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.
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.
Ask Cassa Pancho, the artistic director of Ballet Black, what her dreams and plans for the company are and she answers, ‘To keep going.’ It might sound simple, maybe even glib, but behind the succinct reply is a vast amount of sheer hard graft.
Pancho, who is of Trinidadian and British parentage, studied classical ballet at the Royal Academy. Upon graduating, and having noted a dearth of people of colour either studying or working professionally in the ballet sphere, she decided to address this alarming omission by starting a company of her own. The result was Ballet Black, founded in 2001 with a mission to ‘provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet.’
Here at The Winchester Guide we’re partial to Ballet Black, having worked with the company in the summer of 2009 on the production POP8 at the Giant Olive Theatre. It seems that audiences in Winchester may be likewise favourably inclined, given that the company’s upcoming performances at the Theatre Royal Nov 28 (triple bill, 7.30pm) and 29 (family show Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, 2pm and 4.30pm) constitutes its second visit to the venue. With any luck, this might well develop into an annual occurrence.
Pancho, not unnaturally, enjoys sharing information what the work the company is doing. As do the choreographers she invites to create on her dancers. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call it a mutual admiration society.
Consider Martin Lawrance, a long-time associate (as both dancer and dance-maker) of Richard Alston’s company. The curtain-raising Limbo is the third time that he’s made work for Ballet Black, following the 2009 duet Pendulum and the quartet Captured three years later. Pancho deems his new work, a trio about being caught between life and death, ‘fiendishly difficult and exhausting to dance – but worth it!’
Lawrance, for his part, has a high regard for Ballet Black’s dancers. ‘They can do everything,’ he enthuses. ‘How can I get them to do things better, by which I mean push them in a different way?’ The result, set to Hindemeth’s fastidiously dramatic Viola Sonata, is a dark, dynamic piece that fulfils Lawrance’s creative brief to mine human feeling out of motion. ‘You make movement,’ he says, explaining his approach to choreography. ‘I don’t go into the studio with a dramatic idea. I just see where the phrases lead, but as it turns out that can be done poetically.’
Sharing the first half of Friday’s evening bill with Lawrance’s Limbo is Two of a Kind by dancer (including with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) turned chorographer Christopher Marney. Pancho describes it as ‘a beautiful quartet set to Ravel and Tchaikovsky, exploring the theme of one woman’s internal journey through the course of a changing relationship.’ This work has been expanded from its original state as an eight-minute pas de deux fashioned for a Ballet Black fundraiser in 2009.
Two of a Kind is the second dance Marney’s made for the company, after having scored a hit with War Letters last year. But it doesn’t stop there. Marney is also responsible for Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, based on Anna Kemp’s best-selling children’s book about, in Pancho’s words, ‘a little dog who thinks he’s a ballerina and doesn’t want to do anything but dance. The company really enjoys working with Chris as his choreography is incredibly inventive, funny and touching – all the things that make the book so special.’ Pancho is pleased because, as she says, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a ballet for families to enjoy together.’
Another important aspect of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, she adds, is that it marks the first time Ballet Black is using a set. Is it any wonder that Marney’s scheduled to make another work for the company in 2016?
That only leaves Arthur Pita’s Olivier and Critics’ Circle-nominated ensemble piece A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be discussed. ‘I’d wanted to work with Arthur for a while,’ Pancho confesses, ‘and when he suggested a Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s turned on its head I jumped at the chance. We have an incredible catalogue of ballets, but for our fourth narrative work I wanted to try something less traditional and really give the dancers a challenge. Arthur’s created a pure gem of a ballet for us, traditional in one sense – it’s our first time with tutus! – but just as you think you’re going to see something very classical he pulls the rug out from under you. The music includes Eartha Kitt, Handel, Jeff Buckley, Yma Sumac and Barbara Streisand, to name a few. Arthur has a true gift for weaving these things together to make one of my all-time favourite BB ballets. It feels like a real piece of theatre. We’ve toured it around the UK and Italy, and audiences are loving it.’
You could hardly ask for a more heart-felt and articulate endorsement than that. Still, it’s worth finding out what it meant to Pita himself to create the piece. For starters, he really appreciates that with this 25-minute work for eight dancers he was able to take a risk. ‘The first section of the piece is a ballet with tutus, tights, pointe shoes and the works – something I’d never done. I’m totally fascinated by the laws of the tutu and how they marry to a balletic vocabulary. It was wonderful collaborating with designer Jean-Marc Puissant who has such vast knowledge about tutus. I learned so much about the atheistic of ballet generally, and the dancers were so encouraging. I’d also just come out of doing a darker piece prior to working with Ballet Black, and so I felt the need to do something lighter and have some fun with the dancers.’
