Moon Dances – Jann Esterhuizen Company

This was an elegant start to the evening, with poise and delicacy at its core. The piece started slowly, with the contemporary soundtrack drawing the audience into the performance even as the lights were still up, and gradually bringing us into the world on stage as the room darkened.
The choreography was based on very classical shapes and forms, with a lot of use of the diagonal lines of the stage, and many moments being recognisably ‘balletic’, but it pushed gently at the boundaries of traditional ballet, moving out of the confines of these lines and using the body in more organic ways.
The dancers each seemed to be mostly self-contained – there wasn’t a great deal of interaction between them; rather they all seemed to be in their own separate worlds of movement.
The piece as a whole didn’t take huge risks; there was still a lot of familiar ground in the soundtrack of piano and strings (particularly with sections of Bach’s solo cello suites), and the roots of ballet in the choreography. But the fact that it was clean and not particularly gritty didn’t detract – it was a balanced and beautiful performance in all areas: choreography, performance and soundtrack.

EVA – Joe Lott Dance

In contrast to the previous piece, this had a strong sense of narrative, with spoken word as a prominent part of the performance. At the start this took the form of a performer on stage who spoke to the audience, and later on there were extracts of speech from NASA space missions as part of the soundtrack.
This provided a great sense of direction and clarity to the piece, and there were moments of perfect balance where the choreography directly matched the narration’s content. Initially this took the form of small movements which ‘acted out’ the things being narrated (for example particular actions like sowing seeds). Later on it was even more striking, as two dancers moved in unison on the floor, slowly oscillating and remoulding the shapes of their bodies as the soundtrack described movement in space. There was a real quality of weightlessness and floating – it was easy to imagine that the dancers were outside the Earth’s gravity.
I did find it easier to take in the narration from a soundtrack than the spoken delivery on stage – perhaps because this broke away from the traditional silence of dance performers. But it was certainly an absorbing performance with some real innovation of choreography.

Still Touch – Richard Chappell Dance

This was an exceptionally strong finish to the evening, with innovation and talent on show right from the first moment. The subject matter encompassed the nature of human touch and connection, and this was explored through four ‘characters’ – three dancers and a sculpted figure. This inert figure could so easily have been used in a gimmicky way, but on the contrary it was done in a way both empathetic and unabashed. The work didn’t shy away from the raw loneliness of the lack of connection to others, or the tenderness and joy of human interaction, but also showed many tones between these two extremes, connecting all three dancers and the sculpture rather than keeping them apart in separate pairs.

The soundtrack, too, was inventive and layered, and matched the emotive drive of the piece – at some points dramatic and dark, and at others almost completely still.
The choreography felt inherently organic, each movement flowing from the last, feeling almost improvised, and yet inventive and very much outside the boundaries of ‘classical’ dance. There was also no sense of gender difference between the male and female dancers. Rather than feeling one was watching a performance, it was more like looking in on an intimate world, at times troubled but ultimately beautiful.

Jess Ryan-Phillips

17th March 2019

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The 2019 Dancin’ Oxford Festival brings a powerful and varied programme of dance to the city. It features shows and workshops for children, teenagers, dance enthusiasts and for the dance curious.  This year we are introducing our Festival Hub, in the Oxford Playhouse’s Lucy Room, where dance lovers can pop in for free tea, coffee and a chat.

The Festival, now in its 13th year, is funded by Oxford City Council and Arts Council England. Claire Thompson, Oxford City Council Arts Officer said ‘Although the Festival has no central theme several of this year’s companies have mental health issues at the heart of their work, which reflects current contemporary concerns. The shows are far from being all doom and gloom and offer thought provoking dance of the highest quality. We have a new venue for the Festival Launch on 2 March which will be held on a dance stage inside Westgate Oxford. We are delighted with this new location which will offer great views for everyone.’

The Festival Launch is an exciting and awe-inspiring afternoon of dance featuring breathtaking shows from professional and local youth dance companies. There will also be opportunities to join in a Zumba Party and learn African and Street Dance moves.  The annual Moving with the Times platform comprises 3 specially commissioned pieces by Dancin’ Oxford and Pegasus Theatre and features emerging companies, with work this year by Jann Esterhuizen Company, Joe Lott Company and returning Richard Chappell Dance.

Stuart Walters’ Rock Bottom is a moving dance solo based on the dancer’s own struggles with depression and addition. Two Oxford based companies are also looking into mental health. Body Politic, now on its first national tour, examines the fragility and vulnerabilities in men and young boys and Dance Creative offers the raw story of a daughter and her mother with early onset dementia.

Uchenna Dance will bring a flamboyance and colour with its blend of African and contemporary dance with The Head Wrap Diaries.  The Chit Chat Chalk Show will help children discover what makes them unique.

You can find full details of all the events and participatory workshops here, but below is a listing of performance events and discussion at a glance:

Moving with the Times platform- Richard Chappell Dance, Jann Esterhuizen Company, Joe Lott Company, contemporary dance

Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd March 7.30pm,  Sat. mat 2.30pm, Pegasus Theatre

Festival Launch – including performances by Company Chameleon, Messy Jam Dance Co, Step2Dance, Hakeem Omnibudo and his Impact Academy Dancers.

2nd March 12pm – 5pm, Leiden Square, Westgate Oxford

Festival Hub – speakers Emma-Jane Morbey AD Body Politic, Claire Thompson Director Dancin’ Oxford Festival, Paula Redway Cultural Development Manager at Oxford City Council, Susie Crow Ballet in Small Spaces and Oxford Dance Writers, Segolene Tarte Oxford Dance Forum, Angela Conlan Director Dance Creative.

Monday 3rd – Saturday 9th March 12 – 2pm, Oxford Playhouse

The Head Wrap Diaries – Uchenna Dance, fusion African and contemporary dance forms

2nd March 7pm, Kingsmere Community Centre, Bicester

Boys and Girls – The Pappy Show

2nd March 7.30pm, The North Wall

Mixtape – Dotdotdot Dance, contemporary flamenco

5th March 8pm, The North Wall

Rock Bottom – Stuart Waters, solo dance

6th March 7.30pm, Old Fire Station

A Million Memories – Dance Creative, interactive event with dance, music and poetry

7th March at 6pm, History of Science Museum

Works by Rafael Bonachela, Sharon Eyal and Benoit Swan Pouffer – Rambert2, contemporary dance

Friday 8th & Saturday 9th March, Friday 8 pm, Sat 2.30 & 7.30pm, Oxford Playhouse

Father Figurine – Body Politic, hip-hop dance and spoken word

8th March 7.30pm, The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury

The Chit Chat Chalk Show – Hawk Dance Theatre and The Knotted Project, children’s show

9th March 11am & 2pm, The North Wall

Ticketed events: from £3 for taster workshops;

Oxford Playhouse www.ticketsoxford.com 01865 305305,

www.pegasustheatre.org.uk 01865 812 150, www.thenorthwall.com 01865 319450,

www.themillartscentre.co.uk 01295 290 002, www.hsm.ox.ac.uk