Tag Archives: Donald Hutera

Donald Hutera talks to Yolande Yorke-Edgell

Donald Hutera talks to Yolande Yorke-Edgell about her company’s anniversary production, TWENTY in a special feature for the Winchester Guide.

Yorke Dance Project’s ambitious mixed bill TWENTY marks this enterprising company’s 20th anniversary. The UK tour opened in Bournemouth at the end of January, and includes one night at Theatre Royal Winchester (Feb 12) plus later dates in Leeds, Frome, Banbury, Salisbury and Swindon before culminating in several evenings at the Royal Opera House’s Clore Studio Upstairs in mid-May.

I interviewed dancer, choreographer and company artistic director Yolande Yorke-Edgell about the programme, about dance and about herself as an artist and art-maker, and here are her replies – long, but rich in detail.

Donald: First, a philosophical/practical musing. What’s kept you going as the head of a company for two decades, Yolande, and how do you measure success?

Yolande: What’s kept me going for so long is that I’m passionate about the work we present. The opportunity to reconstruct work by choreographers who’ve been (and still are) pivotal in how dance has evolved, both in the UK and the USA, has been a great honour. For me it’s vital that these works are seen. Ballet companies present both historical and new work but that’s less prominent in contemporary dance, and personally I love performing these works. I’m also driven by the dancers in the company. I want to give them the chance to perform works that are challenging and develop them as artists. They’re just as important as the work itself.

Measuring success is difficult. The obvious would be that we started (in the UK) performing in small venues such as the Acorn Theatre in Penzance, and our aim was to work towards venues such as Hall for Cornwall, Truro or the Norwich Playhouse – the sort of venues Richard Alston Dance Company performs at. But success can’t be measured by the trajectory of the scale of venues, and that’s because the way dance is being presented now is harder than ever. Still, I couldn’t have reached higher than being presented by the Royal Opera House twenty years after the company’s first performance at the Occidental College Theatre in Los Angeles.

Ultimately my measure of success is two-fold. The fact that we’re still touring an eight-strong company in work that only major companies around the world present, and with the level of dancers such as Jonathan Goddard, Dane Hurst, Freya Jeffs and Oxana Panchenko – that’s a great measure of success! My other measure is of the trust bestowed upon us to present work by Robert Cohan and Kenneth MacMillan. And just to work alongside and collaborate with Robert Cohan, which was my goal as a young student…

Donald: Tell me about Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground and how it’s been to revive a master’s 40 year-old work. 

Yolande: It’s been a fascinating process and very different from reconstructing Sea of Troubles, which he created for the company Dance Advance and which we previously revived. With only a very fuzzy black and white film and the Benesh Notation to guide us, we’ve been piecing Playground together with the help of notator Jane Elliott and two of the work’s original dancers, Susie Crow and Stephen Wicks. Aside from the principal characters there is a corps of twelve which we’ve put together by inviting dancers from Rambert School and Central School of Ballet to take part. On Sundays we all pile into a studio with both casts of lead dancers. That’s roughly 22 dancers, two coaches, a notator and myself. It’s all quite frantic, but a great experience. All of the dancers have a role to play, and so it’s a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn and develop character roles as well as being in a working environment with our incredible dancers.

Deborah and Charlotte MacMillan [Kenneth’s wife and daughter] have been providing some wonderful insights too. And, as with any master artist, to unpick and examine the work has been incredible. All of this focus enriches the process of reconstructing a very complicated ballet.

Donald: Why do you think Playground has been pretty much forgotten till now, and what factors prompted you to undertake bringing it back to the stage?

Yolande: From what I’ve gathered, and from my own take on this, I would say it was ahead of its time. Too abstract, perhaps, and not a traditional narrative with movement people were uncomfortable seeing. If you look at where people were with personal issues in the late 1970s… They didn’t discuss their problems openly. No one would admit to seeing a therapist back then, so maybe people were uncomfortable with seeing characters that they couldn’t – or didn’t want to – relate to, or even be exposed to. I think Playground is particularly relevant now. It was of interest to me because its theme is bullying, which is a huge problem for children at the moment especially on social media. So this work provides not only an opportunity for audiences to see an intriguing and multi-layered ballet, but it’s allowed us to devise a specific educational programme with a child therapist and movement director that we can  take to schools and do what we can to help stop bullying amongst children. 

Donald:What happens in Playground, in a nutshell, and is it being danced en pointe? And what discoveries have been made in remounting it?

Yolande: My initial discussion with Deborah and Charlotte MacMillan was about whether or not this ballet was possible to do without being en pointe, and we felt it was. Further discussions led to us agreeing that only the lead female role should be en pointe, to give the full effect of the character and the physicality of the movement, which is key to MacMillan’s partner work. There are only two other featured female roles, and their movement would not lose its authenticity by not being en pointe.

One of the most interesting discoveries, which is also an important feature of all MacMillan’s ballets, is what’s going on around the lead characters. There’s so much happening between all the other sixteen dancers that is vital to telling the story. This is what’s made it quite a challenge to reconstruct. Charlotte MacMillan is re-imagining both the set and costumes, and there have been lengthy discussions about certain design aspects and what might be most relevant now. Do we keep the visual impact of a straitjacket, or bring it up to date with whatever would be used today? We’re still working these sorts of questions out as we go along. We have to adapt the set to work in smaller spaces too. It will be very much like the original, just scaled down. 

Donald: Who’s dancing the role of the intruder, and who the lead young woman originally played by Marion Tait?

Yolande: We have two casts for the intruder and the young woman. Company dancer Jordi Calpe Serrats and guest artist Jonathan Goddard, and Oxana Panchenko, from Michael Clark’s company, along with Romany Pajdak, first soloist with the Royal Ballet, will share these roles.

Donald: Let’s move on to another master choreographer and company mainstay, Bob Cohan. What’s the mood and tone, the look and sound, of his new work Communion?

Yolande: As a small company we have in the past reconstructed smaller works of Cohan‘s. For this anniversary programme I wanted to offer a commission for a larger group, especially as he’d made such great large-scale pieces for London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Knowing we had working with us Jonathan Goddard and Dane Hurst, who particularly inspire him, he started to create a work for nine dancers. In 1973 he’d made a work called Mass with dancers who walked in a line and voiced overtones [essentially singing two notes simultaneously] as they moved. This was a starting point for Mass and now Communion. I think this new dance reflects where he is in life now, at the age of 93, and from the feedback we’ve had from people who’ve seen the rehearsals it’s a very powerful and moving. Aside from the sounds of overtone singing, the rest of the music is by contemporary composer Nils Frahm.

Donald: Can you say just a little something about the solo to be danced by Laurel Dalley Smith at Covent Garden?  It’s not being seen elsewhere on the tour, right? 

Yolande: That’s right, it’s only at the Royal Opera House. Laurel joined the company in 2014 and was chosen by Cohan to dance in Lingua Franca which he created for us and which was performed as part of his 90th Birthday celebrations in spring 2015. Laurel was so inspired by Cohan that she decided to attend the Martha Graham Summer School, and from there she auditioned and has been a dancer with the Martha Graham Company since 2015. Laurel will be on a short break from the Graham company in May, and to celebrate our anniversary they’ve have given permission for her to guest with us for the ROH performances. A new section of Communion will be created featuring Laurel, and it’ll be rehearsed a few weeks before the May performances. 

Donald: Your new work Imprint has been made in homage to three inspiring people. Can you say something about each of them, as well as giving some idea of what this work is like in terms of its structure and the sensory impact of its look, sound and other textures?

Yolande: The journey the company has taken, from its beginnings in Los Angeles through to where it is now, has been greatly influenced by my experience with three choreographers: how they work in the studio, how they make work and how it feels to dance in their work. I spoke at length to Robert Cohan about the idea of making a new work that reflected what I’d learned from each, and how that has impacted me as an artist. He suggested that I go into the studio and remember how it felt to dance their work, and be in their presence, and just let the movement come through me without thinking about it. It was the most freeing experience I’ve had as a choreographer – just allowing that physical history to come through, and making movement with what my body remembered from. I’ve never made work as quickly as I’ve done with this process, and it’s been interesting to see what has come out.

