Don’t be alarmed but the Dinosaurs are back and they have chosen to base themselves in Hampshire. It’s Dino Fest 2015, a monumental year of “roarsome” events for budding palaeontologists, eager explorers and their parents who may be looking for rain-proof indoor fun. Winchester is offering Dinosaurium at the City space, Winchester Discovery Centre for free. It’s an opportunity to see local artists create creatures from paper, card and other materials. There will be an Edwardian specimen jar with a ‘real-life’ dinosaur to examine. If you fancy going further afield, there are plenty of events happening across the county including Milestones Museum Basingstoke, SeaCity Museum, Southampton, Westbury, Eastleigh, Andover and Salisbury. If you go to more than one event you can collect stickers to enter some competitions, with prizes including an annual family culture card for Hampshire, or a torch-lit trail of the Dinosaur Gallery – a live science show at the Natural History Museum with a Museum expert at midnight.
Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium is offering extended opening hours, from 10am – 5pm for the whole of august, to provide plenty of educational entertainment for the summer holidays. To carry on the Dinosaur theme, you can book to see Dinosaurs at Dusk, in the largest stand-alone 360 degrees planetarium cinema in the UK, where you can lie back an watch moving images of dinosaurs above your head.
Head to the Running Horse in Littleton on Saturday 15th August, where there will be a ‘Family Fun Day’ including a bouncy castle and face-painting for children in the garden from 1pm. Whilst we’re in the village, Littleton Pre-School celebrates its 40th birthday this year and welcomes children from 2 years, so don’t forget to get your child registered for September. Based at the Millennium Memorial Hall which is set in the idyllic countryside grounds, it is a perfectly crafted space for indoor and outdoor play and learning. The pre-school is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday between 8:30am and 12:15pm, with extended sessions available until 3pm on and Wednesday.
Remember Chesney Hawkes? The Railway Inn will be giving you a chance to spend an evening with him on Friday 14th August at 7.30pm as he leads you through his musical journey with Percival Elliott and Anthony Starble. Of course, music fans might be at the Boom Town Festival, from the 13th – 17th August on the Matterley Estate. This may well be the Festival’s last year on the Estate due to planning restrictions, however the 2015 edition is set to go ahead.
The brand new Graze Festival makes it debut on 30th August in Hazeley Fields, Twyford, offering local foods, pop up restaurants, music and performing arts (supplied by Hat Fair) with proceeds raised going to support local charities. There will be a dedicated kids area too, so plenty for the whole family to enjoy.
For decades I was a free-lance arts journalist writing primarily about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites. I still follow this career path pretty, I must admit, assiduously. But a couple of years ago the road I’ve been travelling in the arts widened considerably.
In May 2013 George Sallis, the producer of Giant Olive Theatre, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Would I, he asked, ever want to curate a dance festival? As I subsequently learnt, one small ‘Yes’ can help shift the direction of your entire professional life. Answering George in the affirmative put a fresh and active spin on all my years of theatre-going and talent-spotting wordsmithery. The result was GOlive, a series of highly eclectic, sometimes challenging yet always engaging evenings that place a spotlight on mainly live and movement-based performances.
GOlive launched in September 2013 at London’s Lion and Unicorn pub theatre, Kentish Town as a marathon of 24 shows in 21 days featuring nearly 100 artists. It’s since been repeated there three times in an increasingly more laboratorial but no less diverse fashion, with works-in-progress shown alongside more finished pieces. Exactly a year later GOlive made its first foray outside of the Big Smoke, playing at the University of Winchester to a small but appreciative invited audience. Having successfully tested the touring waters, we subsequently presented in mid-July 2015 four nights of carefully and deliciously mixed bills at the compact but hugely inviting Burton Taylor Studio run by the Oxford Playhouse.
The works I present tend to be short and, invariably, extremely varied in terms of style and content. It’s really a case of an unpredictable but consistently tasty assortment of strong performance flavours slipping onto your tongue one after the other. That’s certainly true of the six gifted artists I’ve invited to be part of GOlive Winchester. Their age range spans close to half a century, all but one is female and the themes each is exploring – as well as the tone in which they do so – cover a lot of creative ground.
First out of the gate is Shane Shambhu. Trained in the classical Indian dance form bharata natyam, Shane is also an experienced actor who has worked with the celebrated company Complicite on their hit show A Disappearing Number. Shane’s solo, which premiered at GOlive London and subsequently toured to Oxford, is a playful, thoughtful and revealing autobiographical lecture-demonstration called ‘My Inside Playground.’ It’s about his relationship to the culture of Indian dance and the traditions with which he grew up as a British-Asian.
Debbie Lee-Anthony’s‘Threshold’ is a contemplative solo reflecting on life at a transitional stage. ‘Gently simmering on the back burner, time passes and new beginnings beckon’ is how Debbie sums it up. This moving, honest and resonant solo also premiered at GOlive London.
Hanna Wroblewski’s compelling, visceral ‘My Heart became this Monster’ uses flesh (and fabric) to uncover what remains beyond words. It’s a thoroughly thought-out but ambiguous dance, difficult for Hanna to perform and potentially hard to watch mainly because she makes herself so physically and emotionally vulnerable in order to do it.
