of his death next year.  An identity in crisis, a country in revolution;  Anastasia is a ballet about one of the great historical mysteries of the 20th century, only recently solved. At the height of the Russian Revolution the royal family were executed, but afterwards a young woman appeared – apparently a surviving royal princess, the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Known as ‘Anna Anderson’, she couldn’t remember her past and she was presumed to be an imposter. Many wanted to forget the massacre and the Revolution; many believed, or hoped, that a princess could have survived, a remnant of the old world.  Originally a one-act ballet made for the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin, one of Kenneth MacMillan’s first creations on becoming Director of The Royal Ballet in 1970 was to expand his expressionist Anastasia into a full evening work.  Anastasia is a dramatic and haunting exploration of Anna’s nightmare of memory and identity.  To music by Tchaikovsky and Martinů, we follow the events leading to the murder of a family, and Anna’s confused dreams – or memories. A powerful, psychological challenge for the principal ballerina, this is a rare opportunity to see a landmark ballet by a major choreographer, here at the Phoenix Picturehouse in live transmission from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Date:  Wednesday 2nd November 7.15pm

Venue:  Phoenix Picture House, 57 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6AE

Tickets:  £22 adults, £17.50 retired or student, £10 child (reduced rates for members and family ticket also available)

Book online here or by phone: 0871 902 5736

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…)