Pita says his goal was ‘to create a ballet in which rules can be broken and mended within the laws of classical ballet and theatre.’ But his intentions towards his source material remained honourable. ‘I’ve always loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the Indian boy way back in the English National Opera’s production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, and I remember thinking how well the narrative lent itself to dance and music. Shakespeare provides much mischief and glorious images to play with, yet there’s an honesty in all of the characters’ desire. It’s not faithful, but it’s certainly inspired by the world of Shakespeare’s Dream. It’s an adaptation of the idea, hence the title. The images of the narrative are there, but the journey to them is different.’
Asked to pinpoint what the pleasure of working with Ballet Black is, Pita replies, ‘It’s the passion they have for their work. They work in a tiny space in Marylebone, and I mean tiny, and only have a big studio once a week at the Royal Opera House. Somehow, with love and compassion, they manage with no complaints. There’s a joyous atmosphere in the studio. And Cassa gives herself fully. She cares so much about the company and what it stands for. She’s kept the company going with only a little support from Arts Council England, but has gone from strength to strength.’
Based at Marylebone Dance Studio in London, Ballet Black occupies a unique place on the British dance scene and Pancho is rightly proud of it. ‘We’ve achieved many things over the years. Our main goal was and is to inspire more children and dancers of black or Asian heritage to take up ballet in some form.’ To that end, she says, ‘We have a thriving school for children that’s packed with students of all colours; they come to the performances, take classes, and pass ballet exams. Another goal was going from being a part-time group to a full-time professional company over fourteen years. We’ve won two Critics’ Circle awards (plus three nominations) and have toured extensively throughout the UK, Italy and Bermuda. Our entirely original repertoire of over 30 ballets by over 25 choreographers is also quite rare.’ While Pancho admits that ‘a lack of substantial, regular money makes it challenging to plan too far ahead,’ she remains determined and optimistic about the company’s future. ‘I don’t like to think that anything can hold us back.’
As a longtime professional dance critic for The Times and many other publications and websites, I’m a firm fan of Goddard. He’s currently touring the UK as popular culture’s most celebrated bloodsucker in choreographer Mark Bruce’s shivery take on Dracula (a production that won a South Bank Sky Arts Award for dance). I’m also keen on New Movement Collective, especially after having seen them in action in Nest. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, and staged as a multi-media promenade performance in a converted church on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, this dance-based NMC production was a cultural highlight of 2013. That year the company brought a film installation performance to The Discovery Centre, Winchester. Conceived by visual artist Graham Gussin and featuring six dancers, Close Protection was a three-screen work using the same night vision technology employed by combat camera teams.
Now, this very month and next, NMC is back in Winchester with two productions. The first is a remounting of ‘Casting Traces‘, a 50-minute site-specific performance first seen in a former London dairy in 2012. Presented at Winchester’s historic Guildhall (October 23-25 at 7.30pm, with additional shows at 5.30pm Friday and 2.30pm Saturday), the piece melds movement, film, light and music all in a paper maze environment. ‘Casting Traces‘ could serve as a valuable sort of prelude to NMC’s newest work ‘Please Be Seated’ (November 8, 8.30pm at Theatre Royal Winchester), an ambitious one-off that transfers to London’s Southbank Centre a few days later. But then ambitious – as well as inventive and innovative – could be deemed among NMC’s top creative watchwords.
Donald Hutera: How is New Movement Collective run, meaning how does a many-talented-headed beast like this actually operate?
Jonathan Goddard: The collective is set up as a co-operative of eleven individual choreographers who come together in different formations and groupings to work on projects with exciting collaborators from other creative disciplines. On a day-to-day level there’s a core team of members that keep the company engine running in-between projects. Many of us double up and take on other roles apart from that of performers and choreographers. We’ve worked to acquire other skills such as producing, marketing or graphic design, trying to understand all aspects of what we’re creating to see if there are any ways we can do things differently.
DH: What role do you think NMC fills in either the UK or wider, global dance ecology?
JG: NMC is trying to explore and develop how dance can be experienced, challenging some of the existing structures for presentation and creation. We work collaboratively and take collective responsibility for our work, allowing us to function more like a design house or architectural practice than a traditional repertory company or choreographer-led ensemble. An entrepreneurial approach means we can shift and change, working with the right people to give the best result for each individual project.
DH: What are the risks and/or rewards of presenting work outside of London?
