Sasha Waltz

Sasha Waltz, choreographer of an impressive list of twenty-seven works to date, has experimented across a broad spectrum of movement. Her earlier works, satirical or surrealist in nature, have awed European audiences and won her numerous awards. Continu, a UK premiere, denotes a shift in style from her previous works, presenting a greater lyricism and relating to the continuity of the perpetual forces of nature. Inspired by two of Waltz’s previous projects, David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum Berlin and Saha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome, Continu consolidates key elements present in her previous works, creating a work with choreographic, musical, and visual components that threaten to overwhelm the audience.

Acting with the grandiose nature of a 24-person company, Waltz has created a work that can drive and affect an audience by way of numbers. The first half of the work comprised of two parts, musically contrasting and choreographically epic. The first half, rhythmic and powerful, was led by the dynamic live percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky. Repetition was used to build warmth within the piece, almost tribal in sensation as dancers whirled around the stage, drawn into the same vortex. By contrast, the second movement, fuelled by Edgard Varèse’s Arcana (a central inspiration of the work), created the illusion of fragmentation, the movement suggestive of large scale images: sheets of ice shifting and breaking across the landscape, conveyed through groups of dancers shuffling, pausing and moving again. There was a strength created by groups, solos and duets forming only to disperse again, disintegrating back into the whole.

This work reached its peak with the third movement, the stage now laid with white. Being able to stand back and allow the movement to crash upon its audience has a certain compulsion, but a greater sense of intimacy with the dancers is something that can’t be overrated. There was a sense of this achieved through the lyricism of the second half, portraying a greater sense of the individual, highlighting dichotomies (positive and negative, light and dark) which are inherent within divisions of the greater structural forces focused on in the first half. Reminiscent of an afterlife or rebirth, partially naked men moved with a disjointed fluidity. Joined by a group dressed in muted shades, this half allowed for smaller group to be created, duets where women, draped horizontally on their partners would walk across the wall, or would paint in varied shapes across the stage with their feet.

Although difficult to understand at times, Waltz’s work contains several elements that are unique and complex, providing a rich viewing experience, both choreographically and musically compelling. Best witnessed as a sum of its parts, this work of large proportions is ambitious, but ultimately very fulfilling.

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The Place Prize: Semifinal 3

The opening performance of the third semifinal of The Place Prize was Nina Kov’s Copter, a trio for one human, Kov, and two radio-controlled helicopters. The Copter was tantalisingly present onstage as the audience filed in; like the best of poetic metaphors, its presence suggested that unusual and enlightening interplays between its flight and Kov’s human movement would be explored. While Copter explored various spatial relationships between The Copter and Kov, there was a lack of correlation between the other qualities of their movement. Where direct similarities and contrasts were present, the composition did not highlight these, leaving a less than picture.

Multiple thematic ideas were referenced including helicopter gun-ship attacks, surveillance and drones, but mostly the piece focussed on Kov playing with a childlike fascination with the anthropomorphised toy. While The Copter was expertly puppeteered by Jack Bishop to display a greater range of emotion than indeed Kov herself did, little to no time was spent exploring why this had come about. The lifting of the rotor blade and the final spinning phrase could have been very poignant but only if the previous 20 minutes had been more provocative.

Neil Paris’s The Devil’s Mischief opened with a vision of Mordor in peaked cones across the stage. According to Paris's original proposal, this duet, danced superbly by Carly Best and Sarah Lewis, explored the ambiguous, codependent relationship between humanity and the devil, however there was little evidence of this beyond red lighting and the Mordor-like set design.

The piece started as a disquieting yet tender duet, with tension so palpable that even the merest intention of one dancer to move was felt by the other. Unfortunately, while still being interesting from a movement perspective, the piece gradually dulled from this promising beginning. The intriguing and complex non-linear narrative, which had been delicately developed during the opening sequence, was initially impeded by the proscriptive vocals and then further maligned by the gradual revealing of the letters on the cones. Whereas on a micro scale the work was richly textured and complex, on a macro scale it strayed from concept to conceit.

The standout work of the evening was bgroup’s A Short-Lived Alteration Of An Existing Situation, choreographed by Ben Wright in collaboration with his dancers Sam Denton and Lise Manavit. The piece extensively explored its drily-stated theme through multiple changes to its movement content and dynamics, each change serving to build upon, enrich and develop the dancers’ relationship within the duet. Dry ice, stark lighting and industrial clanking and clanging noises within the soundscape invoked a heady, underground, Gotham City-inspired atmosphere and the absence of text-based elements allowed more room for the audience’s own imaginative response.

