‘I’m always accused of dealing only with sex and violence but what I really deal with is life and death.’  Thus quoted Monica Mason, opening the St Hilda’s College/DANSOX Conference Kenneth MacMillan: Making Dance Beyond the Boundaries held on Saturday 16th March 2019.

Dame Monica, former Principal Dancer and Director of the Royal Ballet Company, was just one of many sharing their memories of MacMillan and his creative approach at this smörgåsbord of delights blending academic research, choreography and performance. On a wet and windy day, in political and climatic times that can sometimes feel reminiscent of the dark events triggered at Mayerling, we were treated to talks by MacMillan’s widow Deborah on how MacMillan worked with designers, Guest Lecturer Natalie Wheen on his innovative use of music, choreologists on how Benesh notation helps to preserve his choreography, and academic specialists on his historical imagination. The conference concluded with excerpts from a reconstruction of Playground by Yorke Dance. (more…)

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The DANSOX Conference Kenneth MacMillan: Making Dance Beyond the Boundaries was an opportunity to reflect on and discover more about one of the twentieth century’s greatest choreographers. It was attended by distinguished practitioners and scholars in dance, and generously open to the wider University and general public.

Dame Monica Mason and Deborah, Lady MacMillan gave insights into what it was like to work with Kenneth MacMillan, his interest in contemporaneous events in society and the arts, his willingness to engage with designers new to the theatre, and his relationship with and support from Ninette de Valois. (more…)

Carlos Acosta’s recent production of Don Quixote for the Royal Ballet is full of energy, sparkle and exhilarating dancing. Even though it is from the classic Marius Petipa tradition, I didn’t know this ballet and wasn’t sure what to expect. How do you ‘balletise’ Cervantes’ 17th Century blockbuster? In some ways it is a bit like Le Corsaire with flamenco and gypsies instead of pirates: the thinnest of plots, but huge fun and an excuse for some great dancing. (more…)

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…)

“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…)