The Grace Project is an interdisciplinary investigation into the concept of ‘grace’ in all its forms, which evolved from the research of Professor Sue Jones on literature and dance.  Grace has been central to the development of dance aesthetics, but it has also been challenged by practitioners of modern and contemporary dance.  These two seminars, which were attended by socially-distanced groups of academics, practitioners and interested local people, interrogated the question of what constitutes grace by examining five contrasting dances performed by, and discussed with, members of the Yorke Dance Project led by Yolande Yorke-Edgell.

The dancers presented works by Robert Cohan, Kenneth MacMillan and Yorke-Edgell, the latter consciously channelling the influences of Richard Alston and Bella Lewitzky (who was herself influenced by the choreographer Lester Horton).

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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

The Bournemouth three year Residency of the Cohan Collective began in 2018 with a two-week Intensive, followed by a Development Week in 2019, and finally a three-week creative period in summer 2020.  In a normal year the final phase would have culminated in a live showing before a selected audience, but this year, because of the pandemic, the artists shared their work in a Zoom meeting.

We saw two works; one created for film and therefore complete, the other for the stage and so by force of circumstance not yet in its final form.  The sharing event was well planned, with opportunities for questions and discussion.  After an introduction by the  event moderator, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Founder Director of the Cohan Collective alongside Sir Robert Cohan and composer pianist Eleanor Alberga, explained the purpose of the project: to enable artists to become their best creative selves through exploration and collaboration, with the support of mentors, and with the time and space to be both vulnerable and adventurous.  The moderator then posted the link to a film of the first work in the chat, so that we could all watch it simultaneously, before returning to the Zoom call for discussion.

We saw the first work, choreographer Edd Mitton’s The Quickening, without costumes, sets or lighting, filmed at the final point of preparation in the studio, before that vital shift when it should have transferred to the stage.  Three female dancers (Freya Jeffs, Sharia Johnson, and Abigail Attard Montalto), in black practice clothes, their heads initially swathed in white scarves that covered their faces, seemed to swim slowly in the air, drifting in space to Edmund Hunt’s composition for violin, double bass and piano.  The slow floating movements, to music that sounded like breaths of air punctuated by notes from a five-tone scale, evoked an atmosphere of the supernatural.  A man (Jordi Calpe Serrats) sits and seems to sense invisible presences, but not to see them.  He reaches out to hold them as they move around him marking the limits of his space as if they live within the four walls of his room.  He lies down, perhaps sleeping, and they carefully circle him anti-clockwise, extending their hands and hovering over him as if to draw him upwards with invisible threads.  They might be waking him, or they might be stealing his soul; they are like three witches, or spirits, or something that falls between reality and imagination.  They never quite touch him, until one clamps her outspread hand to his chest with the impact of an electric shock, and at last she dances with him.  In the end, they cradle him, and then let him slide to the ground and roll away, before each retreats to her own corner, leaving him downstage right, carefully moving his hand across the surface of the floor as if he can sense traces of ghostly footprints.

The second work, What Remains, by choreographer Dane Hurst and filmmaker Pierre Tappon to music by Ryan Latimer, made use of different locations and special effects, but the focus was nevertheless on the dance itself.  Romany Pajdak, dressed in white and looking utterly defenceless stands in a narrow alley way hemmed in by the high brick walls on either side.  We see clips of her running (towards someone, or away from them?) and Hurst, her partner, fades in and out of the picture as if he is walking in and out of her mind.  They dance a duet that contests the narrow space as if they are trapped in a dysfunctional relationship. Then Hurst dances a solo in the dark, filmed partially from above, before we see Pajdak again, in a derelict attic, where she discovers Hurst lying on the floor.  They circle each other warily, like cats, and when they dance together they are often not face-to-face, but one behind the other.  In the final scene, Pajdak, her back against a wall, tips and swings in two dimensions like a pendulum, until she subsides to the ground.