There are two sections dedicated to each choreographer – Richard Alston, Bella Lewitzky and Cohan – and the music I’m using includes Bach and Heiner Goebbels. My fear after looking at the work is that the audience might think I’m trying to make something in the style of each choreographer, but that’s not it at all. It’s simply the imprint of their work on me that they will see. What I’ve taken from each choreographer is the musicality and playfulness of Alston, the depth and sensation of movement of Cohan and the clarity, strength and shape of Lewitzky.

Donald: I came across this quote on Wikipedia:

“Great control of every motion and placement,” she says, “is a kind of self-care. It’s self-love in the best sense. I make a contract with the dancers (not literally, of course) to keep them alive and well and progressive – doing my level best to see that they’re not injured.” One must bear in mind, she says, that “dancing is not normal, that only a strong, knowledgeable body can protect against damage.” Bella Lewitzky, from an interview with Donna PerlmutterDance Magazine (January 1997)

Any reaction to it? And how normal is dance to you?

Yolande: This is very ‘Bella’! Thank you for sharing it. I was at my strongest as a dancer when I danced with Bella. She knew exactly how the body worked best and developed her technique to protect us and ensure she had strong, powerful dancers.

For me dance is, as Bella so rightly pointed out, self-care. It’s where I feel most comfortable. It is who I am, and  what I know best. As a child it became my voice and was a safe place for me to express myself. This might go back to what drives me to lead a dance company. As far as asking how normal it is, for me it’s not exactly normal, but once you allow it to exist within you, it’s your normal.

Donald: I don’t know the work of Sophia Stoller at all. Can you say something about it and her, generally, and, specifically, about the dance she’s made called Between and Within

Yolande: After forming the Cohan Collective with Robert Cohan here in the UK – a residency for choreographers and composers to collaborate whilst being mentored – I piloted theCollective in Los Angeles in partnership with Pennington Dance Group. We worked with three composers and three choreographers from Los Angeles, and Sophia Stoller was one of the latter. She created a duet during the residency that was very powerful, and I thought it would be great to develop that further and so commissioned this work for our anniversary programme. This ties in to the ethos of the company presenting work by dance-makers from both the UK and America whilst being supportive of emerging artists. We also invited her collaborator Justin Scheid to compose the music. What I find really interesting is that her style is very different from what we are currently seeing here in the UK.

Donald: Okay, a final question: Why do we need to see dance, and your company dancing, now?

Yolande: When this question comes up my mind always goes to a scenario that happened when the war in Iraq was breaking in 2003 and I was opening a show in Los Angeles. I had three nights at the Miles Memorial Theatre in Santa Monica. The opening night was when the war broke out. The second night a reviewer from the LA Times came along – one of about ten people in the audience that night as everyone was in shock about what was happening in the world. We spoke, and she said she was very moved by the performance and would do all she could to try and get the review in Saturday morning’s paper so that others would come and see the show. The headline was “Real Emotion from Yorke Dance Project” and her opening paragraph included the line, “It was possible to forget the woes of Thursday night when Yorke Dance Project brought beauty, grace and real emotion to a sparse but appreciative audience.” She did it, and we had a sold-out evening. So I don’t think it’s a case of seeing dance and the company now. There is just something very special about live theatre. You get to be in the same space, and feel the same energy (particularly in small theatres), and be taken out of your head and into another world. It’s like a meditation. You stop thinking and just experience something, whether you end up liking it or not!

View the trailer here:

Tickets available for the Theatre Royal Winchester



Jonathan Goddard

The multiple award-winner Jonathan Goddard is one of the UK’s best contemporary dancers. Although he’s performed in Winchester a number of times, he won’t be available for Yorke Dance Project’s date at the Theatre Royal. Still, he was good enough to reply to an email query asking him about the work the company is offering and his part in it.

Jonathan: I’ve been involved with Yorke Dance Project since 2014, and it’s great to be able to contribute and celebrate its staying power. I’m in two of the works.

Playground by Kenneth Macmillan was originally staged in 1979 and created for what was then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. It’s a narrative work which takes the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as its starting point, and I’ve learnt the role of ‘The Intruder.’ It’s been exciting to revive this ballet. I think Macmillan had been undertaking psychoanalysis around the period it was made, so there are some meaty themes to get into – family, and the balance of sanity and fantasy. I’m very much enjoying dancing with guest artists Oxana Panchenko and Romany Pajdak, and to develop the work’s central partnership with them. Playground hasn’t been revived or performed since it was made, so it is really a process of excavation. It’s a rarity, and with a great cast, so it’s definitely worth coming to watch!

The other work I’m in is a new choreography from Bob Cohan. Communion, created last year, feels very special. Bob has made a really beautiful solo for me which finishes the work. I first danced for him in a revival of his piece Eclipse for his 80th birthday celebrations in 2005. It’s really good to be back together, and there’s a sense of achievement, poignancy and fun to be working together fourteen years later.

Our UK tour will finish with shows at the Royal Opera House in London, where we’ll be adding a duet with dancer Laurel Dalley-Smith. Laurel began dancing with Yorke Dance Project,where we met and partnered each other, and then went off to join the Martha Graham Company and has been doing fantastically well there in New York City. It’ll be great to dance together again and see how Bob responds and creates with someone who is now working with the company where he has so much history and was a star dancer.

Susie Crow

Susie Crow was in the original cast of Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground. Here, as one of the coaches for Yorke Dance Project’s current revival of the ballet, she offers valuable inside knowledge about that first staging.

Susie: Playground was originally created for performance at the Edinburgh Festival, where it was apparently well-received; certainly friends of ours who came were impressed. MacMillan choreographed it after leaving the directorship of the Royal Ballet and making such exploratory and dark works as My Brother, My Sisters. But after subsequent performances at Sadler’s Wells, and I think some on tour, it wasn’t done again.  

Was Playground perhaps deemed to be too gritty and uncompromising for further touring? It might’ve been thought a risk when Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet was rebuilding itself and its following. It’s just a shame that it didn’t get a chance to establish itself in the repertoire.  

More recently, following the anniversary season of MacMillan work in 2017, there’s been renewed interest in reviving lesser-known, earlier works of his. That, and the recent success of Yorke Dance Project and its revival of his Sea of Troubles, probably influenced the decision to revive this ballet. It’s a work that includes rather naturalistic movement to create an environment within which the principle characters act out troubling relationships. The Yorke Dance dancers have really impressed me in their ability to present the more expressionist side of MacMillan’s work.  Given today’s social concerns about bullying, exclusion and mental health issues, Playground also feels remarkably topical and prescient.  It could be really powerful this time around.

I don’t want to disclose what happens in Playground. I think all the audience needs to know before seeing it will be in the title, and in the specified names of a few characters. Yorke Dance Project is a small contemporary company of less than ten dancers, and this was effectively a work for a much larger ballet company with a cast of eighteen and a full orchestral score originally performed live. So some adjustment has been necessary, a process which can concentrate the focus on what is important. It’s been really exciting to see the work coming back to life, and in its painstaking reconstruction to appreciate afresh MacMillan’s ability to create character and situation through balletic movement, and acting through dancing.  It also opens up questions about performative skills – how to be on the stage for a long time as a member of an ensemble and sustain the work’s claustrophobic atmosphere, often with minimal or simple means, and deciding where the focus is.

 A recorded version has been made of the original score by Gordon Crosse which is richly colourful and atmospheric, but also quite challenging for the dancers to co-ordinate to its combination of more and less rhythmic passages.

This time the work will be performed in smaller, more intimate venues. Inevitably the set, while keeping the character and signification of the original, needs to be more flexible, lightweight and tourable. The costumes likewise will maintain a spirit of dressing up, but perhaps give a slightly more timeless look.  It’s very special to have Kenneth’s daughter Charlotte re-designing a ballet made when she was a small child herself.

It’s been a brilliant learning experience for all of us!


By our editor in chief, Donald Hutera
Exclusive to The Winchester Guide

This autumn Shobana Jeyasingh Dance brings its latest work ‘Contagion’ to six science, art and war-related sites across the country. The tour opens September 15 and 16 at the Gymnasium Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a former army barracks where soldiers were sent to keep fit during the First World War. The good news for residents of Winchester and environs is that the second stop of the tour is September 22 and 23 at the Great Hall in Winchester – a truly stirring location.

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, and supported by Wellcome, ‘Contagion’ commemorates the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which ravaged the world to a greater degree than the Great War itself. Directly exacerbated by troop and civilian migrations from the First World War, the pandemic infected one third of the world’s population and killed over 50 million people.