After an interval comes Mara Vivas’ Trace,’ an elegant, richly detailed examination of memory and its impact on perception. In it a woman navigates familiar territory, sometimes recalling long-buried experiences… Onstage Mara exudes a fierce, concentrated beauty that renders her solo a small but choice gem amongst the rest of the programme’s jewels.
The Eastleigh-based dance and performance artist Hayley Barker is a kind of performance miniaturist who uses whatever it takes to put across her ideas. Driven to find new forms of movement via what she calls ‘biographical caricatures,’ Hayley likes to mix reality and fiction. ‘The nothing space’ is a test bed for her latest experiments, and will apparently more abstract for her than usual. I say ‘apparently’ because Hayley’s solo is the bill’s one wild card, meaning that I won’t have seen it myself until on the day it’s shown at Chesil. That’s one of the things I’m willing to do as curator of GOlive. That is, I trust the people whose work I believe in to deliver the goods. This certainly includes Hayley, whose performance the public and I will be discovering together.
Last but by no means least is the visual arts critic turned feisty, fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15). Sarah will be laying herself on the line in a daring and possibly defiant piece of improvised action-theatre entitled ‘Past Muster.’ Bittersweet rather than sugar-coated, this lithe lady is irresistibly moreish.
There you have it. It is, to my way of thinking, a wonderful roster of unique performers. In the bigger picture I’m something between tickled and thrilled to be bringing GOlive to Winchester, especially to a venue that’s both new to us and has such a venerable history as a place of religion and theatre – each, in its way, a ritual practice that can be good for both the soul and the brain.
Donald Hutera writes about the arts for The Times, People Dancing, londondance.com and more. He conducts annual workshops on dance criticism for English National Ballet, broadcasts his views on theatre and dance for Monocle radio and has served as a director and/or dramaturg and press adviser for GOlive and other artists. Additionally he edits The Winchester Guide.
Early in her career Antonia Franceschi planted her feet in two camps. Born in the American Midwest but raised in New York, this petite, blonde and street-wise young woman pointed more than a toe in films. She was a student at the High School of Performing Arts when first cast as one of the gum-chewing dancers in ‘Grease.’ After that, playing the speaking and dancing role of posh ballerina Hilary van Doren sealed her, uh, ‘Fame.’
Being a part of two popular cinematic landmarks was quite an accomplishment. But it was as a super-refined dancer with New York City Ballet that Franceschi went on to make a mark, and with the discerning eye of George Balanchine upon her. She was one of the last to work directly with the prolific choreographic genius who was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1904 and died in New York City in 1983. Franceschi was a member of his company – the pinnacle of classical dance – for twelve years, where she estimates she danced in about fifty of his nearly 100 works.
Asked to mention just one of the many things she learnt from working with Balanchine, Franceschi serves up a solid piece of advice: ‘When a choreographer asks you to do something, you really do it. That’s what holds. Because if you do it, you keep it.’
It’s this sure and deep wisdom that Franceschi brings to Just Dance, the seven-strong neo-classical company that she is now preparing for its UK premiere at Theatre Royal Winchester on July 20. The dancers involved have an excellent pedigree, including links to Royal Ballet (where Franceschi is currently serving as an ace rehearsal director), Rambert, Richard Alston, Ballet Black and Random Dance. ‘They’re all hand-picked from different places,’ Franceschi says, ‘and they get to work with each other and learn.’
They also learn – and a tremendous amount, too – from Franceschi herself. She has lived and worked in the UK for several decades, dancing and teaching and producing and, with increasing frequency, choreographing. Working with her can be, as one of her own dancers has put it, transformative. ‘I pick them because they can do it,’ Franceschi says of her casting choices. ‘And technically I can get them there, if they have the core.’
Given all her experience onstage, working on both sides of the Atlantic not only with Balanchine but high-profile dance-makers such as Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Michael Clark, Wayne McGregor, Mark Baldwin and Arlene Phillips, it’s not surprising that Franceschi knows ‘what a step is, and what it’s meant to be. And I can break it all down.’ She compares this guiding physical process to poetry.: ‘You strip them down to the point where you can see who they are by the way they do something.’
Last month I watched Franceschi in a London studio auditioning one male dancer and coaching another. It was quietly revelatory, and predicated on an almost mind -boggling level of detail. Low-key but concentrated, good-humoured and absolutely nurturing, it was clear that her goal was to bring out the best in each man. ‘Take your time,’ she’d say as they moved. And then, when they’d finished a phrase or passage of dance, ‘That’s it! That’s really beautiful. Just get it in your body and your head. Then it will look good on you. Because once you get the shape you can rock it.’
Afterwards, looking sleek and racehorse lean in a long-sleeved t-shirt sporting the sentence ‘Don’t let your emotions control you,’ Franceschi spoke directly and eloquently of what dance and choreography mean to her. First off, why dance? Describing herself as ‘really physical and vocally shy,’ Franceschi replied that she’s always been responsive to music. ‘It would just make me so happy to dance with music. My body always felt really good and did things. Add music – whether it’s street dance or Bach – and you’re just higher than a kite. Classical music gave me the same sort of rush. My ballet technique allowed me to release. And once you get on top of that technique, it all releases. It shifts you.’