The programming of the evening became progressively more pure dance-oriented, culminating in Darren Ellis’s Revolver. This was danced with an ice-coolness by Hannah Kidd and Joanna Wenger to live music by The Turbulent Eddies, including Darren Ellis himself on guitar. Visually reminiscent of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, although without the Beethoven, the piece combined endless robotic cyclical movements with live music and flashing lights. As with the dispassionate and relentless violence in Kubrick’s film, this piece felt like Ellis was trying to perform a similar act on the audience through dance while also evoking Rosas' early works, especially Rosas & Ictus. With such strong cultural references, it was hard to appreciate Revolver in its own right: as a potential remake of Rosas & Ictus it was gripping and ambitious, however as a work exploring dancers ‘moving constantly in a clockwise direction’, it wasn't a rewarding audience experience.

Overall, the evening’s performances were stimulating enough to firmly hold attention all the way through, but for the most part weren’t satisfying enough to come away thinking what a great night at the theatre it had been. Deservedly, bgroup came top of the night’s audience poll, but unfortunately just missed garnering a high enough score to take them through to the Place Prize Finals on that basis.

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The Place Prize: Semifinal 4

And so it's over. After many months of buildup, sixteen works and eight performances, the suspense is over and we now know which four works will be competing in the Place Prize finals in April 2013. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: tonight was about the final four companies competing, and about a grand finale by Goddard Nixon and Seke Chimuntengwende.

The opening piece was Eva Rechacha's 'The Wishing Well', a whimsical piece exploring the relationship between Recacha's voiceover and performer Martha Pasakopoulou, Recacha sometimes narrating Martha's movements, sometimes issuing instructions, sometimes telling the audience about Martha's inner world, for example explaining how Martha's mental block about the number ten was due to her parents meeting on 10 October, making 10 a doubly sinister number. The movement was largely mime-driven, using Rechacha's vocal instructions as a starting point, whether expansive movements indicating Martha's wishes, or curling up in a tight little ball to suggest moments of regression.

While The Wishing Well could have easily been less than it was, Martha Pasakopoulou was endearing to watch, either marching around the stage singing militant Greek songs or in her eager willingness to obey Recacha, slowly giving way to rebellion. And yet, using what seemed to be predominantly improvised movement, The Wishing Well lacked the choreographic strengths and structure of her last Place Prize commission 'Begin To Begin'.

The second work of the evening was Settlement by Robbie Synge, which sought to investigate our relationship with the built and natural environments by using two dancers (Robin Dingemans and Erik Nevin) and three sheets of chipboard, exploring the different ways in which they could interact with each other. We saw the dancers rearrange the boards, hide behind them, become part of the sculpture, shifting the planks, letting them fall, not letting them fall, playing with suspension and limits.

Settlement is a piece which could easily continue indefinitely, as Synge discovers and explores yet more ideas, for Settlement is very much a collection of ideas, one following on from another, never having the chance to build upon each other or developing into anything more.

If The Place Prize was simply about the best dance performance, then Goddard Nixon - former Rambert dancers Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon - would have easily been the obvious winners. Two fantastic dancers at the peak of their abilities, they've performed works by some of the top contemporary dance choreographers, living or dead, and it's rare to see dancers of their calibre in such an intimate setting.

In a departure from their previous abstract works, Third is set in an Antartic environment, exploring the uneasiness of being in a hostile setting, battling the elements and not knowing what's out there beyond the mist and snow. It opened with a subdued start, Goddard wearily looking out at the audience while sitting on Nixon's supine form. Using lithe, graceful movements, we saw them explore their surroundings, becoming ever more fearful; despite the complete implicit trust in their partnership, we saw their characters' uncertainty with each other. And as Third never reached a conclusive end, it's easy to imagine the characters are still trapped there, isolated and defenceless.

It's rare to find people who are both impressively gifted as dancers and as choreographers, but Goddard and Nixon are both, and their growing maturity as choreographers can be seen in Third, a more ambitious work than their previous pieces, effectively balancing speed with more languid sections, and opportunities for both dancers to shine individually.

Seke Chimuntengwende is known for his unique brand of improvisation, humour and theatricality, and it was expected that he would create something special for his first Place Prize commission, 'The Time Travel Piece'. At the start, he explained that he'd been invited to participate in a time travel experiment, travelling to the years 2085, 2501 and 2042, watching a dance performance in each time, but alas was unable to record any of the performances or bring any dancers back with him, so for our benefit, he has recreated the works with the best dancers he could find.

In 2085, he explained, scientists were exploring nanotechnology and not only had choreographers picked up on this by using nanomovements, but also "audiences' powers of perception have increased dramatically". The performance which followed saw his dancers shifting imperceptibly, to the audience's hilarity, which soon petered out as Seke allowed this section to extend till both his performers and audience felt thoroughly awkward and embarrassed.

