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GOlive Winchester

GOlive Winchester
GOlive Winchester

GOlive Winchester 2015: Friday, July 24
By Donald Hutera

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.

Chesil Theatre
Chesil Theatre

Now, less than a week later (and on the heels of Just Dance, a Giant Olive production staged at Theatre Royal Winchester) comes a one-off gig at Chesil Theatre. Home of the Winchester Dramatic Society, formed over 150 years ago, this intimate, studio-style 75-seat space is superbly right for GOlive. Here’s why, plus a bit about what adventurous audience members can expect on July 24.

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.

Shane Shambhu
Shane Shambhu

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
Debbie Lee-Anthony

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 ©Eulanda Shead
Hanna Wroblewski ©Eulanda Shead

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.

Mara Vivas ©Fenia Kotsopoulou
Mara Vivas ©Fenia Kotsopoulou

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.

Hayley Barker
Hayley Barker

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.

Sarah Kent
Sarah Kent

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.

GOlive Winchester 2015
When: Friday, July 24 at 7.45pm.
Where: Chesil Theatre, Chesil Street, Winchester SO23 0HU.
Telephone booking: 0333 6600 3366 (booking fee applies to online and telephone sales)
Ticket enquiries only: 07527 471 539.
24-hour info line: 01962 867086.
Doors opens 30 minutes prior to performance.
www.chesiltheatre.org.uk / www.giantolive.com

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

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/

Win Guide to March

Lainston House
Lainston House

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.

Cream teas on the Watercress Line
Cream teas on the Watercress Line

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.

Captain Finn and the Pirate Dinosaurs
Captain Finn and the Pirate Dinosaurs

Les Petits Theatre’s Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs will be on offer for young theatre fans at the Theatre Royal between Wed 25th – Thurs 26th March (Wed 4pm & Thurs 1.30pm, 4pm).  And if you’re keen to ‘cultivate’ your kid, don’t forget to call into the City Museum, which has plenty available for children such as sorting artefacts like an archaeologist, brass rubbing, Anglo-Saxon pot design, quizzes and the opportunity to try on all sorts of period costumes and see what you’d look like as a Roman, a Saxon, a Victorian gent or an Edwardian lady. Adults welcome too! The museum has just acquired a large collection of locally collected archaeological items, due to go on display in Autumn 2015.

FIGURE GROUND - Yorke Dance Project
FIGURE GROUND – Yorke Dance Project

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.

Talking Murder with Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley
Lucy Worsley

Touring her current talk on murder, Lucy Worsley – author, TV presenter and Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces – visits the Theatre Royal, Winchester with a grizzly package of scintillating information that helps transport startling notions from the past into our own time.  Asked how she feels about such macabre subject matter, and what we might learn from it, Lucy explains that the 19th century saw a distinct rise in the fear of murder.

People began to get obsessed with the idea that they might be murdered, and you see that in Victorian art, fiction and theatre.  It’s a luxury, really, to be so free from care that you can afford to worry about something as inherently unlikely as being murdered.  It goes along with neurosis, paranoia and anxiety and all the other things we ‘enjoy’ about life in the modern city!”

Lucy Worsley has become a bit of a household name to students studying at The University of Winchester. Breaking a series of boundaries as a female historian and presenter, she has brought certain aspects of social history (such as wardrobe and dance) to the forefront, legitimising her choice of topics in academic circles.

Lucy stresses that Historic Royal Palaces is a charity.  Every penny that visitors spend on their admission ticket goes towards our conservation and education work; we don’t get any money from the government or the Royal Family.  So we have to make sure that the type of history we research will appeal to kids, families, tourists – a really wide range of people.  I like the challenge of using things people can really relate to – like lovely dresses – to open up the whole history of society.”

I ask Lucy how she feels about the rise in social history and how it will affect her work and the focus of her research.

“Because I work for Historic Royal Palaces people think I might only be interested in kings and queens, but I’ve always been drawn to people who are a bit marginal to the main story: the servants, the mistresses, the bit-part players.  What particularly interests me about kings and queens is the way that they tend to be the best-documented people of their day, and that you can really get under their skin as representative of Tudor, or Stuart, or Georgian people at large as well as heads of state.”

Accessibility is one of the core objective for Lucy’s unique choice of subject matter – from blogging about the cod-piece to presenting on the Royal Wardrobe. The diversity of media at her disposal, plus the balance between academic research and commercial output, is what makes her career unusual and inspiring to young historians, particularly as the rise in gender studies, social history, and accessibility are currently hotly debated. But for Lucy the emphasis has always been on curating:

Lucy Worsley
Lucy Worsley

I knew from the age of 18 that I wanted to work in the field of historic buildings as a curator, and I dedicated myself to achieving that like an Exocet missile.  The route I took was to work my way up through jobs as assistant curator and then as curator at English Heritage and Glasgow Museums, before joining Historic Royal Palaces ten years ago as Chief Curator.”