‘Contagion’ is a promenade performance which underlines the irony that, while human warfare raged in the trenches, a silent and far deadlier enemy was waging war within the human body itself. The choreography echoes the scientific features of a virus: rapid, random, constantly shape-shifting. A cast of eight female dancers contort, strategise and mutate as they explore both the resilience and the vulnerability of the human body. The extraordinary work of artist Egon Schiele, himself a victim of the pandemic, is a powerful artistic footnote to the performance. His depiction of twisted bodies and expressive lines perfectly captures the physical and psychological anxieties of the times.

As a Winchester Guide exclusive, our editor and contributor Donald Hutera interviewed one of the dancers in ‘Contagion’ via email. Avatâra Ayuso is both a long-time member of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance and the company’s Associate Artist, as well as being an experienced and celebrated dance-maker herself.

Donald Hutera: How has Shobana Jeyasingh gone about finding movement with the cast of ‘Contagion’ that might correspond to and convey symptoms of the Spanish flu?

Avatâra Ayuso: Shobana has been reading a lot about the Spanish flu and talking to expert virologists to understand the disease. She shared her knowledge with the dancers in the studio, and via a process of creative tasks we gave shape to those words, images and behaviours of the virus and its symptoms.

DH: What determined the casting of eight women in the piece?

AA: Women actively took caring responsibilities during the pandemic. Men were busy at war, but women were fighting another kind of war at home. Most of the information we have about the flu is thanks to the letters these women wrote. They are actually the heroines in this episode of history. Having an all-female cast made total sense.

DH: How is the performance structured over-all?

AA: The audience is going to experience a journey that will take them from the most personal stories to the inside of the virus. The visuals, music, costumes, lighting are in close relation with Shobana’s choreography, helping the audience to travel with us, the dancers.

DH: What is the soundtrack for the show?

AA: That is going to be a very special part of the work! I cannot reveal part of it, but I can assure you it will create a very touching atmosphere. The soundscape is supported by real texts of some survivors of the flu.

DH: What are you wearing in the performance?

AA: Very simple costumes. The body is the protagonist in this choreography. Seeing the muscles in action, the lungs, the face and the backs is very important to understand how the virus affected the body.

DH: Are there any direct historical sources in ‘Contagion’, or is it more of an abstract work? I am wondering how much of its historical time it might be…

AA: As I mentioned, there are some texts extracted from real testimonies made at the time. They are very moving. The work flows from literal sources to an abstract representation of the effects of the virus. Both extremes complement each other very well.

DH: What new discoveries are you making about dance and yourself as an artist as a result of being involved in this project?

AA: More than a discovery, it is a re-confirmation that I love working with set designs – despite the difficulties! Working with an active set design like the one we have is always a challenge for the dancers. The body suffers to start with, as a new element enters your creative life. This means your brain and body have to be in total awareness every single minute to avoid accidents, and to develop a strong relationship with the set. Despite all of this, I love it! Once you and the set ‘understand’ each other, you can deliver the emotional story in a much deeper way.

DH: In what ways might ‘Contagion’ be considered new territory for Shobana? What do you think she might be discovering about her art-making as related to the making of this work?

AA: In the ten years I’ve been with Shobana Jeyasingh Company, it is the first time we have used such a big set design. On its own it is a beautiful work of art that will get ‘re-dimensionalised’ by the dancers in motion. Shobana enjoys any new creative challenge and with every one of these challenges, new movement ideas and relationships with the space emerge.

DH: Is there anything else you think it might be useful for a prospective audience member to know about ‘Contagion’ or Shobana’s work?

AA: It will be very moving and visually stunning. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this work. We, the dancers, are looking forward to meeting you. And remember, Shobana is one of the greatest choreographers in the UK!

Contagion is being performed on Saturday 22 & Sunday 23 September at 11am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm in Winchester Great Hall, The Castle, Castle Avenue, Winchester SO23 8UJ.

Booking: 023 8065 2333 / www.thepointeastleigh.co.uk

Tickets: Contagion is included in the entry fee to Winchester Great Hall – £3 for adults, £2 for children under-16 with concessions and family tickets available.

For information on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance:

For information on AVA Dance:

Something Wicked This Way Comes

As the ‘dark pleasure’ of the multi-award-winning Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth arrives at Theatre Royal Winchester (Jan 31 & Feb 1) as part of a national tour, veteran dance-theatre critic Donald Hutera learns more about this compelling new take on Shakespeare’s most notorious couple – and, in a Winchester Guide exclusive, speaks not just to the show’s creator but to the two dancers cast in the leading roles.
MARK BRUCE, choreographer and director
Q. What are your thoughts on Macbeth?
MARK BRUCE: It hits you fast, cuts through to the bone, and for me it’s the least ambiguous of Shakespeare‘s plays. Its darkness opens our nightmares; we recognise fundamental traits inside ourselves, and the consequences of acting upon them. The vicious pursuit of power to fill a void will always be relevant. The Macbeths are everywhere in every age, because they’re a part of us.
Q. When did you discover Macbeth and what did you think?
MARK BRUCE:   I first read it as a teenager and, returning to it now, the images and atmosphere it evokes haven’t changed. Its power lies in a relentless tale of supernatural horror told with a beauty and symbolism that reaches to the tragic state of the ‘other.’   The supernatural is always present in Macbeth, bending our own thoughts and perceptions as well as those of the protagonists. It infects us, always one step ahead, and Macbeth’s decisions are made in the world of a nightmare as if there’s no separation between thought and action. Murder is done and descent is rapid.
Q. Why choose Macbeth?
MARK BRUCE: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I had a vision of Macbeth’s world and some of the cast in mind. It was the same with my company’s previous shows, Dracula and The Odyssey.  The choreographic language of Macbeth is very specific and detailed, and I felt I had the right dancers at the right time in their careers to pursue this vocabulary.  I do feel there’s a time when you are ready to do a production, and you can’t really contrive that.
Q. Your production puts Lady Macbeth centre-stage with Macbeth himself. Please say more…
MARK BRUCE: The Macbeths are mere playthings of the evil they set free, and in the madness and emptiness that ensues they become but walking shadows, or – as in my adaptation – simply clowns of sound and fury.
Q. Are you influenced by other artists?
MARK BRUCE: Influences always begin subconsciously and often it’s only in retrospect that I identify them. I also don’t expect to completely understand why an influence has imposed itself. I do think I’ve been affected by the films of David Cronenberg for this production: their pace, his economic shot selection and the film Eastern Promises especially. The brooding atmosphere, the colour, the darkness seem to marry with the world and characters I saw Macbeth taking place in. Compared to a production like The Odyssey, in which there was a myriad of influences, Macbeth is far more lean. It’s written for the stage. My approach has been quite simple so I can really explore the text, and get deeply into the characters and the world in which it is set. 
Q. How do you choose your dancers for Mark Bruce Company productions?
MARK BRUCE: Sometimes I’ll have particular dancers in mind for a production and this will have a bearing on whether I pursue it or not – whether it’s an established narrative or something I’ve written myself. With Macbeth I had a combination of dancers I already knew and some new ones. I held an audition for which we had over six hundred and fifty applicants. From this I took three dancers. They needed to be strong dramatically and in contemporary and classical technique.
Q. Your music choice for Macbeth is classical and doesn’t involve any of your own compositions, unlike many of your other productions.
MARK BRUCE:   The music of Arvo Pärt was a fundamental decision in realising a through-line for Macbeth. I was instantly drawn to how it captures something deep inside us. It can be sparse and refined, and for me Macbeth is a refined play. Like Arvo Pärt’s music, there’s so much going on with every line, every suggestion, and this enables our imagination to transcend to the state of what’s inside the protagonists, what they are missing, and the state of their souls. I felt the combination of the subject matter and this music created something beautiful and tragic. These two elements were the basis of my interpretation of Macbeth.
Q. What are the pleasures (and any perils!) of working for and with Mark Bruce?
ELEANOR DUVAL: This process has been a pleasurable one. We started with some R&D a year ago with a few dancers in the studio, where Mark tried some ideas out and started working on the relationship between the Macbeths. He’s taken his time to create these characters, which has also given us time to inhabit them. Everything has been very detailed, and the ‘conversations’ between Jon and myself are crucial to the plot. The new studio the company has in Frome is a game-changer. There all the creative team have been around, and we’ve had the set up in the studio from day one of rehearsals, so a real sense of atmosphere and excitement has been apparent from the beginning. I guess the only peril working for Mark is that I seem to have very disturbing dreams!
JONATHAN GODDARD: This is my third production with Mark, and I enjoy trying to bring the visions he has into the world. It’s always interesting to see how a director imagines a character, and I relish the darkness of the roles – thankfully quite different to my own temperament and life.
Q. What sorts of things have you discovered during the creation period about the character you play?
ELEANOR DUVAL: Lady Macbeth is extremely manipulative and will do anything to gain power. I feel during the creation time I put a lot of work into how I could make this clear to an audience. The result has been an editing process where ‘less is more.’ The calmer she remains the stronger she comes across. The detail in every look is crucial. Mark spent a long time with Jonathan and me on our physical and mental reactions to the various situations we find ourselves in during the piece. One thing that surprised me was the vulnerability in my character. Obviously I know the play, and the ‘washing of the hands’ scene is well-known. Her insanity, however, builds throughout this production. Lady Macbeth remains strong for her husband until her stubbornness, pride and denial finally cracks, and everything spirals out of her control.
JONATHAN GODDARD: It’s been interesting to give myself over to a character that seems to aspire to total freedom, but who also has to negotiate and bear the extreme repercussions and effects of his actions and fate.  I love that Shakespeare makes everything happen right away, right that minute. If Macbeth decides to murder someone he’ll do it straight away; if things go wrong, they spiral fast. It makes the journey a thrilling one, and demands real on-the-spot commitment to some quite extreme moments.
Q: What have you discovered about yourself as an artist and a person?
ELEANOR DUVAL: Worryingly, I’ve discovered that I enjoy being an incredibly awful person! It’s been a real treat to dip into something this evil. I’ve also found the detail and precision of the choreography an enjoyable challenge. We’ve worked closely from the script in creating a choreographic language. Every nuance and accent is specific. Of all the productions I’ve danced in for Mark this has been a very different approach, and therefore I’ve learnt new skills at the right time in my career.
JONATHAN GODDARD: That I’m still enjoying dancing in my late thirties. It takes longer and longer to warm up, but I’m still curious and my body is just about doing what I want it to.
Q. If this version of Macbeth were to be experienced with all the senses, how might it smell, feel and taste?
ELEANOR DUVAL: This production would definitely taste metallic and smell of flesh. However there are sweet tastes along the way as I feel Mark has created a lot of beauty within the harshness.
JONATHAN GODDARD: I think it would taste metallic, and feel as if someone has just left you alone in a car park at night!
Q. What will it sound and look like?
ELEANOR DUVAL: Truly beautiful. 
JONATHAN GODDARD: It sounds very beautiful. Mark has worked with a lot of Arvo Pärt for this production. I think this music captures Macbeth’s sort of transcendent state and the constant presence of the supernatural in his world.  
Q. In a nutshell, why does this Macbeth need to be seen and experienced?
ELEANOR DUVAL: It’s a unique production that touches all the senses. Audiences will ultimately find it cathartic. Mark has created a world which we have all delved into, from the dancers to the creative team – lights, costumes and set. The audience will have a chance to be drawn into this world and experience Shakespeare’s savage tragedy in all its beauty.
JONATHAN GODDARD: I think Macbeth always feels very modern and current to audiences. It definitely speaks to now and the perils of power unchecked. It’s a brilliant introduction to dance-theatre if you haven’t seen any before and, hopefully, a dark pleasure if you have.
Company and tour info: http://www.markbrucecompany.com/