What is it that she desires from any dancer she works with? ‘I want to see something animal, something amazing and something beautiful. I want the music and the moment. And I make sure that everything’s okay. With me they get everything they need. If I take you I will shape you.’
Are good dancers also, in some sense, good actors? ‘A lot of stuff happens onstage,’ Franceschi answers. ‘It’s about being in the moment, centred and uncluttered.’ It’s the combination of control and abandon, she adds, that makes an exciting moment. ‘But I won’t dictate your internal story.’ Instead, she avows, ‘I believe in releasing the artist. I will trigger something in them if I need to.’
For now Just Dance, which launched last year in an expansive outdoor setting in Malta, contains a handful of dances. All of the work was created by Franceschi. In the future, she says, ‘I have no interest in it being just me – my work. But if you’ve got a show, tour it. And it worked. Once you make it and somebody else wants it, you give it to them.’
Franceschi is articulate about the company’s repertoire – richly varied although stemming from a single source. ‘Kinderszenen’ is a series of city scene, twelve vignettes to Schumann that she pegs as representing ‘one night in Manhattan’ and featuring Carol Schille’s abstract paintings of the city as a backdrop. ‘The atmosphere is very New York,’ Franceschi says, ‘but I wanted to soften it.’
This is one of two works set to music by Allen Shawn, the sibling of the actor and playwright Wallace Shawn. These dances she calls ‘tricky’ because in both the dancers ‘have to be so good musically.’ The other Shawn-scored piece is ‘Jazz,’ which she compares to Balanchine ‘but you throw it away,’ by which she means it’s like ‘riding a wave: you’re on top of it, you know what you’re doing, and you go, “Ah-ha! Do you know what you’re doing?” You have to earn the right to throw it away.’
‘Spheres’ is a female solo set to the first violin solo ever written (by the German Baroque composer Johann Paul von Westhoff). ‘It has such drive,’ Franceschi says. Taking its cue from the score, choreographically this pieces ‘goes in arcs and circles. In my dances I always have a subconscious issue I’m trying to solve. The woman in this one is trapped, and she’s trying to figure it out. It’s like at midnight when you can’t sleep. You’re haunted by something. Okay, so go into it. But sometimes you can’t figure it out, and so you go to bed.’
For Franceschi the premise of Shift Trip Catch, with music by Zoe Martlew, is clear: ‘You can shift if you’re in a relationship, and hopefully they’ll catch you.’ After a beat she says, with a knowing smile, ‘I’m such a romantic but I work really hard to disguise it.’
Asked about being a woman in what is in many ways a male-dominated art form, at least in terms of who in the UK is at the top of the choreographic tree, Franceschi replies with considerable insight. ‘To choreograph for ballet you should train in ballet. What’s instilled in you is to be the best. The technique is so hard, and the competition so strong. The male partner has a huge advantage. They see and dictate. They take us [the ballerina]. We’re the person being partnered, so we can’t see the whole thing.’ When dancing in a standard classical duet, Franceschi explains further, ‘I need permission. I have to wait to be asked. And so that means when I choreograph a duet I have to become the man.’
Franceschi is now in her mid-50s. As she’s matured and grown in confidence, an innate streak of rebellion emerged. ‘How many women go, “This is what I think”? We’re told, “Don’t worry about it.”’ According to her, a lot of gender-related behaviour has a lot to do with how women are hard-wiring culturally. ‘We’re sensitive, but we can push and pull too.’
Aside from launching her own dance group, Franceschi is very much looking forward to developing opportunities in her post as the director of the Danceworks International Ballet Academy, a new school for children aged 8 to 16 that opens this very month. ‘It’ll take off,’ she says, elaborating about the students who will be in her charge: ‘You have to train them, nurture them, then release them to the public and give them the credit they deserve.’
Finally the conversation circles back to ‘Grease’ and ‘Fame.’ Looking back, what does Franceschi see? ‘Because I was so young I didn’t have any clutter, so I just did everything huge, and people said yes. And I had all that training; it was like having a volcano under you. It’s the precision of having really good technique and being able to dance on top of it. It’s training and instinct and hitting the moment.’
Just Dance will be making its UK Premiere at the Theatre Royal Winchester on 20th July at 7.30pm. There are a limited number of tickets available so with a week to go before the show you will need to book quickly to avoid disappointment.
It’s time again for Hat Fair and the chance for everyone who happens to be in Winchester to bask in some phenomenal busking. This year the newly-appointed artistic director, Michelle Walker, has gathered together a troop of spectacular artists and performers to delight city folk and visitors alike in this playful street arts festival that is now 41 years young. Taking place from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July, the festival is free to attend but do load your pockets with donations for the hard-working performers’ hats!
Some of the multitude of artists in this year’s programme include Winchester’s home-grown theatre company Wet Picnic, with ‘Suitcases’, an exploration of online baggage through bizarre buffoonery. They’ll be on at Cathedral Outer Close on Friday and Saturday, and then at Oram’s Arbor on Sunday.
