A small boy and a man sit facing each other, cross-legged, on one of 21 large oblong boxes. At first, the man seems to be telling a story that is brought to life behind them as a single warrior monk appears centre stage; or perhaps the man is a divine being, or a puppeteer who can manipulate events. Before we can decide, the wooden boxes begin to move, thumping and thudding forwards as they roll towards us on their long sides, revealing openings, like coffins without lids from which living people emerge.

This is an extraordinary collective work for a group of male performers who have none of the physical homogeneity of a corps de ballet, yet seem to think and move as one, as they appear and disappear among, between and inside the boxes. (more…)


Last Thursday, on a snowy night, St Hilda’s College Oxford warmly welcomed the local dance community to learn more about Fred Astaire, arguably the greatest dancer of the twentieth century. New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay gave an entertaining, witty and enlightening talk, as he showed us a series of filmed dance excerpts, while placing Astaire’s work in its cultural and choreographic context. (more…)

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

The Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s version of the Snow Maiden was a rare opportunity to see a full ballet company with orchestra in Oxford. The story of the girl made of snow, who longs for the capacity to love, only to melt away when she achieves her heart’s desire, inspired a play, an opera and a ballet in nineteenth century Russia. The version brought to the New Theatre tonight, well-danced to a composite Tchaikovsky score, cleverly combines traditional effects, such as dry ice, with modern projection technology (snow falls; water ripples; the sun transforms the winter landscape into spring), to give a very enjoyable theatrical experience. (more…)

Tim Podesta’s unsettling creation for Ballet Cymru explores the darkness that lurks within us, disrupting our relationships with others. It is a work that shakes assumptions about love, gender and sexuality as he pitches his dancers into a series of disconcerting encounters. Although there is no narrative as such, we see a succession of incidents, all told with Podesta’s distinctive part-classical, part-contemporary movement vocabulary. The piece centres around Mara Galeazzi, but this is a company work: every dancer matters and they have all absorbed and internalised Podesta’s style, with its use of strongly arched backs, forward bends hinged at the hips, swift precise hand movements, lifts in which dancers move torso-to-torso, and unexpected pirouette turns spiralling out of one foot. (more…)

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill at Sadler’s Wells was a delightful and varied evening of dance. The programme opened with Ruth Brill’s interesting 2017 work Arcadia, danced to John Harle’s stunning saxophone accompaniment. Tyrone Singleton, a sinuous and predatory representation of the god Pan, weaves in and out of shadows cast on the stage against a background of huge arching trees, lurking and watching three nymphs. Through the influence of the goddess Selene (the elegant Delia Mathews) he is reformed, shows more respect, and becomes a better leader. This wishful topical narrative seemed a little forced, but Atena Ameri’s stylish designs and Peter Teigen’s lighting were highly effective, and the Chorus performed their bouncy choreography with energy. (more…)

Dance and Academia: Moving the Boundaries, convened by Miranda Laurence, returns this academic year with a thought-provoking series of three seminars exploring the provocative question “What is Dance without an Audience?“. For academics in all disciplines, dance artists and movement practitioners, and anyone else who wants to exchange thinking about dance!

Tuesday 3rd October 6.00-8.15pm: Chloe Metcalfe (Roehampton University)

When non-dancers dance: considerations of audience and performer in contemporary British community-dance events.

Social dance blurs the distinction between audience and performer. Nowhere is this more true than in community barn dances, usually held by non-performance based organisations across England. This evening will feature a brief talk about the concept of performer within this context, drawing upon PhD research of such dances in Buckinghamshire. This will be followed by a fun, practical workshop where the concepts of audience and performer are engaged with.

Tuesday 5th December 6.00-8.15pm: Susie Crow and Maggie Watson (Roehampton University and Oxford dance practitioners)

Looking in and looking out: ballet performance from the perspective of the viewer and the doer

Presentations and discussion which focus on the audience-performer relationship in ballet, seen from different perspectives but both raising questions about the identity of the work.  Maggie Watson uses the example of the first performances of Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère by the Royal Ballet in 1963 to reflect on how the historical and cultural context surrounding performance may colour audience perceptions of a work and understanding of its significance.  Susie Crow draws on her own experience as a ballet dancer and choreographer to reflect on the contribution of space, place and different publics to shaping the work in performance, and in consequence to the development of ballet as a form in itself.

Tuesday 6th February 2018, 6.00-8.15pm: Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins (Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge)

What is dance without an audience? An investigation beyond language and the complexity of our social interaction to explore wordless thoughts~ to include demonstrations of tango and magic.

  1. Does an audience have to be real?
  2. Is dance without an audience merely ritual, resulting in an altered state, and ifso, what kind?
  3. Is dance without an audience simply the confirmation of a heartbeat?
  4. Is the introspection of an intimate partner dance audience free, and if so, whatis being explored?
  5. Is dance without an audience the opportunity to invent and explore realitiesthat exist outside of the compass of shared experience?

Dates:  Tuesdays 3 October, 5 December 2017, 6 February 2018 6.00-8.15pm

Venue:  Heritage Learning Centre, Town Hall, St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1BX

Tickets:  £5 cash on the door per seminar (£1 off for any repeat attenders).

Please email miranda.c.laurence@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Presented as part of Dancin’ Oxford 2018 www.dancinoxford.co.uk