In the first Question and Answer session someone asked whether The Quickening was about Coronovirus.  Although neither work was specifically about the pandemic, both dances seemed influenced by related themes:  loneliness, isolation, vulnerability, and an ever-present invisible threat.  The absence of physical touch in parts of The Quickening and of eye contact in parts of What Remains echoed the lack of connection that so many people have recently suffered.

In discussion we heard about the ways in which the choreographers, composers, musicians, dancers, and their mentors, often working remotely from one another, had successfully addressed this year’s particular challenges.  Sir Robert Cohan spoke at the end, emphasising the difference between being an artist for oneself (which is easy) and being an artist for your community, creating work and experiences for an audience that they can understand:  the true artist finds new ways to see life and emotion, and our society needs artists, if we are to grow as human beings.  Through this residency, the Cohan Collective, together with partners  Yorke Dance Project, Pavilion Dance South West and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and other supporters, has provided the professional guidance that prepares composers, choreographers, musicians, dancers and filmmakers to fulfil this essential role: it is good news that this year’s Birmingham Residency, although, perforce, postponed, is scheduled for 2–14 August 2021.

Maggie Watson

18th October 2020

You can find out more about the Cohan Collective here

This was a stunning evening of new dance works, alongside extracts from Kenneth MacMillan’s newly revived ballet Playground.  The curtain raiser Who’s It?!, choreographed collaboratively by Edd Mitton and Jordi Calpe Serrats with students from the Centre for Advanced Training at Swindon Dance Centre, was an ingenious preparation for MacMillan’s deeply disturbing work with its references to children’s games. In the duets from Playground that followed, Oxana Panchenko as the Girl with make-up and Jonathan Goddard as The Youth portrayed an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship, enmeshed within violent and coercive social forces, in a ballet that pushes game-playing to a horrible conclusion. (more…)

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…)

Yorke Dance Project currently celebrates 20 years of performing inspiring dance by past masters and emerging artists from the UK and USA. This celebratory programme features works by world renowned choreographers Kenneth MacMillan and Robert Cohan alongside emerging Los Angeles choreographer Sophia Stoller with a commissioned score by Justin Scheid. Completing the programme is an exciting new work by artistic director Yolande Yorke-Edgell. April brings a not to be missed opportunity to see the company at the Mill Arts Centre, Banbury.

MacMillan’s Playground is one of the featured works in this anniversary programme, its first restaging since its premiere at the 1979 Edinburgh Festival and performed to music by Gordon Crosse. Costumes and set have been reimagined by Charlotte MacMillan.  Also featured is Cohan’s Communion set to music by Nils Frahm and designed by past Cohan collaborator from London Contemporary Dance Theatre,  John B Read.  Completing the programme is a Cohan Collective commission from Stoller and composer Justin Scheid Between and Within. The final work Imprint by Yorke-Edgell reflects her own experience of working with dance legends Richard Alston, Bella Lewtizky and Robert Cohan.  With highly acclaimed and athletic dancers performing engaging, thought provoking and enlightening new work, this is a rare evening of exceptional dance.

Dancers for the tour of this programme include wonderful guest artists Jonathan Goddard, Romany Pajdak (Royal Ballet Company), Dane Hurst, and Oxana Panchenko (Michael Clark Company). Ben Warbis will be returning to YDP as will last year’s apprentice, Ellie Ferguson, dancing alongside company members Edd Mitton, Abigail Attard Montalto and Freya Jeffs.  Yorke Dance Project is also excited to be working again with lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli.

The performance at Banbury will include a curtain raiser by The Mill’s own Remarkable Dance Company.

Performance:  Thursday 4th April 7.30pm

Venue:  The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Park, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5QE

Tickets:  from £15, book online here or call the Box Office on 01295 279002

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here

 

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

Yorke Dance Project’s innovative programme at The Mill Arts Centre was an exceptional and exciting opportunity to see both new work and a rarely performed twentieth century ballet.

