Tag Archives: Jonathan Goddard

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!

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/

Ballet Black is Back

Our editor Donald Hutera delves into the workings of Ballet Black, returning to Winchester for the second year in a row

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream" by Arthur Pita Photography: Bill Cooper
A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Arthur Pita
Photography: Bill Cooper

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.’

Since then the company has gradually attained a high-profile, earning acclaim, awards (including gongs from the dance section of Critics’ Circle for its outstanding repertory and as best independent company) and an avid fan-base. Among the chief reasons for its ascent is the calibre of dancing coupled with Pancho’s astute and truly impressive choice of choreographic commissions. The latter roster includes Irek Mukhamedov, Richard Alston, Shobana Jeyasingh, Liam Scarlett, Bawren Tavaziva, Henri Oguike, Christopher Hampson, Will Tuckett, Antonia Franceschi, Javier De Frutos, Mark Bruce and Jonathan Goddard. ‘When I began the company I was always the one inviting people to make ballets,’ Pancho explains, ‘but now we get a lot more asking us if they can create something.’

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.

Dogs Don't Do Ballet
Dogs Don’t Do Ballet

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?

A Dream Within a Midsummer Night's Dream" by Arthur Pita Photography: Bill Cooper
A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Arthur Pita
Photography: Bill Cooper

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.’

New Movement in Winchester

Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera interviews stellar dancer Jonathan Goddard in advance of two dance-based productions heading to Winchester this month and next…

Casting Traces, New Movement Collective
Casting Traces, New Movement Collective

Formed in 2009, New Movement Collective (NMC) is one of the more exciting things to happen to British dance in recent times. Jonathan Goddard is a founding member. Formerly associated with Scottish Dance TheatreRichard Alston Dance Company and Rambert Dance Company, Goddard holds the distinction of being the first contemporary dancer to win a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award as the year’s Best Male Dancer. This was in 2008, the same year he began a choreographic collaboration with fellow dancer (and NMC member) Gemma Nixon.

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?

Book cover of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy
Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy’

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.

Please Be Seated, New Movement Collective
Please Be Seated, New Movement Collective

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.