Gobbledegook Theatre will be inviting family audiences to hear sounds underground in ‘Ear Trumpet’ on Pilgrim’s Lawn on Friday and Saturday. And children can meet and actually paint ‘Blanko’, who’ll be transformed from a blank canvas in Cathedral Inner Close.
If you’re arriving by train, or even if you aren’t, pop along to Winchester Station for a steamy romance from Flintlock Theatre at various times on Friday and Saturday. Bad Brass Band’s ‘Lands of Hope and Glory’ will be wandering the city playing rousing English tunes to keep everybody feeling nicely nostalgic.
At 12pm on Saturday there’ll be a ‘Swingtime’ dance flash mob. You can go online to learn the routine in advance if you’re super keen, or there’s also a workshop at the Great Hall in the morning. Time for a cuppa? If you visit the Brooks Shopping Centre, director Rebecca JS Nice will be exploring intimacy and immersion in her piece ‘How do you take it?’, part of Hat Fair Fringe, a new platform this year for emerging performers sponsored by the University of Winchester.
If it all gets a bit much and you need some down-time, Oxfam Books and Music have kindly sponsored an outside library in Abbey Gardens where you can settle down for a while with a good book.
Southpaw Dance will be providing a spectacular finale to Saturday night’s events at the bus station with Carousel, a fairground spectacular. The fairground itself will open at 7.45pm and the performance from this headline act will start at 9pm.
As usual, everything will wind down on Oram’s Arbour on Sunday, with plenty of food and entertainment for family audiences, including the amazing ‘Amazing Mr Fish’ and the chance to visit an authentic Camera Obscura.
Don’t forget to get the Hat Fair ‘app’ so you can hop from venue to venue and see as many events as possible.
First up for the pedaling mad, it’s the Criterum Cycle Festival on Sunday 7th June. It’s a family-friendly affair with stunt bike displays, ‘try a bike’ activities, make your own smoothie on a smoothie bike and of course the Criterium races starting from 8 years and upwards. Here’s a link to the provisional race schedule http://www.winchestercriterium.org/schedule/. Events will start at the Broadway, and don’t forget that with a 1km technical circuit around the closed roads in the heart of the City Centre, you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re driving into Winchester.
From Friday 19th to Sunday 21st June it’s the Winchester Writer’s Festival, for new and established wordsmiths alike. This year’s keynote address, ‘Making it Up, Making it Real’ will be given by the legendary Sebastian Faulks CBE (Birdsong, Charlotte Gray, Human Traces). The festival is packed full of networking opportunities, masterclasses and one-to-one appointments with literary agents, commissioning editors, authors, poets and industry experts. There are also several writing competitions on offer for participants, from poetry to children’s fiction to Tv drama. The Winchester Writers’ Conference, as it was known for many years, was founded in 1980 by Barbara Large, MBE and became the Winchester Writer’s Festival in 2013. Events take place at the University of Winchester.
From the 24th to the 28th June, 9am – 8pm, Winchester Cathedral will be hosting ‘Cascades – A Festival of Flowers’. There will be a special preview evening on 23rd June with a champagne and canapé reception. Thousands of flowers will be used to create a display of contemporary and traditional floral designs, under the lead of artistic director Hans Haverkamp, who hopes his beautiful blooms will ‘surprise, overwhelm and lift’ people during their visit. Don’t miss Choral Cascades on Saturday 27th June at 8.30pm where the Winchester Cathedral Chamber Choir will perform a programme of music with a floral theme.
Oyez, oyez, oyez: it’s the May bank holiday, the Duchess of Cambridge has successfully given birth to a princess (fourth in line for succession) and we’re well on the way to Summer.
You can toast the royal birth and celebrate the long weekend at the Queen Inn on Kingsgate Road where they’re hosting the annual Mayday bank holiday Beer Festival, 1st – 4th May. With thirty-five beers from Dorset & Somerset, five ciders, a bbq and hog roast on offer and served in outdoor marquees in the spacious and award-winning garden, complete with fish pond, it’s well worth a visit. Plus families are welcome.
Thursday 7th May is the General & City Council Election day, so make sure you have your polling card at the ready. Here’s a guide from Winchester City Council.
On Friday 8th it’s the Big Sleep Out, a sponsored sleeping event in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral in aid of Trinity Winchester and Winchester Churches Nightshelter local homelessness charities. Registration is £10 per person, or groups of 4 or more can submit a team entry for £30 with a minimum of £100 sponsorship. Register online here. Live music, games and competitions will take place over the evening, and to which everyone is welcome to attend. It’ll be ‘Sleepers’ only from 10pm bedding down in the grounds of the magnificent building. The Big Sleep Out is open to people over 11 years of age, although any participant under 18 years of age require adult supervision. It’s also a strictly no-alcohol event. You can get involved in other ways too, by creating cardboard dens at home with the ‘Big Sleep In’ (please visit the website for more info) or with event partner’s Hotel Du Vin special ‘Sleep In’ rate. It’s all about raising awareness and lots of cash for an important local issue and the two fantastic charities trying to tackle it.