‘Thrilling’ is the key word as Charge comes to Winchester’s Theatre Royal

Donald Hutera talks to Kevin Finnan, the artistic director of Motionhouse

Given that creative energy is never in short supply Motionhouse, it may come as no surprise that energy is the core subject of the latest touring show by this long-established, UK-based company. But the production, entitled Charge, is nevertheless bound to offer visual thrills and kinetic surprises aplenty as it uses dance, acrobatics, digital projection and a galvanising soundtrack to probe the sources that activate life in the human body.

I fired off a few questions to Motionhouse’s artistic director Kevin Finnan in advance of the imminent performances at Theatre Royal, Winchester Nov 10 and 11. Here are his answers in an exclusive interview for this website.

Donald Hutera: Charge is part of what the company is calling the Earth Trilogy that includes the shows Scattered and Broken. What prompted this trilogy in the first place?

Kevin Finnan: It wasn’t originally conceived as a trilogy. It started out as a single show, Scattered, which was about water. But Scattered opened up ways of engaging with the human condition, eliciting questions about the environment and a way of working that was really interesting to me. So I decided to make Broken, a show about our relationship with the earth that could develop all of these questions and explore this way of working. That show raised yet more questions and prompted me to make Charge, a show about energy. So it’s a trilogy that has revealed itself through doing.

DH: What forms of research did you and the company undertake in order to create Charge?

KF: To make a show about energy on the micro and macro scale you have to read widely on the subject to gain some small understanding, and search for ideas that will make the story visible.  I did a large amount of academic research. I went to a stimulating event in Oxford run by the Tipping Point/Stories for Change teams. I eventually found – through Sophy Smith, my composer – the work of Dame Professor Frances Ashcroft at Oxford University. I got in touch and she graciously agreed to meet me, afterwards agreeing to help and becoming a partner in the project.

This developed into a series of meetings between my creative team with Frances and her team, during which we spent time discussing the workings of electricity and the human body. Imagine having a whole room of dedicated scientists and artists discussing electrical transmission in the human body. What a gift, and an invaluable resource! Later in the process Frances and some of her team traveled up to see our work in the rehearsal room, and to give feedback. To have access to such fantastic, cutting-edge thought is a thrill, and very humbling. It opens new ways of seeing the world. I can’t imagine I would be creating an ion channel onstage without Frances, as I’d never even heard of them!

I’ve also set a course with the dancers to expand the physical language we use. We recently collaborated on a work with No Fit State Circus called Block which brought fresh skills and impetus into the company, and we’re continuing to explore and expand the use and role of spectacle in our work. In the studio we’re constantly trying to challenge ourselves to move on, creating and stockpiling ideas. With Charge we also spent a lot of time exploring our relationship with the digital. This show crossed the Rubicon for us as it was a massive jump in terms of its complexity of ideas and delivery.

DH: More specifically, how did the work’s themes and ideas get translated into actions and images? I’m especially interested in how scientific principles become theatre.

KF: In a large-scale spectacle the narrative line is created before any movement, and images are developed to it within a strict timeline. With Charge I knew the themes, but had no firm idea of the form with which to tell them.

For all of our stage shows I try to be as open as possible. Through the research process I narrow things down to a series of themes and movement ideas to explore. This creates a series of mental pictures I wish to realise. The company is then encouraged to play and create with each other and the environment. What I do not do is come in with a narrative line as that makes devising very difficult for the dancers and collaborators. Things float and change and everyone’s quite lost for a long time. I have to trust that, in partnership with my fellow artists, I’ll be able to realise the work in the time available.

Ultimately I’m waiting for the work to reveal itself; the creation process is about continuing to explore until you recognise what you’re looking for.

As an example of this, two of the dancers in Charge had been improvising with an idea for a strop duet. When I saw that I played a certain type of music to it, knowing it would work as a thread throughout the show to explore the notion of fading memory as in dementia or Alzheimer’s – where essentially the mind goes dark as there’s no energy passing in that part of the brain.  I saw that the spatial separation inherent in what the dancers created could express this narrative; it would be beautiful, sad and troubling. This is a good example of wanting to embody and make visual a scientific fact, and waiting for the right material to emerge.

An example on the other end of the scale is the work we did on the human heart. The heart beats to a rhythm; all the muscles must be activated at the right time to make the heart muscles open and close together. You can imagine the pulse as a single flash. When you have a heart attack, the rhythm of the spark is interrupted; it’s off-beat, with many points twinkling. This makes the heart go flaccid and unable to pump. The electric shock you see being given in TV programmes set in hospitals is not to restart the heart, but to stop it. The hope is that when it restarts naturally it will restart in rhythm. It’s a bit like restarting your computer. Delving even deeper, it’s the single transmission of electrical energy – the line of ions waiting to pass through the Ion channel – that makes all this possible.