The next two sections were far briefer, portraying different scenarios: time travel being endemic in 2501, allowing people to rehearse indefinitely, and so create one signature movement which will define them as dancers, and time being too short in 2042 to actually rehearse, treating us to the sight of Seke manically demonstrating various movements then leaving his dancers to muddle through them.

Seke's enthusiasm was irresistibly infectious, and it's easy to see why this was the audience favourite of the night, and after Seke's 'Mr Lawrence' closed the Resolution! season earlier this year, it seemed most appropriate for for Seke to close the Place Prize with a fresh injection of irreverent humour.

The Place Prize does like being controversial - or more accurately, stimulating discussions about the Place Prize and dance in general - and the shortlisting of Eva Recacha, Rick Nodine, Riccardo Buscarini and audience favourite h2dance for the finals may have surprised many people, but at least they now have six months to further develop their works. Let's see what the Finals bring us....

Audience voting scores:

Seke Chimuntengwende: 3.5
Goddard Nixon: 3.2
Robbie Synge: 3.2
Eva Recacha: 2.9

The Place Prize returns on 17 April 2013, with the Final Final taking place on 27 April; tickets are now on sale and can be bought here:


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The Place Prize: Semifinal 2

The second semifinal of this year’s Place Prize was full to the brim of promising concepts and ideas, but unfortunately rather short of content, delivery and, well, dance.

Upon initially viewing The Place Prize shortlisted artists online, the idea for Mamoru Iriguchi’s ‘One Man Show’ was the most vivid and engaging, and this was the work which opened the evening's proceedings. It is, as the title suggests, a solo for Iriguchi, accompanied by four projected images of himself and his performance from different audience perspectives in an auditorium. The piece is comical, accessible and cartoonesque, demonstrating good use of multimedia in performance (this being one of Iriguchi’s primary performance media). However, the work lacked momentum and any real movement content, and by the end of the piece when the ‘To be or not to be…’ monologue from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ had been repeated more times than anyone could care to remember, and the five Iriguchi’s onstage became removed from being ‘as one’ - one drunk, one dressed as a woman, one projected as a ghostly giant on the rear wall, one outlined in clothing on the floor, and one disappeared altogether - it felt that the surreal had well and truly taken over, and any sight of choreographic focus or idea had been completely lost.

Rick Nodine’s ‘Dead Gig’ is focussed indeed, in a nostalgic, reminiscent, almost self-satisfying account of his feelings about and obsession with the band The Grateful Dead. In the second solo of the night, we see short, clipped movement phrases set almost frustratingly to the rhythm of Nodine’s spoken descriptions of the band’s development, and the part they played in his teenage years. Nodine is an extremely engaging performer, and there are moments when he ‘Drops In’, and his passion for the music, demonstrated through undulating, bucking, uninhibited movement becomes almost infectious. This is unfortunately shortlived, and we are then distracted once again from this passionate insight by more spoken accounts, a somewhat contrived movement sequence of falling and rising, and, as the piece ends, an unexpected glitter ball.

Along with Iriguchi’s ‘One Man Show’, the images in Ben Ash (of Dog Kennel Hill Project)’s submission, of heavy, pendulum-swinging dust bags and responsive, momentum–driven movement were memorable images.  What we saw, however, was an often disjointed and inaccessible work, with, as was becoming the theme of the night, a disappointing lack of choreographed dance, confined to a shortlived section for Luke Birch.  

The notes on The Place Prize website describe how ‘three men strike out resolutely in the direction of great hope.’ This was not a clear train of thought within the work, and although interesting to start with, the unpredictable paths of the dust bags being swung around the head, dropped and fallen beneath, or being flung towards the audience was quickly exhausted. With suggestions of an element of chance directing the progress of the work, much of this piece by three male performers, including Ash himself, was frustratingly inexplicable, and failed to connect with its audience.

In contrast, Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of h2dance began their performance by directly addressing the audience, with a description of what they were going to show us, a ‘Duet’, which is the title of this latest joint offering from Artistic Directors Gillgren and Rustgaard. Clad in sequins and pink lycra, whilst performing a sequence of simple jazz kick-ball-changes and Fosse slides, they continue with their wry exchanges about having been to couples therapy, allowing something of an insight into their personal and professional relationship, with echoes of New Art Club. The piece goes on to explore each performer’s own experiences of times good and bad, with spoken instructions to the technician about whether the music and lights should be ‘beautiful’, or ‘really dramatic’.

By the end of this evening which had offered much in the way of talking and little in the way of dancing, this became tiresome. Had we seen this clear personal connection developed further through movement exchanges, it would have made for a much more satisfactory end to a rather frustrating semifinal.

