Richard Alston At Home at The Place

Posted: December 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston At Home at The Place

Richard Alston Dance Company, Alston At Home at The Place, November 28

Elly Braund in Alston's Red Run
Elly Braund in Richard Alston’s Red Run (photo: Chris Nash)

Richard Alston was one of the first dancers, along with Siobhan Davies, whom the dance enthusiast and philanthropist Robin Howard invited in 1968 to the building that would become The Place. Howard invited Robert Cohan to be the first artistic director of the school and to ‘form a dance company based on love’. Howard drew up a list of objectives for The Place, including ‘to use the universal language of dance to break down social, political, linguistic and other barriers’ and that ‘its standards should never, for any reason, be allowed to decline.’ It was left to Cohan to embody these objectives, both at the school and in London Contemporary Dance Company, and since the company’s demise in 1994 it has been the aim of Richard Alston’s resident company to maintain them. While keeping the school running, The Place has now seen the formation and dissolution of two resident companies, which is hardly an incentive to students in a performing art. Whatever the reason for closing Alston’s company, the cause is clearly not the company’s current form.

Alston At Home is a fifty-year perspective, from Alston’s very first choreography in 1969 — the solo and duet from Nowhere Slowly — to his latest, Bari, made for graduating students from London Contemporary Dance School. In between there is another early work, Blue Schubert Fragments (1972), something from the intermediate period, Red Run (1998), and two relatively recent works, Isthmus, made for Bob Lockyer’s birthday celebration in 2012, and Martin Lawrance’s Detour (2018). In addition, to mark the centenary of Alston’s mentor, Merce Cunningham, the evening includes two of the solos from the Cunningham Centennial Solos program presented earlier this year at the Barbican. The program is not only a retrospective but a clear mark of Alston’s appreciation to everything The Place has meant to him over the past 25 years. A visual artist of similar renown would be able to hold a retrospective in a single gallery over a period of time; as a choreographer, Alston’s retrospective extends over three programs in various venues, the last of which will be Sadler’s Wells on March 7 and 8 next year. 

What this program shows are Alston’s choreographic building blocks and their spatial development over time. The solo and duet from Nowhere Slowly has a simple structure with classically derived shapes and torsions and a clean sense of line. Set to Terry Riley’s music, there is a Cunningham influence in that what happens is what happens, no more no less. Two years later Alston approaches the adagio of Schubert’s quartet Death and the Maiden with more complexity; Blue Schubert Fragments is choreographed as if each of the six dancers is a solo instrument. Such emotional music can overpower a choreographic response to it, but here Alston extracts a spatial harmony from the integrated texture of the score.

In Bari, the folk-inspired music of South Italian pizzica has a buoyancy and energy — the traditional dance was conceived as an antidote to poisonous spider bites in the field — that the London Contemporary Dance School students relish. So does Alston, who smiles his way through the work with an infectious confidence. 

Alston contributed two works to Lockyer’s birthday bash in 2012, one of which was Isthmus, a quartet for two women and two men to Jo Kondo’s intimate, intricate score. The choreographic shapes are evocative of the earlier works but Alston’s adhesion to the musical rhythms creates a work with the rapid dynamics and sharp spatial patterns that define it. 

Martin Lawrance’s Detour moves up the program order of the evening due to a last-minute replacement of an injured Elly Braund by Hannah Kidd. As a former dancer in the company and the current associate choreographer, Lawrance is clearly an important influence on Alston, and vice versa. Detour, created to Akira Miyoshi’s percussive Ripple for solo marimba, uses elements of Alston’s vocabulary but submits it to an aggressive, virile energy that wrenches it apart. Calm returns after the intermission, with the Cunningham solos that revel in space and chance; Siobhan Davies is perfectly attuned to it in her mysterious dialogue with the air around her while Kidd’s more grounded contribution joins the physical to the aleatory. 

Red Run jolts us back to the energy levels of Lawrance but in responding to Heiner Goebbels’ Nine Songs for Eleven Instruments Alston employs a sense of luxuriant and fast-paced playfulness that challenges the musicality and technical proficiency of the six dancers. It finishes, ironically for this occasion, with a suggestion of death. 

Yorke Dance Project in Twenty at Clore Studio

Posted: May 27th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yorke Dance Project in Twenty at Clore Studio

Yorke Dance Project, Twenty, Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House, May 16

Yorke Dance Project in Playground
Yorke Dance Project in Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground (photo: Pari Naderi)

Yorke Dance Project is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a choreographic landscape that ranges from a revival of a work by Sir Kenneth MacMillan to new works by Robert Cohan, Sophia Stoller and company founder, Yolande Yorke-Edgell. This landscape contains within it other landscapes, for Cohan, as an early Martha Graham dancer, sees his ever-present mentor in the distance and quotes from an earlier work of his own, while Yorke-Edgell revisits some of the choreographers who have influenced and inspired her, notably Richard Alston, Bella Lewitsky and Cohan himself. 

