DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) and TORCH (The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities) join forces to present Yorke Dance Project in a moving tribute to Sir Robert Cohan, as an extension to The Grace Project, continuing the discussion “Dance as Grace: Paradoxes and Possibilities”. Director Yolande Yorke-Edgell will present Cohan’s ideas on grace. On 28th October dancers from the Company will show excerpts from Cohan’s works Canciones del alma and Communion, followed by discussion. On 29th October Yolande Yorke-Edgell will dance, and there will be a special screening of Cohan’s lockdown project – Lockdown Portraits – the last series of solos he created – followed by a discussion with the director of the film.

Dates: Thursday 28th October 4.00-6.00pm, Friday 29th October 4.00-6.00pm

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

Tickets: Admission free, but numbers limited for social distancing: book to reserve a seat by emailing susan.jones@ell.ox.ac.uk
and copying in marcus.bell@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk

This moving tribute was the first in a series of events by Yorke Dance Project (YDP) dedicated to the memory of Sir Robert Cohan, and honoured his work on what would have been his 96th birthday. 

Yolande Yorke-Edgell (Artistic Director of YDP) described how after they met nine years ago, Cohan, who was already in his 80s, revived three works and created another four for the company.  Cohan continued to work with YDP until the end of his life, using Zoom to create during lockdown.  His last rehearsal was on 5 December 2020.

Filmmaker David McCormick shared a short film, narrated by Cohan, about the creation of the work Communion for YDP’s 20th Anniversary Season in 2019.  This is planned to be a chapter from a Film Book on Dance which will include Cohan talking about how to be a dancer and choreographer, alongside text, images and film.  Cohan’s work was instrumental to the development of contemporary dance practice in the United Kingdom, and he was not only a dancer and choreographer but also a gifted teacher and mentor.  He was fascinated by movement: if Communion is understood as an essay on dance through performance, McCormick’s film was a way of documenting Cohan’s wisdom, philosophy and beliefs.

Other contributions followed.  Lighting designer John B. Read, Roy M. Vestrich, and Yorke Dance Associate Director Stephen Pelton, spoke of how Cohan trusted his collaborators, and worked with the way that dancers moved, tuning into the vibrations that impel movement.  For Dane Hurst, whom those attending were privileged to see performing his solo from Communion in a separate short film by David Stewart, Cohan’s rehearsals were transformational experiences in which the ordinary became extraordinary, as he came to see the world with greater clarity.  Dancer Laurel Dalley Smith, who the following day gave an online master class on her solo from Communion, noted Cohan’s ability to find his dancers’ inner core.

The evening had moments of sadness, but it did not feel like an ending.  The Cohan Collective, an open residency programme for the creation of new choreography and music composition which aims to maintain the spirit of Cohan’s unique artistic legacy, will carry on, continuing to support dancers and choreographers on their journey to find themselves as creative artists, discovering the dance that lies within them.

Maggie Watson

9th April 2021

Find out more about the Cohan Collective here

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here

Watch excerpts from Communion by Sir Robert Cohan, as well as works by other choreographers influenced by Martha Graham, in online streamed performance by the Martha Graham Company 30th April to 2nd May; further information and booking details here