This grounding in academic research feeds both historic exhibitions and commercial projects. As she says, “Any exhibition, book or show arises out of research – the bread-and-butter day-to-day work of being a historian. By that I mean research into historic artefacts, research into an archive of documents or perhaps more active research like carrying out a re-creation or an investigation of a particular event or process.  So whether commercial or academic it comes from the same place.  For academic historians, it’s important that they publish their research in a peer-reviewed journal so that the world’s experts in that field can read it.  For a public historian, like me, the aim is more to intrigue a larger number of people to go on to learn more.”

As a fellow historian it’s comforting to hear that the processes applied both commercially and academically are similar. Perhaps Lucy Worsley is paving a path for the rest of us to strive for such varied careers. Tonight, aptly enough on Friday the 13th of February, you can catch her at the Theatre Royal , Winchester where she’ll demonstrate that murder – or the idea of it – has formed trends throughout history. The evening [editor’s note: which is, not surprisingly, now sold out] exemplifies the juicy material that can inspire historians and general audiences alike.

by Rebecca JS Nice

Visit www.lucyworsley.com for more information.

A Wayfarer’s Winchester

Winchester Guide editor Donald Hutera spends a few happy hours on the hoof in an exceptionally attractive city centre.

Walking about a city is akin to putting together a puzzle. The pleasure is seeing how the pieces fit together and into what kind of bigger picture they assemble themselves.

Winchester
Winchester

I didn’t plan to wander in whistle-stop fashion round the centre of Winchester on a late Tuesday afternoon in early October. In truth, I had no fixed plans at all other than to finish my three-hour teaching gig  at Winchester University (topic: critical writing, especially as it pertains to dance) and then meet this website’s co-founder, George Sallis, to discuss the future of our burgeoning dance and performance festival, GOlive. My session with a dozen or so bright second-years on the Uni’s dance course went well. How do I know? No one fell asleep, including me. Joking aside, the students were alert and attentive during what seemed to be a fun and, I trust, informative dialogue or exchange of thoughts, feelings and opinions about art-making and art-watching.

Afterwards I was unexpectedly free to go where I would at least for a few hours. Why? Because something had come up that meant George would be unavailable for a few hours. Did I mind? Not at all. Having visited Hat Fair in July I already knew how attractive Winchester is as a place to amble about in.

This, then, was the route I took on that particular day…

Peninsula Barracks
Peninsula Barracks

First, directly across from the entrance to the University, are spread the seven or so sloping acres of West Hill Cemetery. It’s a place worth exploring further, especially for an aficionado of final resting places like me. Then uphill to Peninsula Square, the location of former military barracks that have been converted into private flats surrounding an ample courtyard complete with fountains and greenery. Very picturesque it is, too.

Little did I know that just behind the Barracks is the Great Hall (accessed via a pretty little sliver of a back door garden) wherein the Round Table resides, and next to it the Law Courts. Fronting the latter is a large plaza cobbled in a circular pattern, which – can’t help this, given my career as a professional arts journalist turned curator – put me in mind of possibilities for outdoor performance. (The cobbled area and a neighbouring plaza were, in fact, utilised during Hat Fair.)

Winchester City Mill
Winchester City Mill

I took a moment to admire the local landmark that is the Butter Cross before popping into both the Discovery Centre (a library, exhibition and performance space all in one) and, just across the road, the chocolate box-like Theatre Royal. I veered back to the High Street. Down at the bottom of it, on the stretch of road known as Broadway, sits the Victorian-era Guildhall. I stuck my head into two of its adaptable halls, the King Charles and the Bapsy, both of which are available for hire. Not far away above the River Itchen is the City Mill, a working urban mill powered by the fast-flowing water and operated by the National Trust. They were just about to lock up, rendering this another place to which I’d willingly surrender an adequate amount of time.

The Chesil Theatre, just round the corner on Chesil Street, was shut. I rang the stage door bell but, alas, no answer. No matter. This meant I could backtrack a bit and mosey along The Weirs, a relaxing and even romantic riverside walkway through gardened grounds complete with benches for sitting or, in my observation, something more intimate judging by the passionate, lip-locked embrace of one unabashed young couple.

Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Turning onto College Street I spotted the entrance to Wolvesey Castle, the extensive ruins of which are overseen by English Heritage. Although it was already past the supposed closing time of 5pm I’m glad to say I was able to meander there for a good ten minutes or so. Situated next to Winchester Cathedral, the Old Bishop’s Palace (to use Wolvesey’s other, informal moniker) has been an important residence of the Bishops of Winchester since Anglo-Saxon times. The ruins date largely from the 12th-century and are mainly thanks to Bishop Henry of Blois. The English Heritage website states that ‘the last great occasion here was on 25 July 1554, when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain held their wedding breakfast in the East Hall.’ What history this piece of land and these stones must contain! I wasn’t there long but Wolvesey immediately shot into a prime position as a favorite and resonant place in Winchester, and one more to which I want to return.