Audience voting scores:

h2dance: 4.1
Rick Nodine: 3.4
Dog Kennel Hill Project: 3.1
Mamoru Iriguchi: 2.4

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The Place Prize: Semifinal 1

The Place Prize means any number of different things to different people, and while the most accurate description might be the contemporary dance world's answer to the Turner Prize, the Place Prize itself celebrates new dance and stimulating discussions about it. In the five editions of the Place Prize to date, 92 new works have been commissioned, at a cost of nearly £1.4 million, and although Rafael Bonachela won the first edition in 2004, the recent winners have been more unexpected and controversial, leading to debates about the definitions of dance and choreography.

No such debates were in mind on the opening night of the current edition's semifinals, with new works presented by Joe Moran, Moreno Solinas, Tony Adigun and Riccardo Buscarini.

Joe Moran's Obverse was the opening piece, performed by a trio of brightly-coloured dancers. The notes for Obverse describe it as using "a refreshing, unusual and disjointed physical language that foregrounds the virtuosity of dancers to visibly transform their state of being, from moment to moment, in both body and thinking", which many of the audience may have failed to appreciate. For much of the piece, there was little uniting the dancers choreographically, with two occasionally performing similar movements in canon. Much of the music consisted of jerky excerpts of Handel, Beethoven and other choreographers against an industrial backdrop, allowing the choreography to playfully interpret it. Choreographically, Obverse was reminiscent of Siobhan Davies' and Mark Morris's works, and despite the choreographic intent of Moran, had the least impact of the works performed on the night.

Moreno Solinas is one of The Place's Work Place artists, having graduated from LCDS in 2009 and since worked with companies including Bonachela Dance Company, DV8 and Stan Won't Dance. Although Solinas's original proposal for Life is a Carnival is on The Place's website, it doesn't start to hint at the rich theatricality and experimentation of the work - although something unusual might be expected with Kasper Hansen among the collaborators.

The main characters of the opening half of Life is a Carnival are "Moreno Solinas, the World Champion of Salsa", performed by two of his fingers, and a homicidal shoe which not only squashes "Moreno", but proceeds to attack Solinas relentlessly. In the second half, Solinas slowly dances around the stage, singing Celia Cruz's song 'La Vida es un Carnaval', creating his own rhythm with his hands and his feet. Although Solinas's solo is salsa-influenced, there also appears to be echoes of flamenco and bullfighting as it increases in dramatic tension. Life is a Carnival ends with the symbolic death and resurrection of Solinas, bringing to an end a rewarding mixture of theatre, comedy and dance.

Tony Adigun, best-known as the Artist Director of hip hop dance company Avant Garde Dance, created a chilling and unsettling scene for his work The Lake. At first we saw the portrait of a family gathered around a bathtub, wearing period clothing, then the corpse of Lisa Hood slithering down the rear wall, beaten and then embraced by one of the women. The sinister theme was sustained througout, with jerky traumatised movements from each of the dancers, apart from Adam Towndrow who calmly remained near the bathtub holding onto the small girl and reassuring her; the only innocence was in the girl's imitations of the dancers' movements, but all too soon, she too met her untimely end, drowned in the bathtub by Towndrow.

Several of the scenes are reminiscent of the Victorian tradition of post-mortem photography, and the darkness of The Lake's storyline is understandable when you realise its inspiration was the Wisconsin Death Trip, in which a small town in the 1890s succumbed to madness, violence, murder and suicide. The Lake is the most accomplished and polished work of the evening, both choreographically and conceptually, with profound emotional impact and striking visuals. Partway through the piece, however, you realise how manipulative Olafur Arnalds's music is; The Lake has sufficiently strong emotional content to not have to resort to such shamelessly manipulative music, and could perhaps be even more effective with a more subtle choice of music.

The final work of the evening was Athletes by Riccardo Buscarini, a finalist from the last edition of the Place Prize. Inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the three dancers are dressed in pseudo-spacesuits, with only their faces showing. Continuing the filmic feel of Buscarini's previous entry Cameo, Athletes is a disjointed work: initially the dancers stare at each other for a very long time, then create interlocking movements, their three bodies always connected. As one of the dancers rolls away, the other two dancers proceed towards each other in extremely slow motion, towards a kiss which never quite happens. All too briefly, Scene d'Amour from the film Vertigo is played, highlighting the cinematic nature of the scene, while the dramatic music emphasises the lack of onstage drama.

The winner of the audience vote was Tony Adigun, with Moreno Solinas a close second, which is a credit to the achievements of The Place's Work Place scheme and how it is developing its artists. There are twelve more pieces to be performed: which of tonight's - if any - will go through to the finals? Wait and see...

