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…)

‘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…)

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

 

Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) presents a one-day conference on the life and work of the great twentieth-century choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992). MacMillan stands among the great innovators of his time in theatre, film, art, music, and dance. This not-to-be-missed conference will discuss his work, the challenges of preserving the record, and explore little known early work, his literary and musical choices, design, and choreographic method. Guest speakers include: the artist and widow of Sir Kenneth, Lady MacMillan; the former Principal and Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason; the music expert, Natalie Wheen; and choreologist, Anna Trevien. Dancers, artists, and filmmakers who worked with Kenneth will join the conversation. A performance/lecture of the reconstruction of Playground with Yorke Dance will conclude the conference.

Date:  Saturday 16th March 10.00am-6.00pm

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

Tickets: Free and open to all, please book tickets here at Eventbrite

 

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…)

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

I found Sea of Troubles a tremendously complex piece – and would love to see it again. MacMillan’s grasp on the source text seems to me formidable. Indeed I think that at present my responses to it are only half formed, because it was so definitely not another production of – or even another version of Hamlet – but something very much of itself, an organic being, and generating its own difficulties for the lucky viewer required to grapple with the explorations in which it was engaged.

I was struck even before the piece began by the simplicity of the staging – even in a studio production. It was so effective having just the arras (and through that signalling the significance of what remains hidden and the immanence of an impending Death) because this arras also focused us on the silvery, ghostlike presence of dreams and nightmares: its form insubstantial and suggesting that nothing is solid – but at the same time asserting that all perceptions of the real are rarely right and often lead us astray. (more…)

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…)