Also on at Winchester Cathedral until the 9th May is the evolving photographic exhibition ‘Sleeping Rough’ by Joe Low, a presentation of some of the empty spaces where the homeless people in Winchester sleep. Over the journey of the exhibition additional photographs are being introduced. Some homeless people have agreed to be photographed with their most treasured possessions.
In celebration of a famous local crop, food fans will find a worthwhile reward if they travel to Alresford on 17th May for the Watercress Festival. The Hampshire Farmers Market will be taking place too, alongside local chefs showcasing the many uses of watercress in mouth watering dishes. There will also be arts, crafts and household goods on offer in a street market festival atmosphere.
To carry on the fundraising activities this month, children are being invited during the half-term holiday to toss their teddies off the roof of Winchester Cathedral between 10.30am and 1.30pm on 29th May. Parachutes will be provided, and a minimum sponsorship guide of £25 per teddy has been suggested. Funds raised will be donated to Action for Children. Once they’ve safely landed, the bruised bears and their proud owners can explore the Cathedral grounds and participate in a teddy bears’ picnic. There’s a £5 registration fee per bear.
Boomtown’s Kidztown returns on the 26th – 27th May with a two-day event for local children and families to participate in a variety of free creative carnival workshops at The Discovery Centre. KidzTown will be working in partnership with Bassline Circus on giant costume-making and carnival dance activities. Workshop participants are invited to perform with the carnival on Sunday. It’s suitable for 5-11 year olds and 11-16 year olds and their families.
Happy May, one and all, and please May-ke it a good one!
Egg-cellent news! It’s Easter time and there’s lots of egg-citing things on offer! Here’s the Win Guide to Easter.
Highclere Castle is well worth a visit this weekend. Built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester (who owned the estate in Newbury from the 8th century), since 1679 the castle has been home to the Earls of Carnarvon. Never a retiring lot, the Carnarvons have been noted for Egyptology (the 5th Earl was present at the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb), for an association with HRH Elizabeth II’s race horses (the 7th Earl was racing manager for her majesty) and now synonymous with the thespian equivalent of royalty in the form of Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville et al. as the filming location for Downton Abbey. This weekend, Sunday 5th April, the Highclere team will be holding an Easter Egg Hunt event to raise funds for local charity Naomi House and Jacksplace. Lady Carnarvon herself will be judging an Easter bonnet parade. Spider-Man and Elsa from ‘Frozen’ will be wandering the grounds, and there will be market stalls, a vintage car display, a climbing wall and zip wire, a petting farm and birds of prey on offer to boot! Tickets are a steal at £5 on the door.
Closer to home, Sparsholt College will be holding an ‘Easter Bunny and Chick’ weekend from Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th April. It’s an Alice In Wonderland – themed affair with a Mad Hatter’s tea party, Easter egg hunt and classic craft activities such as egg painting. Not forgetting the newly-hatched chicks and young bunnies on display, it sounds like a must visit for families.
Winchester Cathedral will be holding its own ‘Easter Egg Trail’ between the 5th – 19th April. Ten decorative eggs will be hidden amongst the stunning architecture for ‘eggsplorers’ to discover, and free chocolate prizes can be claimed in the Cathedral gift shop. Services on Easter Day itself (5 April) will be 8am Holy Communion, 10am Choral Mattins (Preacher: The Bishop), 11.15am Festal Eucharist (Preacher: The Dean) and 3.30 Choral Evensong.
The Winchester Bunny Hop will be celebrating its sixth birthday this year. It’s a great initiative on the part of Winchester City Council, Winchester Bid and, this year, Chococo the chocolate shop and cafe have rightly got in on the action. The quiz allows children to hunt for egg-shaped clues hidden in participating shops in Winchester and rearrange them into an Easter themed word to claim a Chococo prize. And if that’s not incentive enough, the Chococo team have recently been hailed as experts in the field of Easter chocolates. Their ‘Robot’ egg was dubbed by the Telegraph as ‘best egg for children’ on 28th March 2015. Even better news: they will be open every day over the Easter weekend. Quiz sheets can be collected from the Winchester Tourist information centre or downloaded here: http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/winchester-bunny-hop-2015.
One of the highlights of the evening – and a big feather in the company’s cap – is the commission of a new work from Robert Cohan. Born in New York in 1925, as a dancer he was directly associated with the choreographer Martha Graham and, indeed, was an onstage partner to this American dance legend throughout the world. In the 1960s Cohan came to the UK where he helped transform the cultural landscape via his post as the founding artistic director of The Place. A converted drill hall a stone’s throw from Euston Station, the building was home to London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Cohan headed and created work for the company for two decades.
Cohan, who turns 90 later this week, is living history and a fount of knowledge and wisdom. Yolande Yorke-Edgell is aware of how fortunate she is to have him as her mentor. Her own career trajectory takes in several other key figures in dance both in Britain and abroad, including Richard Alston (Yolande was a member of Rambert back when he ran this celebrated company) and, in Los Angeles, Bella Lewitzky (for whom Yolande danced many leading roles and served as a master teacher). Yolande danced in Alston’s eponymous troupe in the mid-noughties before forming Yorke Dance Project in 2009.
Donald Hutera: Where were you born, Yolande, and did you ‘always’ know you wanted to be a dancer?