Sea of Troubles, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which Kenneth MacMillan created for Dance Advance in 1988, has been reconstructed by its notator Jane Elliott and rehearsed by Susie Crow, who was one of the original cast. Breaking free from the constraint of strict narrative structure, MacMillan’s barefoot ballet explores the psychological trauma that lies beneath the surface of the play as Hamlet, an embodiment of the ‘outsider’, is tormented by the need for revenge. Dancers must turn on an emotional sixpence as they share roles, representing first one character and then another, to music that, unusually for ballets of the nineteen-eighties, ‘spliced’ together pieces by different composers (Anton Von Webern and Bohuslav Martinu). (more…)

Following a sold-out preview performance at the Royal Opera House’s Clore Studio earlier this year, dynamic Yorke Dance Project’s latest touring programme Rewind Forward (formerly titled Inspirit) will be touring this Autumn and in Spring 2017, and opens its tour with performance at The Mill Arts Centre Banbury on Thursday 22nd September as part of their current Season of Dance. Rewind Forward features work which crosses boundaries between ballet and contemporary dance, placing revivals of two masterworks from Kenneth MacMillan and Robert Cohan alongside three, stunning world premieres by Robert Cohan, Yolande Yorke-Edgell and Charlotte Edmonds.

The programme features a rare reconstruction of Kenneth MacMillan’s 1988 Sea of Troubles, a short work originally created for Dance Advance, an ensemble of former members of the Royal Ballet. In a programme note for the premiere MacMillan explained his inspiration: “I have taken as a starting point the effect of the death of Hamlet’s father without a literal telling of the play. With the appearance of his father’s ghost, and Hamlet’s realisation of the need for revenge, his tormented world became a nightmare”

Alongside MacMillan’s work is a revival of Robert Cohan’s Nympheas. Choreographed in 1987, Cohan’s serene duet is set to Debussy’s Clair de Lune.  The programme also includes the world premiere of Cohan’s newest duet, Lacrymosa, set to music by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky.

For the second time, the company performs a world premiere by Charlotte Edmonds, currently the Royal Ballet’s Young Choreographer in Residence. With support from the PRS Foundation, YDP commissioned Edmonds and composer Donna Mckevitt to create a new work following their participation in the company’s 2015 Cohan Collective.  Self is inspired by the famous trio from MacMillan’s Manon. The programme concludes with the premiere of artistic director Yolande Yorke-Edgell’s Untethered, choreographed for the entire company to music by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

There will be an informal Question and Answer session after the show with company Director Yolande Yorke Edgell and Susie Crow, member of the original cast of Sea of Troubles.

Performance:  Thursday 22nd September 7.30pm

Venue:  The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Park, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5QE

Tickets:  Tel: 01295 279002
Box office open Mon to Sat 10am – 8pm: or book online here

Find out more about Yorke Dance Project here

 

As part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 Festival programme the Weston Library will be hosting the dynamic contemporary ballet company Yorke Dance Project directed by Yolande Yorke Edgell.  The company will be in residence on Sunday 18th September, presenting an open rehearsal and excerpts of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s rarely performed work, Sea of Troubles, based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with an ensemble of six outstanding dancers.  Nine separate scenes comprise MacMillan’s only bare-foot ballet, which focuses on Hamlet’s psychological state, interpreted through the physicality, emotion and complex partner-work of the choreography set to intense and evocative 20th century chamber music by Webern and Martinu.  Susie Crow, who danced in the original production commissioned from MacMillan in 1988 by innovative ballet company Dance Advance, will rehearse the dancers and explain the fascinating creative process.  The work will subsequently be touring as part of the company’s programme Rewind Forward, which also features works by master contemporary choreographer Robert Cohan, emerging talent Charlotte Edmonds and Yolande Yorke Edgell.

Date:  Sunday 18th September, 11.30-4.00pm

Venue:  Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford OX1

Free of charge

To fully immerse yourself in the process before the performances on Sunday 18th September, why not come to the:

Talk and Movement Workshop led by Struan Leslie and Susie Crow

Free of charge; open to all

7.30pm on Thursday 8th September at Summertown Library, South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JN.

You can see Yorke Dance Project in Rewind Forward in performance at the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury on Thursday 22nd September: book tickets here and find out about the Rewind Forward programme here

Susie Crow writes about the work of reviving Sea of Troubles here