Jane Austen's house
Jane Austen’s house

Further along College Street is Winchester College itself. According to Wikipedia, this boys’ school (ages 13-18) has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England. It can be toured, too, although not at 5.30pm. And so I strolled past Jane Austen’s house (where she spent her last days and died, but it’s a private residence and thus not open to the public) and on to the Cathedral for a mere five transportingly melodious minutes of the service known as Evensong. The sound of the choir singing far up at this resplendent building’s imposing centre was like a balm, but I had a dinner date at the Hotel du Vin on Southgate Street.

Hotel du Vin
Hotel du Vin

This handsome building dates back to 1715. Next time I ought to take a look at a few of the rooms, but I was there principally to wine and dine with George from a three-course set menu costing £19.95 per person. It was a case of decent food at a good price accompanied by smart service and in elegant surroundings. It’s worth drifting out into the back garden, an area lit by strands of white lights and anchored by a small fountain with fish swimming in its gently splashing waters.  They can’t have been much more content than me with my full belly and a head full of Winchester’s eminently accessible wonders.

By Donald Hutera

A Nice Little Project

Rebecca JS Nice previews choreographer Debbie Lee-Anthony’s piece A Nice Little Project.

Debbie Lee-Anthony
Debbie Lee-Anthony

A warm welcome to The Winchester Guide! I’ll be sharing my perspectives from high up on the hill at the university and down to the depths of the cathedral crypt. En route I hope to accomplish two things: uncover historical secrets about medieval Winchester, and discover quirky performances, events and local arts practitioners who are beavering away unnoticed.

The University of Winchester is my second home. Please allow me to introduce it to you as an inviting public space, rather than as a place for rowdy students who keep the city up all night. The Uni hosts an array of seminars (on subjects ranging from medieval history to criminology) and organises international writing conferences. Professional dance companies perform in its studio theatre. The Chapel on campus in particular is an unusual venue; often used for professional theatre, it should be identified with far more than its religious functions. The Chapel was designed by local architects Colson and Son of Jewry Street. It was consecrated in 1881 by The Bishop of Winchester who, quite fittingly, used the text from St Matthew: “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”. It’s a motto that we at The Winchester Guide can certainly claim as ours.

Make Every Word Hurt #1 is a night of cabaret-style entertainment to be unveiled in the Chapel on June 26, 6.30-8.30pm, and theoretically ideal for anyone who fancies a glass of wine and some laugh-filled live performance. With any free small-scale event, however, it’s often a punt as to the quality of experience you’ll have. Nevertheless in A Nice Little Project the choreographer/performer Debbie Lee-Anthony promises to question and provoke audiences about a subject anyone can relate to: being nice (or not, as the case may be). She’ll use speech, autobiography, audience contributions and dance to investigate this appealing theme. The intimate setting of the Chapel might well be the perfect environment for Lee-Anthony and her audience to engage in a dialogue, no doubt helped along by a little libation and the light-hearted nature of the work itself.

Debbie animatedly discusses the future of the arts in Winchester, a topic close to her heart as she also lectures at the university. “There are graduates based in the city now,’ she enthuses, “working with Wessex Dance Academy, Integr8 Dance and other project-based performance work who need to be encouraged, nurtured and offered opportunities.” She notes the popularity of festivals such as Winchester Hat Fair, stating that “performances are here all year round but people don’t know about them or aren’t encouraged to come out for them”. This is a gap The Winchester Guide intends to fill, informing our readers of as many outstanding arts events – whether one-off or ongoing, small or large-scale – as we possibly can.

But back to Lee-Anthony. She’s on a high right now, having just won the Senate Learning and Teaching Award 2014 for knowledge exchange at The University of Winchester. In a few weeks she will be attending the Impulse Tanz 2014 in Vienna, studying with Forsythe company dancer Nicole Peisl and ex-Limon dancer Risa Steinbuerg. Lee-Anthony’s passion and drive for performance, and her uncanny ability to connect individually with audience members, makes now a prime time to catch her in performance.

Billed as a pop-up-poetry event by Creative Connections at The University of Winchester, Make Every Word Hurt #1 will be followed the next day, June 27, by a free symposium called Make Every Word Hurt #2 (location: on campus at the Stripe Lecture Theatre, 10am-3pm). Various papers will be given by writers, academics and poets, lunch and coffee will be provided. For more information please email Vanessa.Harbour@winchester.ac.uk

Writer, dance critic, history geek and Winchy lover. Rebecca is a mature student at The University of Winchester studying Choreography and Dance combined with History. After teaching for eight years, she now writes for various publications and blogs about dance and all things arty-farty, whilst drinking copious amounts of tea and day dreaming in Winchester’s many café windows. @rebeccajsnice