Yolande Yorke-Edgell: I was born in Hertfordshire, and my mother was a dance teacher so I grew up with dance. It’s always been a part of my makeup or in my DNA, I guess. I’ve taken many paths away from dance, mostly due to injury, but always ended up back in the studio.
DH: How would you describe Bob Cohan both as mentor and choreographer? What does he bring to a studio and what specifically has he given you?
YYE: We first started working together when he reconstructed the solo Canciones Del Alma in 2013. [Ed. note: this dance was created in 1978 and was only shown once in the UK at The Place in 1979.] This gave us some time to get to know each other, which led to him mentoring me and ultimately creating a new work for us.
As a mentor he’s incredibly generous. When I was creating Unfold To Centre[Ed. note: this septet is inspired by an award-winning 1978 computer-animated film by Larry Cuba that features visual objects composed of points of light], Bob would come and observe once a week. My original idea was to create an abstract piece that would connect solely with the animation, and be a response to it. What was clear when I spoke to Bob after our first rehearsal was that we needed a story, or a meaning, for it all. He’d challenge my thinking, and what made sense. What’s the reason for the dancers to do a certain movement? What’s leading them? Throughout the whole rehearsal period he’d make suggestions but always ended by saying, ‘You must do with what you feel is right.’ This dialogue is still evolving. We still talk about what works and does not work after every performance!
As a choreographer Bob’s a constant inspiration – and that’s not only from a choreographer’s point of view, but from a dancer’s too! Everyone’s benefited from working with him. He talks directly to us, and has a way of describing what he wants so clearly and a lot of the time with humour. With the use of video and Vimeo Bob has been able to watch rehearsal footage and see what works; he then goes away and comes back in and makes the changes he needs. I think he’s been fascinated with the way we use technology in the studio now. That was part of the inspiration for Lingua Franca.
DH: I know this quartet was inspired by Bob’s 1984 work Agora, but how much of a blueprint – either used or ignored – was the original dance for him?
YYE: The whole idea for Lingua Franca came about when we were doing a lecture-demonstration at Winchester University in early 2014. The company was warming up onstage. Jonathan Goddard [Ed. note: this award-winning dancer – and a founding member of New Movement Collective – was interviewed by The Winchester Guide last autumn] was looking at material we were about to perform on his laptop, and the rest of us were either going through steps before the performance or doing our own stretches. Bob found this fascinating, seeing how each of us had our own way of preparing our bodies and with our own movement language. It’s what inspired the opening of Lingua Franca.
We had a three-week rehearsal period scheduled for making it. We only had a very poor quality video to look at of a company in Bergen, Norway that had reconstructed Agora, and it was difficult to really see what they were doing. It was also set to violin, and we were going to set it to piano so there were some musical challenges too.
We set up each day so that the company would do class and learn material from the video, and then Bob would come in for two or three hours and work with us.
Once we’d learnt the movement Bob started to rework it. His aim was to work with the dancers he had to create our own language. This was a challenge for him, as he’s mainly worked with dancers he’s known for a long time and trained. We’re familiar with each other, but it’s as if we’re having a new conversation each time. We also found the way we set this dance up spatially has a big impact. We now know that we always have to be quite close to each other, and not let the movement spread too far away or we risk losing our connection.
If you were to look at the video of the dancers in Bergen doing Agora you’d see similarities, but Lingua Franca is very different. The emphasis is on the dancers as individuals, moving how they move but responding to each other. It’s fascinating to perform as it really exists in the moment and how we’re feeling that day, and if we’re lucky enough to have Eleanor Alberga[Ed. note: a composer/pianist whose own composition is heard in the piece alongside Bach’s Chaconne in D minor] play live for us she’s also part of our conversation.
DH: Back to Unfold to Centre. Is it typical of your work, and how would you characterize your choreographic style generally?
YYE: Unfold isn’t typical of my work at all. I usually make works based on stories or people, with movement that’s less technical than flowing and that has a strong musical connection. But I like to try new approaches, and with Bob mentoring I was excited about what might happen.
My inspiration was a film by Larry Cuba that I came across by accident on Youtube and loved. At first it was really difficult to just make movement in relationship to the animation. Also I was looking at the patterns on a laptop and not projected onto a wall, and so I had to imagine what it would look like a lot of the time. It was clear after a few rehearsals that I needed more to work with, and so after many discussions with Bob I created a story for the piece. I decided that the dancers were a group of beings that lived in a place where there was little light. They had a leader, danced by Jon, who calls to the darkness to bring light, which is in the form of animation. There’s a routine or ritual to what they do as that’s how they exist; their slow pushing/pulling movement is them feeling their way around their world, sensing each other and staying connected. They must complete the rituals in order for them to receive light, which transforms them.
DH: It can be useful and fun to consider other senses when talking or thinking about dance. So, on that note, what temperature would you say Unfold To Centre exists in, and what might it taste or smell like?
YYE: It’s interesting that you should ask about smell. I would imagine chalky – as if they’re on their own planet, in their own world, with rituals that they must perform in order for them to have light. I imagine this would be their day, which reaches a climax when they make sure to have the last moment of light before resting, and then a new day and new ritual will begin. There’s a coolness where these people onstage are, but warmth from the light falling upon them inspires them to really move.
