Performing Epic or Telling Tales is a monograph companion to the edited volume Epic Performances from the Middle Ages into the Twenty-First Century (OUP, 2018). The monograph offers authors Fiona Macintosh and Justine McConnell an opportunity to investigate and seek to account for the increased popularity of story-telling and narrative in live theatre since the turn of the twenty-first century. It is not a book about dance, but the earlier edited volume contained contributions by dance scholars, and this monograph includes a chapter on ‘Telling Tales with the Body’.

Macintosh and McConnell start from the premise that twentieth-century theatre saw an anti-narrative turn (seen, for example, in the work of Samuel Beckett), and they seek to chart and hypothesise reasons for the subsequent (re-)turn to narrative that they perceive in theatrical works, including dances, since the millennium. In their Preface, they propose that this twenty-first century ‘narrative’/storytelling (re-)turn is often a turn to Graeco-Roman epic. However, their definition of ‘epic’ in the context of performance extends beyond ancient Greece and Rome, embracing other cultures and story-telling traditions, and oral modes of creating, improvising and performing, as they reflect on the ways in which epic can cast an alternative gaze upon contemporary society.

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In November 2019 Oxford Dance Writers (ODW) celebrated its 10th anniversary with a reception at the North Wall Arts Centre to mark the occasion. The evening provided a joyful opportunity for members of the wider Oxford dance and performing arts community to come together and catch up.  A panel of guest speakers discussed dance writing each from their own specific perspective.  Dance critic and historian Nadine Meisner entertained us with stories of the dance reviewer’s rackety life, but also described her experiences drawing together her authoritative biography of Marius Petipa published in the summer.  Dance artist Nicholas Minns, reflected thoughtfully on his emergence as a dance blogger and online critic covering a wide spectrum of dance performance, and the writers influencing him in developing a distinctive voice and perspective.  Professor Susan Jones, the driving force behind Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) which has scheduled so many fascinating events (talks, seminars, lecture demonstrations, residencies) in recent years, gave insight into the place and potential of dance within Oxford University, and its enriching contribution to innovative interdisciplinary research projects and outreach. Oxford University Press mounted an impressive display of its varied publications on dance for those attending to browse and purchase.

ODW emerged from Ballet in Small Spaces’ The Solos Project in 2009 as an initiative to encourage critical writing and online discussion of dance, and generate informed reviews of the work of local dance artists.  Since then it has become a valuable record of dance performance activity in and around Oxford, listing forthcoming events as well as reviewing, bearing witness to dance in Oxford; generating an archive of the diverse and idiosyncratic dance history of a particular place.  Aiming to be a space for informed debate it has played a significant part in raising the profile of dance in Oxford, and developing its audience.  ODW has run three Dance Writers of the Future competitions to encourage younger writers.  It tracks and reports on academic dance initiatives such as Dance Scholarship Oxford and Dance and Academia events, and regularly reviews dance publications both academic and popular.  It has had the support of Oxfordshire venues who provide press tickets for ODW reviewers, and of publishers who have provided review copies of dance books.

Over the last ten years 40 writers have been featured, with substantial contributions from Susie Crow and Maggie Watson.  As well as academics (such as Miranda Laurence, Dana Mills) contributors have included local dance artists (including Ana Barbour, Jane Connelly, Rachel Gildea, Lisia Newmark); occasional guest writers (Nicholas Minns of writingaboutdance.com, Rebecca Nice, Emily May, art historian Barbara Berrington, former Oxford Times dance critic David Bellan); local dance lovers (such as Jess Ryan-Phillips, Susannah Harris-Wilson, Susanna Reece); and young writers who have entered our competitions.   ODW reaches a significant number of dance professionals and enthusiasts in the Oxfordshire area, and despite its mainly local focus the site also has an international following.

ODW now extends its grateful thanks to all who have contributed writing and who have supported the site in other ways over the years.  A special thanks to Maggie Watson who has recently completed with distinction an MA in Ballet Studies at the University of Roehampton, for so regularly contributing thoughtful, perceptive and empathetic reviews of a wide range of performances and publications.  With particular reference to our anniversary celebration, special mention must go to our wise and encouraging speakers, to Oxford Dance Forum for its generous support, to The North Wall for hosting us in such welcoming fashion, and to Oxford University Press for its enticing display of dance publications which prompted much pre Christmas buying.  And a final shout out for local dance and visual artist Naomi Morris for her beautiful images for ODW publicity materials.

We look forward to continuing… watch this space!  Your interest and comments will be greatly valued.

Wishing you all the best for 2020 and the coming decade,

Susie Crow

 

You can find information about Nadine Meisner’s biography Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master here or why not drop into the OUP Bookshop at 116-117, High St, Oxford OX1 4BZ.

Read Nicholas Minns’ latest reviews on his blog writingaboutdance.com here

Find out about Dance Scholarship Oxford, DANSOX, here

and about Dance and Academia here

Information about Oxford Dance Forum and its activities can be found here

Lidia Ivanova’s death in a boating ‘accident’ in 1924 remains one of ballet history’s unexplained mysteries, but she did not disappear without trace. Elizabeth Kendall’s meticulously researched book does not solve the puzzle of how or why she died, but she does lift this remarkable dancer out of her shadowy existence as a tragic footnote in her contemporaries’ memoirs and place her centre stage.

A friend and rival of Alexandra Danilova at the Imperial Ballet School, Ivanova had early success of one kind or another both on stage and off. Danilova’s memoir notes that Ivanova was expected to inherit the roles of ballerina Elena Smirnova; Tamara Geva’s that Ivanova was rumoured to be on ‘intimate terms with some shady government official’ and that she was said to be ‘close to all the Communist biggies’. (more…)

16th October saw the launch of a major new work of dance scholarship by Dr Susan Jones, Fellow and Tutor, St Hilda’s College, Oxford.  Susan Jones spent fifteen years as a soloist with the Scottish Ballet in Glasgow before becoming an academic. She now teaches English at Oxford, and has written on Joseph Conrad, modernism, and dance history and aesthetics.  Literature, Modernism, and Dance is published by Oxford University Press and is the first extended study of the relationship between dance and literary modernism; it opens up new ways of thinking about modernism by showing the dialogue between dance and literary aesthetics.  It recovers the importance of literature for modernist choreographers, and raises the importance of dance as site for literary scholarship. (more…)