The Theatre at Chipping Norton in the heart of the leafy Cotswold countryside is a picturesque small venue, which provided the dancers of Ballet Central, the graduate performing company of Central School of Ballet, with a warmly welcoming family audience and an almost full house for their annual visit. The lopsided stage is narrow but deep, giving viewers in the side galleries problematic sightlines, but this is made up for by intimacy and potential connection between viewers and doers. The company earned my profound respect for their ability to fit energetic ensemble dancing into this space without any problems or collisions.

This year’s programme promised storytelling with iconic ballet titles such as Black Swan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. These were not simply cut down versions of full-scale classics, but re-workings made for touring and playing to the strengths of this company of talented youngsters in an unashamedly narrative conception of ballet. All set against the neutrality of black drapes, enlivened and given a sense of place by the use of props, and designer Dante Baylor’s colourful often asymmetric costumes which brought both variety and a sense of overall stylistic unity to the evening. (more…)

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“Spring is coming…” I wrote in posting an advance round-up of performance and other events for this year’s edition of Dancin’ Oxford Festival 1st – 11th March 2018. It would perhaps have been more appropriate to post “Winter is coming…” as the arrival of the “Beast from the East” took some casualties in the first weekend of programming. Heavy snowfall and consequent travel disruption led to the postponement to a later date (to be announced) of the one day Dance and Academia conference, with several guest speakers unable to get there. That same day (Saturday 3rd March) Company Chameleon’s performance at Pegasus Theatre was also cancelled.

Other companies who had arrived in Oxford a day or two earlier before the snow were able to continue with scheduled performances in true “the show must go on” style, and with encouragingly healthy audiences. At the end of Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Friday evening performance of Odyssey at The North Wall, performer George Mann gave a heartfelt thanks to those that had made it. I found this lively retelling of Homer’s great story of journey and homecoming well worth crunching through silent snowy streets for. (more…)

Late on Monday 6th November 2017 Ana Barbour, much loved, inspirational and guiding presence in the Oxford dance scene, passed away having battled with cancer.  Her touching funeral at the home she loved on Sunday 12th November was attended by numerous family, friends, and colleagues, and was a celebration of her life and achievements in speeches, songs and dance.  I felt honoured to speak on that occasion about Ana’s work as a dance artist in Oxford, and I am posting here my speech to pay tribute to her.  You can also find links below to her own blog Anadances, Cafe Reason of whom she was an integral part, and the DEC Project; and her own occasional writings for this blog.  Oxford Dance Writers would really welcome other voices in this endeavour of remembrance, so please use the comments facility below to add to this partial picture your particular memories of Ana.  Thank you!

Ana Barbour

When I mounted the Solos Project for Oxford dance artists in 2008 Ana was one of six dancers who showed solos in the Burton Taylor’s intimate studio space. Her Butoh inspired piece Baggage accompanied by the atmospheric music of her long term friend and collaborator Malcolm Atkins was a remarkable episode in which having entered bowed down by a bundle on her back she burrowed into the baggage itself, morphing into surreal shapes and images of confined struggle that were humorous, poignant and dreamlike. It was my first experience of Ana as creative imagination and compelling performer. (more…)

October 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.   The festival Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration hosted by the Royal Opera House brings together two weeks of performances of MacMillan repertoire by not only the Royal Ballet, but also Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Yorke Dance Project, who will be performing his late work Sea of Troubles in the Clore Studio and on tour.  Oxford Dance Writers pays its own hommage to the master here: Susie Crow, a founder member of chamber company Dance Advance for whom Sea of Troubles was originally made and and herself an original cast member, writes about the work, its genesis, and the experience of reviving it for performance by today’s dancers.

Sea of Troubles was commissioned from Kenneth MacMillan by Dance Advance for touring to small and mid-scale venues.  It was officially premiered on March 17th 1988 at the Brighton Festival.  A tour of over 35 performances in what was then the Southern, South East and Eastern regions followed, culminating in two performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. In the following year there were further performances by the company including at Madrid’s Festival de Otoño, and the company was supported by the British Council to perform it at festivals in China and Germany.  In 1991 the work entered the repertoire of Scottish Ballet for a few performances; and in 2002 it was performed by an ensemble lead by Adam Cooper and Sarah Wildor at the Exeter Festival in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of MacMillan’s death.  It was revived at short notice by Scottish Ballet for performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014; and in 2016 was remounted from the original notation by Jane Elliott for Yorke Dance Project, who are currently touring it and performing it at the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House as part of Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration.  I was called in as a member of the original cast to coach and rehearse a new generation of dancers. (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

Last year saw the revival of a little known late work by the renowned choreographer Kenneth MacMillan by the enterprising company Yorke Dance Project as part of their programme of works old and new, Rewind Forward.   Sea of Troubles based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet was originally created for Dance Advance in 1988, a company founded by a group of six dancers who broke away from the Royal Ballet with the intention of creating and performing new ballet based work on a more intimate scale.  Their venture was supported by MacMillan whom they commissioned to create a new work for the company’s first programme.  Sea of Troubles toured small venues and was performed by Dance Advance across the UK, later in Spain, Germany and China.  Scottish Ballet adopted the work two years later but it remains a work that is seldom seen.  DANSOX presents original cast member Susie Crow and Yolande Yorke-Edgell with dancers of Yorke Dance Project in a rehearsal/lecture demonstration exploring how this fascinating work has been brought back to life for a new generation of dancers.

Date:  Thursday 16th February, 5.30-7.00pm

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

The event will be followed by a drinks reception. Free and open to all – booking essential at Eventbrite.

Book your place here

Find more information about DANSOX (Dance Scholarship Oxford) here

or by contacting Dr Susan Jones here

And find more information about Yorke Dance Project here

It is that time of the year again, suddenly Christmas is looming with urgent gift shopping imperatives.  But don’t worry, once again Oxford Dance Writers is here to help with our round up of dance publications reviewed and received this year, from the highly academic and practical to the entertaining memoir and gorgeously illustrated records of companies and dancers; for the dance lovers in your lives, or to add to your own Christmas wish list…  Great thanks once again to all our reviewers! (more…)