Audience voting scores:

Tony Adigun: 3.6
Moreno Solinas: 3.3
Riccardo Buscarini: 2.7
Joe Moran: 2.5

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A Guide to Dance Bloggers

At the end of each year, Dance Advantage holds a contest to see which are the Top Dance Blogs of the year, though if you look at the shortlisted blogs, you'll notice that with the exception of Dave Tries Ballet (who started blogging while studying in the States, and writes with much enthusiasm about his journey in ballet from his first classes only a few short years ago), none of them are English, and their writers are a mixture of professional dancers, and other people writing about dance. And that tells us a lot about who the people are who blog most actively about dance.

Swim across the Atlantic, and we find that it's a very different picture over here. Fairly often, people have asked about UK-based dance bloggers, but there really aren't that many, as we have few non-dancers blogging about dance, and the dancers with blogs rarely have time to update them, given how busy most dancers are with juggling work, rehearsals, teaching, performances, and everything else which eats into their time. Here on Cloud Dance Festival, we've been encouraging dancers and dance professionals to blog, but, well, we're all such busy people...

Here's a list of the dance bloggers we've found:

A Studio in Covent Garden
Twitter: @studioincovent

Written by a marketing officer who has worked at three of the leading arts venues in London, the blogs are a mixture of features on individual choreographers, thoughts on shows he's seen, and other topics of interest about dance. Also a guest blogger for The Ballet Bag.

Diarmaid O'Meara
Twitter: @DanceDialogue

Diarmaid O'Meara is a freelance ballet dancer and teacher; his recent performances include The Most Incredible Thing at Sadler's Wells and Ballet Ireland's productions of Romeo & Juliet and Scheherazade. The tagline for his blog is "Opinion. Debate. Review.", and his blogs are always thought-provoking and insightful, often contradicting established opinions with well-argued reasoning.

Lucía Piquero
Twitter: @LuPiquero
Lucía Piquero is one of the co-founders and co-directors of Diciembre Dance Group, and a very busy freelance ballet dancer and teacher! Her blogs are written from a dancer's perspective, discussing technique and other ingredients integral to dancing, her favourite dance moments, and other aspects of her work

Michael Johnson
Twitter: @mpjdancer

Michael Johnson is a Sheffield-based dance artist working with Poor Mans Dance and Adaire to Dance, among other companies, and worked with Wayne McGregor on Big Dance 2012. His blogs range from his current work and performances he's seen to musings on art and fashion.

Bellyflop Magazine
Twitter: @bellyflopmag

Bellyflop is a very popular online contemporary dance magazine which has evolved into a collaborative enterprise, drawing from the dance artists based at Chisenhale Dance Space for its main contributors. It offers a wide range of features, interviews, reviews and blogs, however it has sadly become less active since the start of 2012 due to a lack of funding.
Only a few of the main contributors are on Twitter:
Charlie Ashwell: @AshwellCharlie
Eleanor Sikorski: @EleanorSikorski
Gillie Kleiman: @GillieKleiman

Twitter: @article19

Contemporary dance's very own Marmite, Article19 is an outspoken necessary addition to the contemporary dance world, whether exposing issues some people might prefer were overlooked - whether it's low pay for dancers, or confusing allocation of funding - or heckling their favourite targets. And whenever the EvilImp gets loose, beware! Often insulted, never bested, Article19 says what many of us think but dare not say out loud.

Article19 isn't a blog, but should be avidly read anyway; they also have six dancers blogging for them, if infrequently.

The Ballet Bag
Twitter: @theballetbag

Having put a tremendous amount of energy into building up The Ballet Bag as one of the leading ballet ezines since April 2009, Linda Uruchurtu and Emilia Spitz have invited several guest writers to join their team and to give The Ballet Bag's readers a more diverse viewpoint on the ballet world, as well as to free themselves up for their new creative agency, Lume Labs. If you're looking forward to an upcoming show, then check their site, as there's a good chance they'll have written about it in advance. And if you have a spare few hours, it's worth trawling through their archives for a wealth of articles on all things ballet, and a few things contemporary dance.

Cloud Dance Festival

We've had quite a few bloggers writing for us since we first started recruiting writers in August 2011, and we'll be trying to add to their numbers for an ever-widening range of viewpoints on life as a dancer.