JG: We’re always looking for architecturally interesting or unusual places to conceive or develop work. It’s exciting to feel as if we’re exposing hidden corners of a city or town, and liberating as creators to use architecture as a stimulus or catalyst. We often present work internationally with events developed during our involvement with the Architectural Association. The challenges of touring our larger NMC work are the costs involved, and the difficulty of being able to develop an audience without regular yearly visits.
DH: Where is NMC’s home base or headquarters, and where do the works tend to get created at least initially?
JG: Our members are quite spread out across the UK and Europe so we don’t actually really have any set company base. In the past, productions have been created in London because of our links with Rambert Dance Company and the opportunity to use their studio spaces when not occupied, but our most recent work ‘Please Be Seated’ was made in Valencia, Spain as this was the easiest and cheapest for the most amount of people to be in one place at one time.
DH: How is the work created? Obviously with the core team plus guest performers and collaborators, but who leads or steers a project?
JG: It’s an interesting question. We never considered making work collectively until we began developing ideas as tutors at the Architectural Association on their Interprofessional Studio. There we research, create and design a series of yearly spatial project-events that aim to defy categorisation and stimulate debate. This ongoing academic practice leads us to different ways of thinking about creation, and through it we’ve found ways of developing ideas together and creating successful networks across creative disciplines to develop the content for each show. In practical terms at any given time one person steers or leads the group or how the group makes decisions, but who occupies this role isn’t set and this can organically change very quickly. We’ve found a high level of concentration and stamina is needed to work in this way, but the filter the group provides during the creative process is always challenging and invigorating.
DH: How much of a time commitment can be made to NMC when many of you seem to have a lot else going on?
JG: Commitment between members fluctuates. We try to schedule time and look ahead for the big projects but it’s definitely challenging with our busy schedules. Outside projects are vital to allow us to work together and not feel stifled. The company also benefits from the exposure and experiences members bring back from outside commitments. It is, however, challenging to get us all in one place at the same time! I’ve no idea how this’ll evolve in the future, but it’s good that we aren’t trying to fit into any idea of existing company structure. Instead we’re creating something that works for all of us as artists and friends and best serves the type of work we choose to make together.
DH: I don’t know Paul Auster’s trilogy. How much of a springboard was that book, and why did you choose it as source matieral? Also, what did you learn from making that debut piece?
JG: Generally with our creative processes we work with lots of different disciplines and collaborators, so there’s a need for a strong structure or map that everyone can hold onto to guide us through. For our debut piece ‘Casting Traces’ we settled on Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and, more specifically, the first book of the trilogy City of Glass. The idea for the show initially came from the venue. We were commissioned by the architect Will Alsop to propose a show for an ex-dairy factory event space he helped co-run and curate in Battersea called TestBed1. Our first thoughts were to create a paper maze in the space to alter and explore the perspectives of the audience. From this came the idea that the observer would have to play detective, which in turn led us to the noir meta-fiction of Auster’s fantastic novel.
In doing this piece we learnt that total audience freedom can be a dividing concept. We originally allowed viewers to explore a space and watch the show from whatever perspective they chose. From feedback we gathered that roughly 50% of our audience loved the opportunity to create their own experience, and the other half wanted to be presented set frames of action un-obscured by fellow moving observers. We’ve since sought to create a theatrical structure that uses the physical architecture created by the maze itself to make an experience which seeks to get the best of both worlds.
DH: If Casting Traces had a smell, touch and taste (and you can pluralise these) what would it/they be?
JG: If Casting Traces had a smell I think it would be that of the perfume of someone who’s just left, or it would be something you couldn’t quite grasp like steam rising from a vent. If I had to give it a taste it would maybe be something clean like a gin martini served in an unusual glass late at night, and somewhere you wouldn’t expect to be drinking it.
DH: How is the piece being adapted for or tailored to The Guildhall in Winchester?
Casting Traces is re-imaginged and re-designed for each venue on a tour. We work alongside architect Elin Eyborg to design the maze each time to best suit the space and its characteristics. Staging the show in The Guildhall in Winchester will be quite an intimate and concentrated experience. It’ll be interesting to see how the history of the building affects the tone of the work. We also have some fantastic new dancers joining the cast, so it’ll be exciting to see how they develop and adapt the work with their take on the material.