We began by exploring ‘making hearts’ on our own and in groups, moving them and beating them. How would a heart attack make a physical score? Unity to chaos; it seemed quite simple, but in making it we found that chaos meant we completely lost the image of the heart and it just looked like formless, abstract dance. The solution was to keep enough form to recognise the heart, but introduce the breakdown of unity within that form. We then played with how we could make that moment of pulse tell the story in a different way – exploring momentary tableaux, and breaking down movement to a single flash to show the external story of a heart attack. But whose heart is it, and how could we visualise and embody the ion channel?

Our research around the idea of the single energy flow across the cell created so much material that I could just go on and on. Professor Ashcroft is so pleased with our work in this area that she’s asked for film of the show to use at conferences.

DH: This is fascinating stuff, Kevin. Could you mention a few other highlights of the show?

KF: Well, there’s a section where we journey from Galvani’s frogs through to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Here we’re telling the story of our modern comprehension of the human body as an electrically-activated system. And how do we explore the idea of what a memory is – a mutating, complex physical structure that’s built and developed by the brain like the growing of a tree, but only accessed and animated by sparks of electrical energy? We began using silk to signify the tendrils of the mind, and then interacting with film to develop the energy flow.  I love this section. But the company looks great throughout Charge, and really shows what they can do. I’m very proud of them.

DH: What, not incidentally, are some of the qualities and attributes that a performer must have to be a member of Motionhouse?

KF: They have to be daring, bold and committed to working together to realise something as an ensemble. The range of skills and what’s asked of them makes them a special group.

DH: Are you able to encapsulate a little of what you’ve learnt from making Charge?

KF: It was an extremely difficult show to make for a number of reasons. Basically we learned that if we all pull together we can do anything.

DH: Finally, what is Motionhouse’s place in both the UK and global, dance-based cultural ecology?

KF: We started out as dance-theatre and then, fed up with the restrictions of that, we became just Motionhouse. Others then began calling us dance-circus, so we’ve assumed that mantle too. We seem to have just wandered off on our own. I don’t see much that seems like us. All along I’ve simply pursued an interest between movement, imagery and spectacle, and then try to make work that’s emotionally engaging, thrilling to watch and driven by a roiling physical energy. I continue to be amazed at and proud of both the number of people who see us, and the reception they give us. It’s a huge relief that we’ve found a large and very passionate audience for our work.

Friday 10 & Saturday 11 November.
Theatre Royal Winchester


Being Human

Jasmin Vardimon’s Pinocchio comes to Winchester
by Donald Hutera

Pinocchio Jasmin VardimonWhat does it mean to be human?

That question is the thematic core of Jasmin Vardimon’s dance-theatre take on Pinocchio, which is about to visit Theatre Royal Winchester for three performances (Oct 13 at 7.30pm, Oct 14 at 1.30pm and 7pm) as part of a big UK tour.

Based on the iconic tale of a wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy, this brand-new show promises to be a thoughtful, magical and ingenious staging of a familiar story. Featuring imaginative designs as well as impish and moving characterisations, the focus is likely to be on vividly expressive physicality supplemented at key points by spoken text and songs. It is also something of a departure for Vardimon, who has thus far never used a pre-existing narrative as a creative source nor fashioned a work for family audiences (recommended ages: 7 and up).

Born in Israel (where, tellingly, one of her jobs was to write psychological profiles of those who would serve in the army) but based in the UK, Vardimon established her eponymous company nearly 20 years ago. She has gradually become a real force in UK dance both for the many productions she and her collaborators have made and, more recently, because of the performance training programme she and her colleagues devised to develop the next generation of dance-based all-rounders. It might also be worth mentioning that for the past decade Vardimon has been an associate artist of Sadler’s Wells, London’s leading international dance house. It’s a top venue but, alas, still something of a ‘boy’s club’ in a country where the disparity between the opportunities being offered to female choreographers and their higher-profile male counterparts can’t be ignored. Note, however, that following its Winchester performances Pinocchio will be presented at the London venue later this month.

But leaving the politics of art aside, it’s plain that Vardimon and company’s energies are all aimed at the new show. Rather than replicating the charming but somewhat sanitized Disney cartoon classic, Vardimon’s version is more closely aligned to Carlo Collodi’s original Italian novel published in 1883 as The Adventures of Pinocchio.

‘It was written at a time when Italian society was engaged morally and philosophically in a very important question about education’, explained Vardimon during a recent interview of the BBC arts programme Front Row. ‘Can peasants be educated? Can their children go to school and become real boys, or are they destined to be merely work-force donkeys?’ As she aptly remarked, the underlying issue of equality in Collodi’s novel is relevant today.

It is perhaps revealing that Vardimon chose to cast a female dancer in the lead role of her production. This was, she says, ‘a very conscious decision’ especially as it relates to being human and the differences between people in terms of their race, gender and so on.

Now if all of this makes this Pinocchio sound like some earnest sociological exercise, as a long-time professional watcher of Vardimon’s work I can pretty much guarantee this will not be the case. Set to an evocative and eclectic soundtrack, the production is a piece of living marionette theatre with changeable settings and even the characters themselves sometimes suspended on ropes. Vardimon knows her stuff as a theatre-maker, meaning the show is bound to be layered with images, sounds and movement that stimulate the senses, activate the brain and help release the kinds of deep feelings that human beings of all ages can ponder and savour. Pinocchio should, in short, be a real treat.

Donald Hutera writes about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites in the UK and abroad.


Theatre Royal Winchester

Box office: 10am – 5pm (Mon – Sat)
T: 01962 840440
E: boxoffice@theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

Performances: Thurs 13 – Fri 14 October
Thurs 7.30pm
Fri 1.30pm, 7pm

Spiritual Matters

Lauda Pic 1 BWWinGuide editor Donald Hutera speaks to Yolande Yorke-Edgell, head of Yorke Dance Project, and YDP associate director and fellow choreographer Stephen Pelton about the company’s ambitious new project Dancing Sacred, to be presented at Winchester Cathedral on May 3.

Donald Hutera: What prompted the idea of staging dance – with live music, no less – in churches and cathedrals? 

Stephen Pelton: The idea for the Dancing Sacred tour grew out of Yolande’s work with Robert Cohan on his Canciones Del Alma (Songs of the Soul), a solo from 1978 which she performed in our Figure Ground tour and also at Bob’s 90th birthday performances at The Place. The texts of the songs for this piece are poems by the 16th century mystic, St John of the Cross. The feeling of Canciones is so evocative of cathedrals and sacred spaces that it seemed to call out to be performed in a church setting. Coincidentally, I was working on Lauda Adrianna, a new full-length work, set to ten of Gavin Bryars’ laude – his re-imaginings of 12th century Italian religious songs, which premiered last June in a de-consecrated church in Glasgow as part of the Cottier Chamber Project. We then started talking about how powerful it would be to perform these works together in churches and cathedrals, and before we knew it we were on our way.

As you can see, music and dance are the key elements that inspired this project. The music for Lauda will be performed live by the Gavin Bryars Ensemble. There’s also a gospel choir involved. And we asked Bob to make a new work with this tour in mind, and also to revive his 1959 narrative work Hunter of Angels, made when he was in New York dancing with Martha Graham.

DH: What kind of audience do you think Dancing Sacred will attract?

Yolande Yorke-Edgell: The performance of Dancing Sacred at Winchester Cathedral is a preview of what we hope to be doing over the next two years: presenting dance and music in cathedrals and churches as a support for Inspirit, a programme of work that we’ll tour to UK theatres from autumn 2016.

YD2It’s our hope that Dancing Sacred will attract regular church-goers who may not be accustomed to watching dance, but who’ll be drawn to see a programme at their local church. It might offer them a new experience of how art and spirituality meet. It’s our further hope that these new audiences will be so compelled by what they’ve seen that they’ll seek us out again when we perform other programmes at theatrical venues nearby.

With this in mind, we’d love to connect with a new audience at Winchester Cathedral in order for them to come and see us there when we perform at Theatre Royal Winchester next year. 

Additionally, wherever we go, we want to involve local communities in what we do. In Winchester we’re working with Totton College to create a curtain-raiser and, as Stephen mentioned, a gospel choir from Winchester University who’ll sing live. In the long term, when we tour Dancing Sacred beyond Winchester, we’ll work with local choirs who’ll learn the three songs we’re using in the performance. We can also we can create-curtain raisers with youth dance groups from the area.