If you're on Twitter, our current bloggers are:
Lewis Wheeler - @lewiswheeler
Anna Pearce - @anna_louP
Rachel Vogel - @crystaldance11


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New Adventures Choreographer Award



It has got to be something pretty special to unite most of the dance industry under one roof, and the inaugural performance of the New Adventures Choreographer Award was just that, a remarkable tribute to both Matthew Bourne and James Cousins, and the amount of support shown to both on this occasion. In an interlude, Bourne explained that the Award had been devised and arranged by Etta Murfitt and Nina Goldman as a 50th birthday present, raising a staggering amount in a short space of time. The unique features of the award scheme are that it focusses on a choreographer, rather than his or her choreography, who is then mentored not only by Bourne himself but also his colleagues and peers - a very rare opportunity indeed.

While James Cousins was the winner of the Award, it was felt that Tom Jackson Greaves's application was too strong to overlook, and as the runner-up, he performed a solo, Vanity Fowl, a Cinderella-esque story (alas without shoe or handsome prince) using some very unexpected storytelling and imaginative use of film.

Vanity Fowl opened with a film of Greaves at a glamorous party of sorts and feeling very socially awkward, all the more so as everyone started dancing to the music, Greaves too shy to join in. From the moment the film ended and screen lifted to show Greaves at the front of the stage, shaking hands with a succession of invisible people and holding a conversation with a highly critical voiceover, Greaves had the audience captivated by his engaging personality and the dancing which he built up during the conversation. When he attempts to dance, pitifully embarrassed and overly self-conscious, the entire sold-out audience feels for him. He attempts to reinvent himself with a sparkly jacket, but the jacket disintegrates, as do his dreams, leaving him lying on the stage with glitter raining down on him.

Vanity Fowl had such a strong opening section, with such vivid theatricality and Greaves continually engaging with the audience, that it was hard for the second half of the piece to live up to it, which was a shame: Vanity Fowl shows great promise, but as we saw in Bourne's Early Adventures, it can be hard to reconcile pure dance with such successful theatricality. But we can be certain that Greaves will be keeping audiences entertained and enthralled as he explores his choreographic ideas in the years to come: let's hope this is the start of a great career for him.

James Cousins, fresh from performing in Marc Brew's Fusional Fragments at the South Bank Centre a week ago, presented three new works: Here In Darkness for The Place's Centre for Advanced Training, a duet There We Have Been, and his grand finale, Everything and Nothing. There We Have Been was the highlight of the show for many people, an extraordinarily creative duet in which Lisa Welham was in constant contact with her partner Aaron Vickers, always supported by him, whether he was standing, kneeling or lying down. Dimly lit with a sparse piano score, There We Have Been was mostly slow in pace, making the most of certain beautiful poses, and enabling Cousins to dramatise sections where the speed and music increased. While the duet created plenty of beautiful moments, it also created some flaws which might have been easier to overlook in a shorter piece.

Here In Darkness was a short work for twelve prevocational dancers, and it displayed the sharpness and crispness of choreography which Cousins is known for. The relentless score by Klangwart drove the piece along through a succession of group sequences, never diminishing in pace. Here In Darkness is a mature and confident work, especially in his skilful handling of such a large cast, and his creative use of solos amid group sections, even if the work was too brief for changes in pace or dynamics.

Everything and Nothing was a group work for ten dancers, and at forty minutes long, easily Cousins' most ambitious work yet. It opened with all of the dancers huddled in a group, with slight shifts developing as the dancers broke away into separate sections, power and control being key throughout. Given the creativity of Cousins' duets, the group sections were somewhat weaker but were at their most effective when providing a backdrop - or indeed a foredrop - for solos or duets. And Cousins' ownership of the stage was inspired, as the lighting would draw the audience's eyes towards the rear corner of the stage for an unexpected duet. Later in the piece, a breathtaking solo by former BalletBoy(z) Miguel Esteves showed us how impressive Cousins' dancers are.

Earlier in the week, there had been a brief discussion on Twitter between critics about forty-minute pieces, and while many choreographers have too little to say yet stretch their pieces out, Cousins clearly had more than enough to say and struggled to squeeze it all into his forty minutes. Cousins's works are never short on great imagery, but with so much detail, the result was an overloading of the audiences' senses.

Cousins' three works show that he has certainly got the choreographic skills and voice; what remains is for him to decide where to take them, and what he chooses to do with them.

At the end of a dance-deprived summer, Cousins' works have been a much-needed injection of total dance to kick off the new season - no wonder the audience left on such a high!

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Janice Parker: 'Private Dancer'

The brochure blurb for Janice Parker's Unlimited commission Private Dancer promised to 'play with our expectations and emotions through unique choreography'. Unfortunately, I can't say that this was my experience of the work. I very much wanted it to be, but felt that this work that had so much potential didn't quite deliver on a number of levels.

