Professor Richard Beacham’s account of the rediscovery and re-generation of Hellerau as the European Centre for the Arts was both romantic and inspiring. Founded by Karl Schmidt and Wolf Dohrn in 1909 as a garden suburb of Dresden, Hellerau was an ideological attempt to create a community that would live and work in social equality and harmony in an idyllic setting. Hellerau became the home of an Institute and Festspielhaus that drew together the ideas and practice of the progressive innovators , and has been cited as the birthplace of modern theatre. Experimental work at Hellerau embodied theories in which architecture was subservient to rhythm, light created space, and the human body became the medium of transmission between dramatist and audience. These works of living art influenced dance, theatre, music and design in ways that are visible not only on stage but also in our urban surroundings today. (more…)

On Sunday, Oxford Dance Forum celebrated Evolution, its three-year professional development programme for dance artists, funded by Arts Council England and Oxford City Council. Events were free to attend, but had sold out quickly and I was lucky to catch performances by Jenny Parrott, Naomi Morris, and Joëlle Pappas with musician Christopher Redgate, before a discussion led by dance dramaturg Miranda Laurence.

Jenny Parrott’s part-planned, part-improvised performance of With or without (tea and cake) in the OFS Café created an intimate and friendly atmosphere as she led us through a daydream laced with absurdity and gentle humour, built around ordinary domestic objects (a cup of tea; a ball of wool; a hat …). Initially her props were hidden beneath a cloth but she was visible, then in a neat reversal she removed the cloth so that we could see the objects, before covering her face. It was an enjoyable opening to this part of the afternoon programme. (more…)

Marius Petipa worked for the Russian Imperial Theatres as dancer and ballet master for sixty-three years, from 1847 until his death in 1910. He choreographed over fifty original ballets, creating works with composers who ranged from Pugni, Minkus and Drigo to Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, for some of the greatest dancers of the nineteenth century. His influence on ballet is incalculable, yet Nadine Meisner’s meticulously researched biography is the first coherent, full length, account of his life.

Meisner’s eagerly anticipated book was launched in the UK in June at the DANSOX summer school at St Hilda’s College Oxford, and it does not disappoint. (more…)

Aporia, presented by Thomas Page Dances at the Old Fire Station last night, is a work of gruelling physicality. It is also didactic and earnest, and felt at times like a lecture illustrated by movement. Billed as an investigation that explores social unrest and the relationship between peace and conflict, the work’s movement vocabulary is vigorous to the point of violence: the dancers throw themselves at the floor landing hard on their hands and feet, contort their backs twisting into backbends with rolling ankles, or confront each other like martial arts practitioners (Page had early training in kick-boxing). Page is not limited by adherence to a specific dance system, and seems to have devised his own training method: company class includes a programme, referred to with some dread by the dancers, as ‘The Ten’, in addition to improvisation and work based on whichever piece is in performance. (more…)

There had been torrential rain earlier in the day, and so I wore walking boots and wet weather gear to go to Gemma Peramiquel’s site–specific work Botanic Dance (part of Oxford Green Week) in South Park. Would the performance take place at all, we wondered, but there was a notice at the gate on Morrell Avenue telling us to follow the red arrows, and so we made our way across the huge expanse of damp grass to the copse at the top of the rise. The cast, children, teenagers and adults dressed in black leggings, assorted green tops and white sneakers, greeted us. We sat on a fallen tree trunk, surrounded by a semi circle of freshly planted flowering pot plants.

Then the music started (improvised on a fiddle with percussion, and later on a squeeze-box). We were asked to turn round, and saw the dancers who had secretly gathered behind us moving among the trees, interacting with them as well as dancing around them, almost treating them like partners. (more…)

BalletBoyz’ programme of two short works at the New Theatre on Tuesday showcased the hugely energetic talent of this all-male dance company. Them, a collaborative work between the dancers and composer Charlotte Harding, gave the cast an opportunity to display their considerable technical skills. Harding has worked with BalletBoyz before (she paired with choreographer Craig Revel Horwood for The Indicator Line), and this was an adventurous and exciting work built around the possibilities offered by a giant cuboid scaffold, which the dancers turned and manipulated about the stage. A prop, a piece of scenery, a climbing frame, or simply a space to dance in; it was all these things, and also a source of metaphorical and literal suspense as the dancers’ movement controlled, (or was controlled by) it. At one point, a dancer lay across its lower bar, and was lifted up, suspended like a rag doll; later, he gripped it with one hand and rose suspended in the air above the stage as the structure slowly turned over. (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…)