Tag Archives: Rambert Dance Company

Staying Connected

Win Guide editor and national dance critic for The Times Donald Hutera interviews Yorke Dance Project’s Yolande Yorke-Edgell.

FIGURE GROUND - Yorke Dance Project
FIGURE GROUND – Yorke Dance Project. ©Pari Naderi

Founded by the dancer and choreographer Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Yorke Dance Project arrives at Theatre Royal Winchester on Tuesday, March 24 with a programme of work under the umbrella title Figure Ground. Outstanding, as Sanjoy Roy wrote in The Guardian. He also garnished his review with four stars. On the basis of my own viewing earlier this month of two dances on the bill, my colleague was not off the mark.

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.

Robert Cohan, Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Robert Cohan, Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

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!

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

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.

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

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?

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

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?

Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project ©Pari Naderi

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!

You can see Yorke Dance Project at Theatre Royal Winchester on Tuesday, March 24. Visit here: http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/figure-ground/

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.