Hoping for a You Me Bum Bum Train-esque journey into other people's worlds and mind-sets, I instead found myself viewing a number of very different dancers performing very similar movement to the same, rather melancholic soundtrack.

The strength of the work was to be found in the concept, that of an audience being invited to enter different rooms in a 'house', and observe an individual's own private, self-created world and personal movement. Had the rooms been more separate, more different from each other, with an individual soundtrack and one-of-a-kind decor, I think this sense of insight into the individual performer would have been more achievable.

Instead, we saw container-style small rooms, with a variety of themes suggested by sparsely-arranged props, including stones laid out in a geometric pattern, mirrors large and small, hanging costumes, personal photos and tables of arts and crafts materials.

There were some intricate, personal and surprising moments. As the performers moved throughout the audience when we first entered the space, we began to see pockets of fluid trios, duets and solos around the space, unsure of whether or not these were chance meetings, and of who would suddenly become part of the performance next.

Upon being invited in to a dancer's room to observe their Private Dance one-to-one, you felt special, chosen, and these were the moments I wanted more of: a sense of real connection and insight into another's world.

In contrast, upon having a door closed on you, you're made to feel left out, and forced to peek through the crescent cut outs in the corrugated plastic doors, which actually, it turns out, frame the action inside rather beautifully.

This almost voyeuristic role of the audience is heightened later in the piece, as CCTV-like camera images of all of the rooms are projected onto one wall of the space that holds the house.

The production must be applauded for its accessibility, with clear instructions of what to expect, and the BSL interpretation of these instructions. I wonder, though, if stopping for these 'instruction' moments is too disruptive to the flow of the performance, and perhaps there is another way to approach this, still ensuring that the audience feels safe, but not breaking out of the world which the performers are working to create.

Towards the end of the work, we are led outside of the walls of the house to watch a line of five dancers performing a short quirky sequence, bringing about a moment of humour and a much-needed smile. We also see a male duet in the mirror room (which wasn't theirs before; I was slightly bothered that they'd taken over what was supposed to be someone else's private space). Again, this duet had the same slow, fluid, calming but unchanging movement quality, and I was unsure of their relationship to each other and to us. A second duet out of the house showed a clearer but more private relationship: a glimmer of what I'd hoped for from the rest of the work.

The piece ended on a high, with the cast leading the audience to mingle with each other in the space, upon which their smiles and uninhibited dancing to Blondie's 'Atomic' encouraged everyone to join them in their own moment of freedom, their own private dance.

Private Dancer is charming and holds so much potential, but perhaps focuses too little on the 'private', and too much on its public perception.     

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What To See: September

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Hasn't that been a ridiculously long summer? And unless you managed to escape up to Edinburgh, wasn't that a reeeeeally long time to go without, well, any dance at all?! We hope you managed to stock up with plenty of dance before the summer-long drought, although there's hardly a deluge to see in the new season. It's a good month for CDF alumni, so read on...

James Cousins & Tom Jackson Greaves - 7 September
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:
Trailer of Vanity Fowl:

The New Adventures Choreographer Award was launched last year to commemorate Matthew Bourne's 50th birthday and there wasn't as much surprise as there could have been when James Cousins was announced as the winner, with Tom Jackson Greaves selected as a runner-up. James Cousins will be presenting two works: There We Have Been is a duet inspired by the troubled relationships portrayed in Murakami's best selling novel, Norwegian Wood, while
Everything and Nothing is a dynamic collaboration between himself, lighting designer Lee Curran and set designer Colin Falconer.

Tom Jackson Greaves will be premiering Vanity Fowl, a solo which observes one man’s journey from grace to disgrace.

HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters - 7-11 September
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

HeadSpaceDance is a new initiative by former Cullberg Ballet and the Northern Ballet Theatre dancers Charlotte Broom and Christopher Akrill, who are joined by Clemmie Sveaas (The Most Incredible Thing) to perform newly commissioned pieces by choreographers Javier de Frutos, Luca Silvestrini and Didy Veldman, and a reworking of Mats Ek's 1991 duet Light Beings.

The Place Prize 4: Preview - 13 September, Semifinal - 22 September
The Place

One of the most exciting choreographic voices we've encountered, Goddard Nixon - Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon, formerly of Rambert Dance Company - are performing a "duet of fractured tenderness and mysterious camaraderie" in the final of the four nights. Created in collaboration with lighting designer Michael Hulls, you can expect amazing lighting design, amazing choreography and amazing dancing.

Please give them your votes. Goddard Nixon to win!

Free To Fall - 21 September
Rich Mix

Free to Fall is a "scratch night" curated by Lee Smikle, held regularly at Rich Mix to offer young choreographers an opportunity to receive feedback on their works. Among the people performing in this edition are Dom Czapski and John Ross, who performed in our September 2008 festival and who had to withdraw from our last festival.