DH: Please tell me more about ‘Please Be Seated’: the concept behind the production, and how these aims and intentions are going to be realised…
JG:‘Please be Seated’ is our new work for 2014. It’s the first piece we’ve made as a collective for a traditional theatre space. We’re working on the project with the furniture designer Jutta Friedrichs, sound artist Ben Houge and lighting designer Yaron Abulfia. We took as our starting point the absurdity in group organisations, and the challenges of political and architectural structures. We previewed the piece earlier this year in Valencia, Spain where it went down well. We’re showing a brand-new version of the work tailored to the Theatre Royal Winchester before taking it to the Southbank’s Purcell Room in London. Having set ourselves up as group of creators working outside the theatre space, we’re quite excited to try and subvert that by seeing what happens if we explore traditional venues in unconventional ways. The dancing as always will be athletic and intriguing, and again we have some great performers new to NMC who’ll bring their own unique stamp to the work.
Tipped by Dance Europe as one of 2014’s highlights on the Dance scene, GOlive made its way to Winchester for one night at Winchester University in what will be the first of many visits…
Imaginations Flowing: A Review of GOlive at Winchester University – September 16, 2014
Since the birth of the GOlive Dance and Performance Festival in September 2013 at the Giant Olive Theatre, Kentish Town, its topsy-turvy programme has provided a platform for both new and returning artists back-to-back with an average of five different ‘acts’ per night. This autumn the multi-disciplinary festival presented mixed bills on nine nights over a two-week period in London, plus an additional evening hosted by The University of Winchester on September 16.
The low-key, rough-and-ready nature of GOlive gives it an edge, with artists being showcased in a wonderfully intimate but exposing way. Each evening is entirely unique, presenting a lucky dip of works-in-progress, excerpts of longer shows or short and snappy finished pieces. But it’s the curation of twenty-minute or so works of all sorts that gives this festival its power. With such variety and juxtaposition in GOlive’s palm, its audiences are bombarded with enquiring and thinking pieces that allow for new ‘ways of seeing’ (to quote John Berger) via their order on the programme.
Mamoru Iriguchi introduced his semi-biographical work-in-progress [working title: Marlene Backwards] as a play on the three standard dimensions but with the addition of a fourth – time. Using spoken text and a series of video projections broken by time, space or Iriguchi’s own face as a centrepiece, he distorted the linear narrative of German actress/singer Marlene Dietrich’s life. In this manner Iriguchi exposed the facades created by technology – facades that are easily perceived as absolute through a camera lens. It was when his own technology failed him – and as he moved in and out of character – that Iriguchi’s clunky, awkwardly stop-start performance gained what I believe to be its ‘real’ extra dimension: the falling in and out of perceived reality. As a recording of the same performance (given previously in Germany) was played in reverse, the piece’s formal and visual elements became the focus alongside a screaming sense of dislocation in time, place, and language. Iriguchi was effectively reminding us how fallible, changeable and interlinked our constructed realities and technologies are.
Debbie Lee-Anthony’s reworked autobiographical solo A nice little project (shown in Winchester Chapel at Every Word HurtsonJune 26, 2014) returned for several nights at GOlive in London, plus this one-off in Winchester. After handing out biscuits, Lee-Anthony took the audience through a nostalgic sharing of all things nice whilst also exploring the psychological implications of ‘nice’ people. Honest recollection of negative responses to her actions and personality revealed undertones of suffocation and frustration. In other words, Lee-Anthony relived the emotions associated with these experiences whilst describing them through words and dance. The audience was drawn into the dialogue by sharing mutual scenarios of ‘niceness,’ something that would strengthen the unsettling nature of the piece if it were to reoccur as Lee-Anthony’s themes became darker and yet more academic – thus creating possible moments of self-reflection for us.
Hayley Barker (an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) brought her second piece Venus to GOlive, a work-in-progress that casually invited the audience to observe closely this doll-like redhead as she grinned and grimaced, chewed, preened and agitated. Several times Barker snacked from a bag of nuts whilst accumulating a jolting movement vocabulary into a distorted, grotesque version of herself. Clear motions were repeated, building up a dynamic tension and a sense of expectation that remained unfulfilled due to this short work’s sudden finish. As Hutera later commented to Barker, ‘I wondered if we’d see you vomit those nuts over the stage.’ Plainly a massive explosion of some kind was anticipated, or possibly a handful of nuts greedily gobbled, dribbled and spat out; there was a mess to be made, or a purging of movement both ugly and cathartic and blurring the line between satisfaction and self-loathing. But the sudden stop to Barker’s piece was powerful in itself, and perhaps said more about the urges and longings that were left in the spectator’s imaginations. Was it not brave of Barker to end her work there and refuse to give the audience its climax? I think so.