DH: Are there already other performances in the offing?

SP: We performed a first draft of Dancing Sacred at our annual company Christmas event in December at the Rambert studios, but Winchester is the first go for the programme in an actual cathedral setting. Thus far it’s the only one we have scheduled, but with the right kind of funding we hope it’ll be a programme we can continue to tour in the UK and abroad for many years.

DH: Are there any special artistic or technical challenges when it comes to staging dance-based work in such a hallowed setting?

SP: We’re about to find out! Lighting options are quite limited, depending upon the space and time of day of the performance, as most churches have a lot of ambient light. And stage sizes will vary considerably.

DH: Lastly, are there for either of you any creative watchwords to keep in mind when making dance that might be deemed ‘spiritual’? 

YYE: Although none of the works in Dancing Sacred are traditionally religious they have taken inspiration from religious stories or themes which, in turn, make them spiritual.  Also, the spirituality of each dance is personal to each choreographer. With my work I’m not trying to be literal, but rather take the essence of a song or piece of music and create something an audience can connect with in a spiritual way. I hope people will be moved by what they see and hear. We want them to connect with us.

YD5SP: I’m not afraid of the word ‘spiritual,’ and would like to think that there’s always a place for matters of the spirit in my work. With Lauda Adrianna the music already dwells so specifically on religious themes and imagery that I felt I needed to be very careful not to overindulge ‘spirituality’ in the movement content. My goal was to approach the making of the piece as a way of asking questions about spirit, devotion and faith, but not necessarily answering them. Hopefully a space is created in which to contemplate these questions.

Below are factual details about each of the works in Dancing Sacred along with further information about content and tone.

Hunter of Angels (1959) by Robert Cohan (11 min, two men, music by Bruno Maderna) is a stark and dramatic work in which two male dancers representing the Biblical brothers Jacob and Esau dance around, with and on a ten foot ladder. The mood is intense as they battle each other over their birthright and claim to supremacy.

Lacrymosa (2016) by Robert Cohan (11 min, two dancers, music by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky) is a duet inspired by the relationship between Jesus and Mary.

Canciones del Alma (1978) by Robert Cohan (15min, solo, music by Geoffrey Burgon) was originally created for Canadian dancer Susan MacPherson in 1978. The music is a setting of three poems by 16th century mystic, St John of the Cross. The shape of Burgon’s songs closely follows that of the poems.

Out of Bounds ( 2016) by Yolande Yorke-Edgell (11 mins, quartet set to three gospel songs sung live by The S.O.N.G, Sounds of New Gospel). This quartet focuses on an individual whose personal quest is to break through what restricts her path in life. Taking inspiration from the possibility that “Down to the river to pray” was composed by an African-American slave, the three movements are a journey of removing the binds that can tie us emotionally and physically.

YD4Lauda Adrianna (2015/16) by Stephen Pelton (complete work 45 min, excerpts for Dancing Sacred 20 min; five dancers and five musicians; music by Gavin Bryars, performed live by the Gavin Bryars Ensemble) is a solemn and meditative work danced to re-settings of 12th century religious songs, which, in Gavin’s new versions, hover somewhere between early and contemporary music. Similarly, the dance itself hovers over the question of what it is that devotional music offers a contemporary listener, outside the context of a specific religious practice, when facing the mysteries of life, death and faith…

To book tickets for Dancing Sacred please visit: http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/events/yorke-dance-project-presents-dancing-sacred/

And for more details on Yorke Dance Project, visit here:


Of Books and Men

WinGuide editor Donald Hutera interviews the makers of a brace of shows presented by Theatre Royal Winchester
shhhTheatre Royal Winchester has programmed two stimulating shows during the first week of April, both able to be seen within days of each other. Coincidentally, each performance happen to have been made by an award-winning creative organisation run by two people. 
The first, on April 5, is C-12 Dance Theatre‘s hour-long Shhh! Inspired, in part, by the romance of reading and featuring an onstage library setting, this lively, family-friendly entertainment was conceived and choreographed by Annie Lunnette Deakin-Foster and executive produced by company co-founder Adam Towndrow
On April 7 the artistic entity known as Two Destination Language – that is, Katherina Radeva and Alister Lownie – present Manpower across the road from the Theatre Royal in Winchester’s welcoming Discovery Centre. Eluding easy theatrical genre categorisation, Manpower promises to analyse and dismantle male roles and stereotypes in a manner as thought-inducing as it is engaging. 
ShhShhh! by C-12 Dance Theatre
Donald Hutera: What motivated you to make this show?
Annie Lunnette Deakin-Foster: We made Shhh! in 2013 after receiving GfA Arts Councils funding for five weeks of research and development and creation. I came up with the concept the previous year. I was inspired about making a show in a place that contains so much history, knowledge and wonder, and where virtually little or no conversation happens. What better way to explore this space than through dance? Also, libraries are magical spaces in themselves where communities can come together and have access to a fountain of inspiration.
DH: How was it put together, and with how much in-put from its original cast?
ALDF: During the r&d creation period we made a show that was split up into 12 scenes. The original cast were very much involved in the choreographic process. I set tasks for them in order to explore the narrative journey of each scene. Jamie Salisbury’s score was developed in advance of the rehearsals and edited along the way, with the music composed in response to the mood and storyboards for the dozen episodes. 
DH: What did you learn from making it, and what do you continue to discover?
ALDF: I learnt the importance of team work and establishing clear creative roles within the artistic process. It was also important to learn the long-term plan for the production, as the show we now tour is very different from the original. To allow time for development as the work begins to be presented is important. You can never underestimate how time flies in the r&d process! 
DH: How would you describe Shhh! from an all-senses perspective? In other words, what does it look, feel, sound, smell and taste like?
ALDF: The show looks like a library from the ’90s, fraying around the edges and stuck between old school traditions while wanting to move forward into the 21st century. But it also feels homely, cosy and warm, an inviting space for the community to come and be together. It sounds like a quiet, vacant and enclosed space, on the brink of disturbance through the echoes of whispers, the opening and closing of books, chairs being moved across the floor and pencils scribbling away. It smells of old musty books and newly-printed editions, and tastes like boiled sweets and candy. Childhood memories and older generation stories are being told here.
DH: Where does Shhh! ‘fit’ in the C-12 canon?
ALDF: C-12 always strives to make work that audiences can relate to. We want to take them on an emotional or narrative journey of some kind, which I believe this work does. The show is one of C-12’s first geared towards a younger audience and families, and so the narrative is clear and easy to follow. It’s one of C-12’s largest-scale works, and has helped fuel the ambition of the company to want to make bigger and more exciting dance-theatre works.
DH: What keeps you and Adam going after 11 years in the business?
ALDF: I would say it’s our ambition, positivity, enthusiasm and love of the art form. We often look to find new and exciting collaborators, and ways to challenge ourselves as art-makers. We’re also passionate about creating work that appeals to new audiences and introduces them into the dance sector.
DH: How do you and Adam divvy up duties?
ALDF: To be honest, it’s all hands on deck most of the time! Adam handles communication, marketing, production and producing duties and I handle the creative concepts, funding forms and accounts. We share the rest of the administrative tasks. But our roles still vary slightly from project to project.
DH: What’s one thing an audience member might want to know about you, the company or the show before coming to see it?
C-12 Dance Theatre is a two-time award-winning company. We received the Argus Award in 2012 for artistic excellence for Trolleys, an outdoor work choreographed by Shaun Parker in collaboration with C-12 and, in 2015, we won the Organisation Impact Award (Dance London Inspire Awards) given to  companies that have supported, inspired and made an impact on the community through dance. 
For more details, please visit the Theatre Royal website here: http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/shhh/
ManpowerManpower by Two Destination Language
Donald Hutera: How did Manpower come about, meaning what motivated you and Katherina to make this particular work at this time?
Alister Lownie: We started out being interested in stereotypes, partly because it felt like we’d seen work about women resisting stereotypes and hadn’t seen the same for or about men. We were particularly interested in the workplace and expectations around jobs. But as we worked on it we found the idea of stereotypes felt flippant, and so we ended up with more of a nostalgic exploration of how we came to be who we are — the men who shaped us both, and the decisions we made.