MacMillan’s Playground from 1979 is very much in the foreground for its visual imagery, its rhythmic cohesion with the music of Gordon Crosse and the spatial richness of its groupings. From Gordon Anthony’s photographs in the program of the original set, Yolanda Sonnabend had created a sense of oppression through the suggestion of a wire mesh cage; for Yorke Dance in the Clore Studio, Charlotte MacMillan has reimagined a more portable industrial fencing that might surround a building site. Seeing Playground is to be reminded how uncompromising MacMillan was in portraying the seamy side of social and ethical questions that classical ballet rarely if ever treats. And although he uses the visual stimulus of costumes and set, he tells his story principally through a masterful handling of classical technique in the tortured image of a twentieth-century zeitgeist. The playground of the title comes from Crosse’s score, Play Ground, but it also refers to an enclosed, isolated world in which adults dressed as school children play out their noxious games of rivalry and jealousy under the watchful eye of two clinicians in white. The issues of madness, sanity and debilitating neurological disease — the principal girl, like MacMillan’s mother, has epilepsy — are close to the surface and unresolved, giving the work its unsettling character. There are two principal characters — The Girl with Makeup and The Youth — and a large supporting cast for which Yorke Dance invited a number of guests. Oxana Panchenko alternates with Romany Pajdak as the Girl while Jordi Calpe Serrats alternates with Jonathan Goddard as the Youth. The production is given added credibility by the assistance of Susie Crow and Stephen Wicks from the original cast and Jane Elliott as notator; the power of the choreography comes through even if the images of distress at its centre are not always fully realized. 

Coming at the beginning of the program, Playground overshadows the remaining works for different reasons. Stoller’s Between and Within is created on two couples (Edd Mitton, Freya Jeffs, Dane Hurst and Abigail Attard Montalto) whose all too familiar choreographic vocabulary fails to explore with any clarity the relationship between them while Justin Scheid’s composition accompanies the dancers without becoming involved in the choreography. It’s a well-crafted work but lacks the visual and emotional signals that give dance meaning. 

At the age of 94, it is perhaps not surprising that Robert Cohan’s new work, Communion, looks into the past for inspiration, but it’s a little too far for the current cast to fully comprehend. Communion’s aesthetic is a minimalist ritual celebration that Cohan’s old friend and lighting designer John B. Reid has lit superbly. Both the choreography and the lighting seem to take their inspiration from the heavenward aspirations of a gothic cathedral and could indeed be performed in one; there is a pull in the choreography between heaven and earth — as in Martha Graham’s work — in which the dancers are held back from ascending only by the force of their gravity. In the secular scale of the Clore Studio, however, the muscular presence of the dancers in shorts and sleeveless tops leads aspiration into a rather lackadaisical disenchantment, especially in the formal patterns of walking. The music was intended to be shared between MuOM, Barcelona Overtone Singing Choir and Nils Frahm, which might have provided a more spiritual aural space than the unexplained substitute of MuOM by an additional selection of Frahm’s rather saccharine piano mixes. 

Yorke-Edgell’s Imprint is a new work for her company’s anniversary celebration, created ‘from the imprint of a purely physical memory’ of the work of different choreographers over the course of her dance career. She uses the form of pastiche in choreography, music and recorded text to honour her mentors but channelling five composers and three choreographers through the bodies of fifteen dancers can only be sustained in a spirit of celebration. The imprint of her solo for Freya Jeffs, however, carries an element of truth that endures.

Yorke Dance Project’s Figure Ground: A Tribute to Robert Cohan

Posted: March 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yorke Dance Project’s Figure Ground: A Tribute to Robert Cohan

Yorke Dance Project, Figure Ground, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, March 10

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in rehearsal (photo: © Pari Naderi)

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in rehearsal (photo: © Pari Naderi)

A lot of attention is being paid to choreographer Robert Cohan as he approaches his ninetieth birthday: there’s a biography by Paul Jackson, The Last Guru – Robert Cohan’s Life in Dance; a birthday celebration at The Place at the end of March and these performances of new and old work by Cohan performed by Yolande Yorke-Edgell and her company Yorke Dance Project. Cohan studied dance at the Martha Graham School and joined the Graham company in 1946, becoming a soloist and partnering Graham herself. You can’t get much closer to the sources of modern dance than that. At the invitation of Robin Howard in 1967 Cohan came to London to pass on his experience and knowledge as the founding artistic director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) for which he created works for 20 years. On The Place website there is a wonderful photograph of him in the rehearsal studio, with an intense, intelligent expression that somehow captures the excitement of those early years of contemporary dance in England.

