Tag Archives: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

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!

Spiritual Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DH: Are there already other performances in the offing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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/