DH: How would you describe your creation process? 
AL: That’s a tough one. We tend to mix up all sorts of text, images and objects to discover the show we’re making. When it works it feels like we’re sculpting something; when it isn’t coming together the feeling is more akin to pointless argument. We like to gather a possible set and costumes in the studio and try out the ideas, rather than conceptualising it all in advance.

DH: Realising that as its makers you’re both deeply ‘inside’ the show, and thus your perceptions of it are utterly unique, how would you describe its qualities? Is it funny, political, tender or…? 
AL: There are moments of all those things but its politics are gentle, a starting point for conversation rather than a heart-felt plea for things to be different in one particular way. The whole piece is suffused with nostalgia too, and an affection for things even when they weren’t quite right. It’s also very much redolent of the time in which we both grew up – the ’80s and ’90s.

DH: How long is Manpower, and what are some of the things that happen during it?
AL: It lasts 80 minutes. We tell you about our childhoods, and about growing up and becoming a man and a woman. There is music, building and dancing. It’s not what we expected, which is a strange sort of feeling, but we’re pleased with it.

DH: What are some of the things you have learnt or discovered about yourselves and/or the world through making and performing Manpower?
AL: Although it’s very much about the specifics of our own stories, it resonates with people from very different backgrounds. The uncertainty many of us share about whether we’ve made the right decisions about the important things in life – and how our choices might be traced back to seemingly minor events –  is something we’ve enjoyed exploring.

DH: What sort of feedback have you had from ‘real’ people as opposed to those in the arts industry?
AL: Our favourite is an email with the subject line “nice one”. It was very positive, and the man who sent it asked us to let him know when we’re back in his area so he can come and see more of our work. We cherish it for this line: “The music was good but you should have had some Smiths as well.”

manpower-gallery-03-133x133DH: Did you officially start working together in…2011?
AL: Gosh, yes! That sounds like ages ago, but it doesn’t feel that long. Maybe we should hold a birthday party?

DH: I was checking out the company website and wondered what is  Flint? 
AL: FLINT is our project to bring contemporary performance to places that wouldn’t otherwise get to experience it. There’s lots of work that people unfamiliar with theatre can easily enjoy without feeling they need to know anything particular about art before they come, and yet lots of that work seems risky for venues outside of big cities to programme because those potential audiences don’t know about it. So FLINT is our way of trying to help with that, finding ways to bring artists and audiences together.

DH: If there’s one thing anyone coming to see this show ought to know about it, or the two of you, what might that be?
AL: There’s some cooking on stage, but don’t come expecting cordon bleu. Also, we’d love to have a chat after the show – so do stick around!
For more details, please visit the Theatre Royal website here: http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/manpower/

A Glimpse Inside Creative Cow

by WinGuide editor  Donald Hutera

Travels with my AuntCreative Cow is a theatre company that specialises in fresh stagings of classic  plays or literary adaptations, from  Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Brandon Thomas’s Charley’s Aunt, and Dickens’ Hard Times to Harold Pinter’s The Lover, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Sheridan’s The Rivals and Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.

Currently the company is touring the UK with Travels With My Aunt, a co-production with Malvern Theatres that includes performances March 28-April 2 at Theatre Royal Winchester.

The play was adapted in 1989 by Giles Havergal from Graham Greene’s 1969 novel, which had already been turned into a 1972 film starring Alec McCowen and the Oscar-nominated Maggie Smith. Greene’s unlikely hero is Henry Pulling, a retired and rather boring suburban bank manager and bachelor whose quiet, safe and risk-free life is completely turned around thanks to his eccentric Aunt Augusta.

The latter is an eccentric sexual adventuress and small-time swindler who harbours quite a significant secret. She persuades Henry to accompany her first to Brighton then Paris, Istanbul and beyond. Through this marvelous, madcap relative he encounters a twilight society of hippies, war criminals, CIA operatives and art smugglers and, in the process, is himself transformed.

The plotline not only mirrors Green’s real-life obsession with travelling, often to danger spots, but also takes the reader – and the theatre-goer – on a whirlwind tour of the fictional world the author had conjured in his previous writing.

Prior to the start of the tour, WinGuide editor Donald Hutera flung a few questions about both Creative Cow and the show in the direction of company co-founder Katherine Senior. Here’s what she had to say…

Donald Hutera: How and when did Creative Cow start, and where it its home?

Katherine Senior: Creative Cow was formed by two actors, Matthew Parish and me, and the director Amanda Knott. We’ve learnt to work very closely over the last nine years, so that what we hope to deliver always comes from a very organic place. We’ve been told that Creative Cow has a style which isn’t been forced upon the work we do, but grows out of our partnership. We rehearse in Exeter at the moment, but depending on the show we might rehearse in a barn on a farm in Devon where the cows live…

DH: Beyond the fact of 2016 being the 25th anniversary of Graham Greene’s death, why choose to stage and tour this source production now?

KS: We actually produced Travels With My Aunt in 2009 and have been looking to tour it again ever since. We managed to secure the rights for the most recent version of Giles Havergal’s stage adaptation, which was updated for London’s Menier Chocolate Factory a few years ago. The script has had various incarnations all over the world, some productions with four actors and others with as many as 30. We’ve opted for the four-actor version.

DH: What can audiences expect of the show?

SH: It’s a lively, skillful, inventive and highly entertaining evening that’s also true to Greene’s novel. It’s a pretty timeless piece, with many references and ideas that resonate still.

DH: What are some things you’ve learnt from working on it?

KS: It’s taught us a great deal about the true meaning of ensemble. As our director Amanda Knott – who was a professional ballet dancer in a previous life – has said, it’s like being in a ballet where you have to watch everyone else to create a true synchronicity. This is what our production has at its core. It’s hard work! But our aim has always been to present the most exciting, daring and fun night out possible.

To book tickets, please visit the Theatre Royal website.

Putting dance on the map

by Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera 
Map Dancemapdance, the University of Chichester’s MA touring company, is celebrating its tenth birthday with a richly mixed bill of works old and new by a gratifying range of choreographers. This enticingly varied programme lands at Theatre Royal Winchester on Feb 10 at 7.30pm. 
About the company
The name mapdance is derived from the fact that company members are enrolled at the University of Chichester in an MA in performance studies. All are chosen via audition by co-directors Yael Flexer and Detta Howe. The company runs from September till June. From June to November the dancers independently research and prepare the dissertations which complete their individual MAs. 
In terms of choosing choreographers, Howe and Flexer usually have a wish-list of people and ideas which they believe will provide the dancers (a baker’s dozen this year) with both practical experience and aesthetic rewards. ‘We also try to think about a diverse and complete show,’ says Howe. Typically this entails ‘a mix of theatre, movement-based and abstract work. We usually try to work with someone who’s established, someone new and someone international, and remount a previously seen piece.’
Map DanceAbout the work
Eminent British choreographer Richard Alston’s rehearsal director and associate choreographer Martin Lawrance has re-staged the former’s renowned Roughcut for mapdance. Premiered by Rambert Dance Company in 1990, and revived nearly a decade later by Alston’s own eponymous troupe, the work was initially made to celebrate the energy and exuberance of Rambert’s young dancers. It has now been specially selected to do the same for mapdance’s 10th anniversary cast. The throwaway energy of the movement is anchored by a very specific use of the body’s weight and pull, a physical emphasis that articulates and syncopates the intricate rhythmic impulses of the New York Counterpoint for clarinet by Steve Reich
Inspired by the sketches, inventions, architecture and artistry of Leonardo da Vinci, and first seen as part of mapdance 2015, Abi Mortimer’s Schemes, Dreams and Machine captures the sensation of time and movement within his paintings and zooms in on the details of individual relationships. As she explains, ‘was based on the cognitive workings of Leonardo as artist, engineer and inventor. The process of learning, coming to light, calculating and adjusting found its way into expressive movement for a timeless community of people who’ve been living the same life and same day for 500-plus years.’ Fresh and full of feeling, Mortimer’s dance is about’ the liveliness of human action and thought caught in Leonardo’s paintings and effectively paused in time.  In the last section this great man’s ability to live inside his head, and dream of possibilities beyond the scope of current barriers, is explored with just a little emotional support from Etta James!’ 
Map DanceA cacophony and collage of dance, text and music (stretching from Beethoven, Strauss and Bach to a Propellerheads’ 1997 pop classic featuring Dame Shirley Bassey), Liz Aggiss’ History Repeating……completes a mapdance trilogy begun in 2008 with Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage and continued in 2014 via Cut with the Kitchen Knife. As Aggiss herself puts it, ‘A troupe of oddball performers is hell-bent on recovering bodies from the library. Inspired by expressive, eccentric or grotesque dance, and British music hall, this performance pays homage to past dance artists of the past, drags them into the present and reflects on the challenges still facing contemporary dance audiences.’ Or, to quote mapdance co-director Detta Howe about Aggiss’ outrageously smart new work, ‘It’s sad, it’s funny and it smacks the audience around the face.’
Kevin (Motionhouse) Finnan describes Passage as a valediction for the Syrian refugees who have attempted to flee the conflict by sea in small boats. It’s a momentous subject, and I don’t know if I have the ability to do justice to such suffering and grief, but I had to try.’ This new work is in two movements. Part one presents as context what has transpired in Syria. Finnan’s creative starting point, however, was Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Miserere – music which forms the dance’s second section, Philip Glass’ resonant Company 1, 2, 4 also features in a piece in which each performer has a large rock which, Finnan says, ‘takes on a range of meanings during the dance. They are beautiful things and very expressive.’
ME AND THEN, according to choreographer Lee Brummer, explores duality via the notion and sensations of a young self in an older self. This new work, which she has created with Israel Aloni,’visits various marks on the timeline of a life, and the hopes and aspirations for a future supported by the past but created by us right now.  How powerful are our memories, and can we maintain a youthful spirit inside an ageing body?’
Map DanceBooking details Date & Time:
Wednesday, 10 February, 7.30pm Venue: Theatre Royal Winchester
More info: boxoffice@theatreroyal.co.uk
Running Time: 90 mins (plus interval)