The first of Cohan’s works on the program is Canciones del Alma, set to a poem of the 16th century mystic St John of the Cross by composer Geoffrey Burgon. It cannot be anything but a spiritual work with the poem’s vocabulary of the ‘living flame of love’, ‘tender wounds of the soul’, ‘deep caverns of feeling’, and the ‘tender swelling of the heart’. Cohan clearly feels this text profoundly and his choreography is the vessel for that feeling. Like Graham’s work, the shapes come from and are inhabited by the deeply felt emotion of the performer and the cohesion of the choreography depends on the sequence and flow of emotions. Yorke-Edgell performed Canciones del Alma last year in the same theatre and she evoked movingly a battle between divine love and the wounds it imposed. At the very end she resolved it in a final gesture of cupped hands to her womb that seemed to free both her and the work. On Tuesday the emotional coherence wasn’t as apparent and the work remained unresolved. There was indeed a heaviness in the evening’s performance that capped the level of emotional intensity.

Even Charlotte Edmonds’ intelligent work, No Strings Attached, lacked the spring in its step that I remember last year. In creating the work, Edmonds was inspired by the spatial relationships between the dancers (the term ‘figure ground’ applies to the spatial relationship between figures on a canvas). The dancers have changed which may have upset the balance; the steps are there, the mature musicality is there but the life of the work is subdued. Set to Michael Gordon’s Weather One, which has both a rhythmic structure and an atmospheric feel, No Strings Attached weaves three men and three women in a series of rich groupings and patterns connected by grounded steps that give a sense of energy rising from the ground, with frequent yoga positions that add a layer of calm spirituality. Lucy Hansom’s lighting enhances the forms, gently bathing the bare arms and legs left exposed by Peter Todd’s costumes. Edmonds derives the dynamics of her steps directly from the music (Weather One employs plenty of canon form that Edmonds seems to enjoy) which in turn informs the nature of her shapes; they are abstract but inherently musical; she doesn’t require her dancers to inhabit them, as Cohan does, with emotional meaning. Her partnering is less interesting, but as a first professional commission No Strings Attached is impressive in its unpredictable play of form, dynamics, musical phrasing.

Cohan’s Lingua Franca is a new work, albeit inspired by an earlier one, Agora, from 1984. It is set on four dancers — Yorke-Edgell, Jonathan Goddard, Phil Sanger and Laurel Dalley-Smith — and responds to their ‘unique physical language’ but the visual package looks back to an earlier era when making the stage resemble a studio was a way of including the audience in the choreography. Lingua Franca opens with all the dancers entering ‘the rehearsal studio’ in their practice clothes, with their own accessories, warm-up routine and greeting, and with Yorke-Edgell preparing for rehearsals from a video on her laptop. By contrast a stagehand wheels in a video screen (that looks as if it was brand new in 1984) on which we see a small film of Cohan in rehearsal. What few studios have, however, is a grand piano, and tonight’s pianist, Eleanor Alberga, was for many years the musical backbone of LCDT. Before she sits to play, she runs (literally) through her own warm up of punching the air and touching her toes. While the dancers prepare Alberga plays her own composition over which we hear the voice of Cohan instructing the dancers. The stage clears except for Goddard who stands at the open piano. He signals to Alberga who starts Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor as Goddard starts to move, except that he is frowning at Alberga as if she is playing the wrong piece. His solo reaches as high as it sinks low into the ground, like the music itself; Sanger enters with a twisted cabriole step, Yorke-Edgell begins her solo with both men lying on the floor and when Dalley-Smith enters she looks at all three wondering what she can do. It’s an artificial setting in which the dancers’ lingua franca — their styles of movement — are too diverse to give coherence to Cohan’s choreography, giving a sense that Alberga’s powerful interpretation of the Chaconne covers the entire piece like a heaven and earth in which the four figures are searching for paths in unfamiliar territory.

Yorke-Edgell’s own Unfold to Centre is clearly influenced by Cohan; even its title is redolent of the days of LCDT. It is perhaps the choreographer’s acknowledgement of her mentor’s generosity in supporting the project and of the investment of his creative time in its fruition. Unfold to Centre takes as its starting point a 1978 computer animated film by Larry Cuba, 3/78, in which ‘sixteen objects, each consisting of one hundred points of light, perform a series of precisely choreographed, rhythmic transformations.’ An edited version of Cuba’s film is projected on the backdrop and floor, providing a kind of blueprint for the choreography. Goddard is the centre figure who initially suggests movement that the others transform, a mixed image of a king and his deferential courtiers or of a planetary system. There are arm gestures that are pure Cohan and port de bras that are based on the classical fifth position. With all the movement of Cuba’s 3/78 projections, the bodies of the dancers appear monolithic as if participating in a science fiction ritual and only regain their humanity as they come together at the end.