DH: Could you say something about the solo Canciones Del Alma and what it means for you as its interpreter?
YYE: The solo is really a meditation for me. It takes me on a journey in three parts. The first is dark and searching, the second cold and full of angst and the third is a resolve, with warmth and light and much contemplation. I find new moments in each performance, and although the general feelings are the same I hear, see and feel something different each time. It’s very powerful, and my challenge is to share this with the audience and not let it stay with and around me. The more personal it becomes the more I need to let them in.
DH: Figure Ground also contains another short dance, called No Strings Attached, made by Charlotte Edmonds when she was 16 or 17 years old. How is it that you know her and offered her such a wonderful opportunity?
YYE: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with such significant artists. Part of what I love most is not only that I’ve been able to hear, see and experience their work but am able to share it with the dancers I work with, and all the students I teach.
Charlotte was one of my students at The Royal Ballet School at White Lodge. I was aware of her talent as a choreographer, having seen her work in competitions held there. What she created has developed over time. When she first began she had a very strict plan, and part of my job as a mentor to her was to offer suggestions of new ways of working. This was particularly relevant when creating partnering. I remember Bob being present at one of her rehearsals, and he suggested she put herself in the movement so she could feel what she needed rather than try and guide it from the outside. She was then able to experiment with giving the dancers tasks and asking them for movement, which was new for her. The work reflects these possibilities. There are moments that are really strong, and others that need developing – but that’s maybe true of a lot of work including my own! I think it’s an incredibly impressive dance, and we’ve had some wonderful feedback from audience members.
DH: What do you want, need or expect from the people who dance in the company, and in your work?
YYE: There are two things I look for, and one is no more important than the other. I look for a dancer that moves me. A dancer can be technically very good, but if they’re not present in themselves – and instead are more concerned with what they look like – then I’m more likely to choose a less technical dancer who has the ability to say something in their body. They also have to have the right personality. I’ve had experiences in the past with dancers who create an uncomfortable situation which alters the dynamic between all of us, and as we’re such a small company this can be difficult to deal with. Currently the dancers in the company are all such lovely people. We have a great atmosphere in the studio and on tour, which I think comes across onstage too.
I remember when I contacted Adam Cooper about a role in his production Les Liaisons Dangereuse, he asked to meet me to discuss the project. At the end of the meeting he offered me the job. I asked if he wanted to see me dance and he said he didn’t need to. He’d asked people I’d worked with at Rambert about me, and that was good enough; getting a sense of me himself was what was important. I understand now how important that is. I did the same with Phil Sanger. I saw him dance only on video, but he was recommended by Richard Alston who worked with him at Phoenix Dance Theatre[Ed. note, this high-profile touring company is based in Leeds], so I met with Phil and he’s such a lovely person I asked if he would join us right away.
DH: Is there anything else you want to say about plans and ambitions for the company and your work?
YYE: It’s taken a few years to really define ourselves. Now we’re at a place where we can move forward knowing exactly who we are and what we’re trying to achieve. It’s clear that the past has a huge place in what we do, as does the future. We’ll continue to work with Bob, and I’m in the very early stages of discussing a potential Kenneth MacMillan work for our next production. There will also be a commission for an emerging choreographer, and I’ll continue to develop my own work. We have strong ties with America, and I’m developing connections with universities and colleges there. Bob and I are conducting master classes in California following this tour, and hope to do more later this year. We’re also developing a choreographic residency that we want to pilot this summer. Lots of exciting possibilities!
Ladies and gentlemen of Winchester, spring has nearly sprung! And it’s about time too. According to the astronomical definition, the first official day of Spring in 2015 is on March 20th. Some of you will be celebrating this momentous burst of growth and sunshine with the Winchester duathlon on Sunday March 22nd which this year is being held at Lainston House. It’s a 2.5km run, a 7.5km bike race and a further 2.5km run, followed by a private bbq. Billy the falconer will be on hand with his birds of prey to keep the children (and adults) entertained.
Others might prefer to celebrate with the CAMRA Winchester Real Ale and Cider Festival, which is being held at the Winchester Guildhall on Friday 20th & Saturday 21st March. Tickets are running low so do book in advance to avoid disappointment. There will be tutored beer-tasting sessions available introduced by writer and beer expert Adrian Tierney-Jones and over a hundred different real ales, ciders, perries and foreign bottled beers to behold.
Mum’s the word on Sunday 15th March, and the Watercress line is offering a traditional afternoon cream tea onboard a steam train. Don’t forget to order some spring flowers from the divinely named Mills in Bloom Florists & Vintage Interiors, where Mother’s Day local deliveries are available all day on Saturday 14th March. Other gifts on offer include vintage items, pictures, glassware & china. The aforementioned Lainston House will be offering a homely 17th century barn or 3AA Rosette awarded restaurant lunch, and a champagne tea. All guests attending the three-course Sunday lunch will also be treated to a free falconry display. The Winchester Hotel and Spa are also planning lunch or afternoon tea treats, with a prize draw to win a luxury spa day for two. The whole party will receive a free glass of fizz – or non-alcoholic fizz for the kids and non-drinkers. And the day can be rounded off with a few giggles at the Theatre Royal Winchester which will be presenting Richard Herring and his take on death, love, religion and spam javelins at 8pm.