Peta Lily: The transformative power of Imperfection

Interview by Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera
Peta LilyPeta Lily is one of my favourite performers, but also one whom I’ve known personally as both colleague and friend for thirty years. I’ve happily presented several of her self-written solo shows, including Invocation and her Macbeth-inspired The Porter’s Daughter, as part of the various GOlive Dance & Performance Festival programmes I’ve been curating since 2013. Her work is funny, serious and wise, and it has a smart physical edge. 
Peta is not just a fine writer and actor but also an experienced teacher, mentor and director. Her good-natured directness and honesty as a performer and a person have always appealed to me. Much to Peta’s credit, she’d probably be the first to admit that she’s full of Imperfection.
Yup, I’ve used that last word in the singular, and with good reason. It happens to be the title of a book of Peta’s poetry which, in turn, is also the major source material for her solo show of the same name. 
ImperfectionAudiences in the Winchester area can drink in Peta Lily’s Imperfection in all its intimate glory at the Discovery Centre, where it’s being presented under the auspices of the Theatre Royal Winchester on February 11 at 7.45pm. 
I threw a few questions in Peta’s direction, via email, about herself and the show. With any luck her answers will whet your appetite enough to go see the woman in action.  
An image-inspired writer…
Donald: Did writing the poems come first and then the idea to perform them, or…?
Peta: A couple of things happened but I’m not sure in which order. 
I’ve been capturing images of ‘lost corners’ using my iPhone – images of damaged or drear (or bright) things that have a strange, compelling vibrancy and an almost totemic quality, or so I felt. And the people I’ve shared them with seemed to find them interesting too.
I’m a big believer in the accidental. If I look back on my career path, there were pivotal points that were completely random but had huge repercussions and yielded large gains. So ‘following the accidents’ intuitively became the backbone of my photography practice. A friend suggested I write about it, and from that came the titular poem Imperfection, which begins: ‘the broken, the chipped, the darkly lit…’
Also I love my local library. I go there sometimes in search of particular things and sometimes just walk to the shelves and see what jumps out at me. I picked up a copy of CharlesBukowski’s New Poems Book 4 that way. I just loved his honest, muscular voice and relentless recording of whatever was to hand. Waiting, uncertainty, resentment…he even makes depression looks like a thing of spiritual beauty. Plus he was writing poems about the process of writing poems himself, and the process of calibrating one’s own success. (Actually that’s not true, because he always has his own unquenchable value of his work and his practice.) 
I also went to my library to read about Stevie Smith. After a youth where I wanted to taste a wider life as lived by the Bloomsbury Group, or Anais Nin, I now live a quiet life. Happily so. At moments lonely, but the Saturday and Sunday supplements tell me that loneliness is endemic now so at least I’m not alone…in feeling alone. 
I’d been writing a poem a week on various fractured corners of life for a while, and collected a bunch together to offer my director/dramaturg Di Sherlock (who directed Linda Marlowe in Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife). Di edited them, putting put in poems I wouldn’t have included and dropping others. ‘This is the art, death and alcohol show,’ she said. I’m no Bukowski, but I enjoy a glass of wine and at a certain point the Dionysus poem (‘Each night I meet with Dionysus/but I don’t meet him as I should…’) turned up – a nice follow-on from previous show Chastity Belt where I explored Diana/Artemis. There was a scratch showing at the Lost Theatre in Vauxhall, London of what was to become Imperfection, and an exhibition of the photographic images I’d been producing. People said they thought the images should be included in the show, and I made a short film of the images which now happens inside the show.
Opening up to risk… 
Donald: How is it for you to take an audience on this trip into your sensibility – what are the challenges and rewards?
Peta: I trust Di, having worked with her a number of times over the years. Also, since making my first autobiographic show Topless in 1999 I realised that risk can pay off. That if I open up and speak about awkward or strange things I’ve noticed, done or felt (things I may not say socially), then other people step forward after the show and tell me, or tell otheraudience members about things that have happened to them. 
It’s important when working with personal material to make sure you’ve ramped it to a universal perspective by going to the essence of the thing. By going to the most honest place, you can get the ludicrousness of something. By putting your hand up to your own faults there can be a strange pathos released (or so they tell me). One of the poems in this show is still quite a risk for me to perform – I didn’t really want it to go in. I was uneasy how people would ‘read’ it. But others have endorsed it. It seems they resonate with the sentiments, the predicaments. We are all imperfect. People get it.
Biographical obsessions…
Donald: Tell me about you…
Peta: Actress turned physical theatre performer. Occasional playwright. Mime-trained (in good company with the late Mr. David Bowie). Physical theatre and clown teacher, director, creative mentor and, um, poet? Photographer? A friend once used the word polymath – very nice of them. Someone quite close to me once called me a dilettante. Hey, I’m a suburban Aussie-born girl actually living in London – and making stuff!! Creativity! There’s a YouTube interview where the late Mr. Alan Rickman says ‘Theatre is (sort of) my religion’. Yeah. And then there’s magic, the way that Grayson Perry talks about it. You have to have your own magic, talismans, obsessions.
Not perfect…
Donald: Have you been writing all your life, essentially, and why do you do it? Is there a need involved, or…?
Peta: As a small girl I wanted to and tried to and did write. But felt a failure. There was no model for me apart from fairy stories – it wasn’t a literary household. Later a high school teacher included creative writing in the syllabus. And he made us read, too. When I first discovered Nin’s autobiographical writing I was really impacted by her showing what was under the skin – the actual stuff, not the presented self of formal memoirs by heroic men and women. Nin had secrets, flaws, obsessions, shortfalls. Not perfect.
Coda: a (mysterious) compulsion…
Donald: What about the images you capture – how’d you characterise that work in a nutshell?
Peta: I have a website for my photography, thank you for asking (www.petalilyphotography.com). People can follow me on Facebook too  ( as Peta Lily) where I post images that strike me as a record of the day, or as a kind of communication or gift to others (if that doesn’t sound too grandiose). On Instagram I am petalily and my by-line is ‘to the mysterious’. Ultimately everything is mysterious, even the banal – don’t you think? I’ve been trying to write about what my compulsion to photograph is about recently, and found myself writing about how in my solitary childhood, often in boring or unsatisfactory surroundings, I would go off into a kind of blank trance trying to find some meaning in what my surroundings were presenting me with… There may be no meaning, but if there was one wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was magical somehow? What is a compulsion anyway – when something grabs you, gets your attention, is ‘talking’ to you? It’s rude not to pay attention, no? 
I had a French boyfriend when I was seventeen and he got me to read Jean Genet. You couldn’t get much less suburban Australian than that, could you? Genet’s philosophy was to take things that were vilified (including himself) and elevate them. Something there, perhaps, in my wanting to honour the humble and transform the mundane.