There is so much to admire in what Yorke-Edgell has accomplished here: the place of honour given to Cohan as creator and mentor, the support of Edmonds as an aspiring choreographer and the reminder of the foundations of contemporary dance in England. The figure ground changes between these elements but it is Cohan who comes most clearly into focus.


Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Posted: April 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Usually one receives presents on one’s birthday, but legendary BBC dance producer, Bob Lockyer, decided to celebrate his 70th birthday by asking his dance friends to commission a work or select one of their own to present at an evening of dance at The Place. There was a private showing on April 12th, and an opportunity for the public to see the works the following evening. Bob stipulated that the proceeds from the two evenings would benefit one of two charities: the Royal Philharmonic Society Drummond Fund and The Place’s Pioneering Fund. Among the Lockyer luminaries who contributed to the program were Dame Monica Mason, Robert Cohan, Mark Baldwin, Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies and Wayne McGregor.

The public evening gets underway with Drone, danced by two students from the London Contemporary Dance School, Drew Hawkins and the choreographer, Andy Macleman, to music of The Haxan Cloak. The costumes have the elegance of Quaker simplicity, and the movement itself alternates quiet austerity with bursts of energy. The two dancers set up an intense but sympathetic dynamic between them in both spirit and touch. It is a work of surprising maturity.

It is not often that pointe shoes and classical ballet steps grace the stage at The Place, but Dame Monica Mason’s commission, Papillon, by Royal Ballet School dancer and choreographer, Sebastian Goffin, reminds us just how far the language of dance has developed since the 1830s. Using Dvorak’s Silent Woods, played on stage by Rebecca Herman and Andrew Saunders, Goffin creates a romantic picture of young love and abandoned scholarship in rustic Kensington Gardens with the delightful Mayara Magri and Skyler Martin, both dancers at the Royal Ballet School.

Mark Baldwin’s contribution is Prayer, for four girls from the Rambert Dance Company, each revealing their respective lyrical qualities in a series of solos and forming a remarkably harmonious ensemble. Hannah Rudd’s solo would make any heart melt and the fiddler, Stephen Upshaw, plays a solo within a solo during a section of Julian Anderson’s score, while the dancers look on.  His movements are unchoreographed and utterly true to form. A revelation.

Richard Alston is clearly an esteemed colleague of Bob Lockyer because he is responsible for two offerings of the evening. Jo Kondo’s music, Isthmus, sets the tone for the first little gem. And it is little, although the dancers – all from the Richard Alston Dance Company – make it seem so much bigger.

The Way it Works is This… could have been the beginning of Eddie Nixon’s opening discourse, but Orlando Gough uses it as a starting point to frame a series of isolated phrases in a soundscape for Charlie Morrissey’s consummate dance of the same name. Brilliant. Siobahn Davies commissioned this, and chose the projected images from the work of Étienne-Jules Maray representing some of the earliest attempts to record movement photographically (I’m reading from the notes). Morissey’s thoughtful work, like Gough’s soundscape, is a lot of fun and its roots go way back to the minimalist contemporary dance of New York’s Judson Dance Theatre, something Bob would appreciate.

Robert Cohan’s choice is significant for both Bobs. These two go back a long way, which may be why In Memory is chosen, but it also clearly holds memories for Cohan, and there is a passion in the work that is life size. Set to a gorgeous score by Hindemith, his Sonata for unaccompanied viola (played beautifully on stage by Alistair Scahill), this extract of the work sees four men from Alston’s company dancing together until a girl in red with Cleopatra eyes, Nancy Nerantzi, arrives, which is where the passion really begins.

Wayne McGregor offers one of the most beautiful commissions of the evening, Lake Maligne, by Royal Ballet choreographic apprentice, Robert Binet. It is inspired by the paintings of Lawren Harris, one of Canada’s iconic Group of Seven and known for his luminous paintings of the Great White North. Well, the luminosity comes through in the dancing of Daniela Neugebauer of Random Dance. Binet’s choreography is fluid and suits Neugebauer’s qualities beautifully. Her hands and arms turn and reach and then come to perfect rest, articulating shapes that stay in the imagination, while the sonorous voice of Bill Callahan is like dark clouds on a summer day. Neugebauer is totally convincing, her eyes know exactly where and how to focus. Everything is just right, and the audience senses it.

Richard Alston’s big, final present is Shuffle It Right, to the irrepressible music of Hoagy Carmichael. Performed by eight of Alston’s dancers, everyone enters into the swing of the music, on stage and in the audience. This is a great way to end a memorable evening.

This is the kind of performance that could and should be shown on the BBC. It would be a fitting tribute to the man who devised it, but since there has been an evident change in thinking about what public broadcasting can present since Bob Lockyer’s pioneering days, what is familiarly known as Bob’s Bash will have to wait in the wings for a reappraisal of the value of dance production on public television.