The Cathedral’s newly refurbished and relaunched Refectory will be hosting a special evening on the 13th March at 7pm to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s fourth novel, Emma. Tickets are £40 and include a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, a three-course meal and tea or coffee. After dinner, Dr Nigel Paterson will give an illustrated talk about Austen and what we know about her from circa 1815. Some ideas will also be given about following in Jane’s footsteps around places she would have known 200 years ago. Dr Nigel Paterson regularly gives after-dinner talks about Jane Austen and other topics of cultural interest. Educated at Winchester College and then Jesus College, Cambridge, he was later a Senior Lecturer in English for the University of Winchester.
Finally, our editor recommends the Yorke Dance Project ‘Figure Ground 2015’ at the Theatre Royal on 24th March. Founded by dancer-turned-choreographer Yolande Yorke-Edgell, the company’s lush and lively mixed bill features the quartet Lingua Franca, the first new work in a decade by the American-born UK modern dance giant Robert Cohan OBE. No spring chicken but still a sharp-witted creative, Cohan turns 90 on March 27th. The programme also includes Yorke-Edgell herself in the revival of a Cohan solo dating from 1978, a sextet by the promising (and, at 17, certifiably young) Charlotte Edmonds and a septet by Yorke-Edgell set against a computer-animation backdrop. You can read more on the company and its work later this month on this website, but for now we can all start to kick up our heels in anticipation of the impending season.
Touring her current talk on murder, Lucy Worsley – author, TV presenter and Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces – visits the Theatre Royal, Winchester with a grizzly package of scintillating information that helps transport startling notions from the past into our own time. Asked how she feels about such macabre subject matter, and what we might learn from it, Lucy explains that the 19th century saw a distinct rise in the fear of murder.
“People began to get obsessed with the idea that they might be murdered, and you see that in Victorian art, fiction and theatre. It’s a luxury, really, to be so free from care that you can afford to worry about something as inherently unlikely as being murdered. It goes along with neurosis, paranoia and anxiety and all the other things we ‘enjoy’ about life in the modern city!”
Lucy Worsley has become a bit of a household name to students studying at The University of Winchester. Breaking a series of boundaries as a female historian and presenter, she has brought certain aspects of social history (such as wardrobe and dance) to the forefront, legitimising her choice of topics in academic circles.
Lucy stresses that “Historic Royal Palaces is a charity. Every penny that visitors spend on their admission ticket goes towards our conservation and education work; we don’t get any money from the government or the Royal Family. So we have to make sure that the type of history we research will appeal to kids, families, tourists – a really wide range of people. I like the challenge of using things people can really relate to – like lovely dresses – to open up the whole history of society.”
I ask Lucy how she feels about the rise in social history and how it will affect her work and the focus of her research.
“Because I work for Historic Royal Palaces people think I might only be interested in kings and queens, but I’ve always been drawn to people who are a bit marginal to the main story: the servants, the mistresses, the bit-part players. What particularly interests me about kings and queens is the way that they tend to be the best-documented people of their day, and that you can really get under their skin as representative of Tudor, or Stuart, or Georgian people at large as well as heads of state.”
Accessibility is one of the core objective for Lucy’s unique choice of subject matter – from blogging about the cod-piece to presenting on the Royal Wardrobe. The diversity of media at her disposal, plus the balance between academic research and commercial output, is what makes her career unusual and inspiring to young historians, particularly as the rise in gender studies, social history, and accessibility are currently hotly debated. But for Lucy the emphasis has always been on curating:
“I knew from the age of 18 that I wanted to work in the field of historic buildings as a curator, and I dedicated myself to achieving that like an Exocet missile. The route I took was to work my way up through jobs as assistant curator and then as curator at English Heritage and Glasgow Museums, before joining Historic Royal Palaces ten years ago as Chief Curator.”
This grounding in academic research feeds both historic exhibitions and commercial projects. As she says, “Any exhibition, book or show arises out of research – the bread-and-butter day-to-day work of being a historian. By that I mean research into historic artefacts, research into an archive of documents or perhaps more active research like carrying out a re-creation or an investigation of a particular event or process. So whether commercial or academic it comes from the same place. For academic historians, it’s important that they publish their research in a peer-reviewed journal so that the world’s experts in that field can read it. For a public historian, like me, the aim is more to intrigue a larger number of people to go on to learn more.”
As a fellow historian it’s comforting to hear that the processes applied both commercially and academically are similar. Perhaps Lucy Worsley is paving a path for the rest of us to strive for such varied careers. Tonight, aptly enough on Friday the 13th of February, you can catch her at the Theatre Royal , Winchester where she’ll demonstrate that murder – or the idea of it – has formed trends throughout history. The evening [editor’s note: which is, not surprisingly, now sold out] exemplifies the juicy material that can inspire historians and general audiences alike.
The arts & culture guide for the city of Winchester in Hampshire.
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