Nuno Silva and Sabio Janiak are two other GOlive alumni imported from London to Winchester. In this piece Silva serenaded the audience, some of whom were invited to sit in the round onstage in close proximity to the performers and their instruments. The magnetising Silva quietly introduced each fado, illuminating the Portuguese national song just enough to set imaginations flowing as we reclined into a candlelit world of music at once soulful and comforting as a lullaby. Silva’s constantly circling choreography and intensity as a singer and dancer was trance-inducing. Janiak’s complete concentration creating live music with voice and multi-instrumentals was equally mesmerising. Their collaboration created a whirlwind of emotion, transporting this spectator into another realm.
Sarah Kent, a familiar face in GOlive, brought the house down as she always does. Engaging in a performance ‘conversation’ with her is unpredictable and chancy. Kent’s stream-of-consciousnessis structured and knowing but risks being never-ending. Batty as ever, funny, naughty and completely unabashed, her improvised form of ‘action theatre’ drew in this instance on features of the theatrical and architectural space as she evoked memories and stories from her past. From high-pitched wails to car engines to on-the-spot singing, her use of voice in Winchester was powerful and solidly dependable.
To sum up, GOlive never fails to intrigue and catch you unawares. There’s an oddness of character about this festival which makes each outing – whether in Kentish Town or Winchester – so interesting. Wherever you see GOlive, and on whatever night, you’re guaranteed to laugh, question your own assumptions and be surprised. Hosted by the University, the ‘one-night stand’ in Winchester occurred at what is only the beginning of the festival’s second year of existence. What a treat it was to view both London and local artists together. Curator Donald Hutera’s ‘troupe’ was honest and humble during a post-show talk where the works we’d just seen were dissected and unpicked. Each artist was passionate and eloquent about his or her intentions and process, valuing the dialogue with the audience. With any luck GOlive’s visit to Winchester will turn out to be the first of many to the city…
The name GOlive is derived from the place of origin of the first festival: the Giant Olive Theatre in London, located in the heart of Kentish Town at the Lion and Unicorn. GOlive was launched there a year ago this month as a 21-day marathon showcasing the work of 57 individuals or companies (or, tabulated another way, 98 artists altogether). The festival then returned this past spring in a more selective ‘headliners plus special guests’ format. Now it’s back in yet another guise as GOlive/GOlab. The emphasis during this current laboratorial version is on works-in-progress, which means the presence of anyone in the room can potentially influence a show’s future development. [For the record, the remaining London performance dates are September 13, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 21 at 7.30pm. Admission is by donation (£5 suggested) but all are welcome. Full details available at www.giantolive.com or via Twitter: @GiantOlive and Facebook]
Enough about London! What’s up with GOlive in Winchester? Thanks to a nascent association with the good people at Winchester University, the festival is happily going ‘on the road’ for one night only. The plan is to present five ‘acts’ in two different black box theatre spaces on campus starting at 7pm on September 16. The evening is part of a roster of activities for new students, but anyone who’s interested will be warmly welcome – and, from my perspective, positively encouraged – to attend. I’m both tickled and thrilled that GOlive is, in effect, now on tour (and this without benefit of government or any other form of subsidy aside from the in-kind generosity of the University’s Faculty of Arts).
I’ll close with a thumbnail description of each of the works on offer that evening, and the gifted people who created them. Enjoy reading and, ideally, venturing out to the University campus to actually see the entire show. It’s likely to be a most scintillating night…
Independent movement artist Hayley Barker (also an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) creates structured improvisations built imaginatively from real and fictional people/stories. In the work-in-progress ‘Venus’ (working title) she considers the history of human exhibitions, voyeurism and contemporary pop culture’s obsession with the body. (10 mins approx.)
The designer/performer Mamoru Iriguchi likes using lo-fi, DIY technology to blur actual and virtual realities, usually with an inventively droll sense of humour. For this edition of GOlive he’ll be testing out nascent ideas, asking what’s live and what (if anything) is eternally fixed… (20 mins)
The highly-regarded ex-Time Out visual arts critic turned fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15) lays herself on the line in a defiant piece of action-theatre called ‘No Holds Barred.’ (15-20 mins max)
A dancer and choreographer who trained at The Place, Debbie Lee-Anthony is a senior lecturer at the University of Winchester. Her current focus is solo autobiographical performance. Taking notions of niceness as a theme, ‘A nice little project’ is a series of intimate danced and spoken vignettes designed to engage, provoke and entertain. (20 mins)
Multi-talented Nuno Silva (singer, dancer, actor and the fulcrum of Nu Music and Dance) and multi-instrumentalist/composer Sabio Janiak develop further a fusion of contemporary dance, fado (Portugal’s national song style) and electronic/live music first unveiled at GOlive 2013. (15-20 mins) Twitter: @nnunoev
by Donald Hutera
The arts & culture guide for the city of Winchester in Hampshire.
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