Joss Arnott Dance: The Dark Angel Tour - 29 September
Rich Mix
Tickets & details:

The past two years have been a whirlwind of recognition and buildup for Joss Arnott, culminating in the tour of this triple-bill of his works: threshhold, the piece which first caught everyone's attention back in 2010; 24,  inspired by the themes and concepts explored within the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty, and Origin, a a fluid yet intense solo by Arnott himself. His style may be imitated by many, but come to this show to see high-paced dynamic choreography performed at its best.

Worthy Mention

Pirates of Penzance: 26 - 30 September
Hackney Empire
Tickets & details:

Union Theatre's award-winning all-male Pirates of Penzance briefly take up residence at Hackney Empire before heading overseas to Australia, so this is a great opportunity to catch them and wish them (and Raymond Tait) well before they go. Having previously been staged at Union Theatre, Wilton's Music Hall and Rose Theatre in Kingston, it remains to see how well this production will retain its intimacy in such a large venue.


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What To See: Autumn

Who still remembers the excitement of last autumn, which seemed to be filled with a large number of visiting companies to explore, and companies which had been absent for far too long, La La La Human Steps being one of their number. And maybe we'll remember it as the last of the great Dance Umbrellas. As though we're paying for the overambition of last autumn, and the excesses of the Pina Bausch World Cities residency, this autumn seems to be playing it safe, with an emphasis on trusted favourites, which of course includes the mixed blessing that is the Place Prize.


The Place Prize 4: Preview - 13 September, Semifinal - 22 September
The Place

One of the most exciting choreographic voices we've encountered, Goddard Nixon - Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon, formerly of Rambert Dance Company - are performing a "duet of fractured tenderness and mysterious camaraderie" in the final of the four nights. Created in collaboration with lighting designer Michael Hulls, you can expect amazing lighting design, amazing choreography and amazing dancing.

Please give them your votes. Goddard Nixon to win!

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: 11 - 13 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

For some of us, our first introduction to Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will have been in the film The Adjustment Bureau - which will have been reason enough to see the film! From that, we'll know that Cedar Lake is not a typical dance company, with a specific interest in installations and site-specific work, and highly technical dancers; this will be their long-overdue first visit to the UK, and they will be bringing a fascinating triple bill with works by Hofesh Shechter, Crystal Pite and Alexander Ekman - if you remember what Ekman created with cacti for NDT2, start imagining where he'll take the theme of rhythm for Cedar Lake....

Birmingham Royal Ballet, 'Opposites Attract': 23 - 24 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:
Video of Grösse Fuge:

Every autumn, Birmingham Royal Ballet brings a modern triple bill and a classical programme to Sadler's Wells, often challenging our definitions of "modern" ballet, by programming works such as Ninette de Valois's not-quite-timeless Checkmate from 1937.

Opposites Attract features works by the extremely prolific and sought-after American choreographer Jessica Lang, a tribute by director David Bintley to jazz icon Dave Brubeck and a revival of Hans van Manen's unforgettable Grösse Fuge, which we last saw performed by Dutch National Ballet (cue Luke Jenning's review "Dude, you're so ripped".)

The Autumn Celebration! triple bill also looks intriguing, offering Broadway show choreographer Joe Layton's amusing take on the celebrities of the 1920s in The Grand Tour, David Bintley's Faster, inspired by the Olympic motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, and Frederick Ashton's The Dream, where all hangs on the puppyishness of Puck and the height of his jumps.

Viscera: 3 - 14 Nov
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

As part of a triple bill with revivals of Christopher Wheeldon's Fool's Paradise and Wayne McGregor's Infra, Viscera is the UK premiere of Liam Scarlett's US choreographic debut, commissioned for Miami City Ballet and performed to great acclaim. It is an abstract ballet in three sections; expect choreographic gorgeousness.

Batsheva Ensemble: 19 - 21 November
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Batsheva Ensemble is the junior company of Batsheva Dance Company whose recent Edinburgh International Festival performances were met with pro-Palestinian protests, depriving them of the audiences they deserved.

Led by Ohad Naharin, one of of the more influential choreographers of today, whose works have been performed by many of the leading contemporary and ballet companies, this will be their first visit to the UK - and we can hope they receive a much warmer welcome. They will be performing Deca Dance, a medley of the most memorable and best-loved segments of Naharin’s creations from the last 20 years, set to an eclectic mix of music from Vivaldi to the Beach Boys. If you love Hofesh.....

Worthy Mentions

Michael Clark, 'New Work 2012': 17 - 27 October
Tickets & details:

Following residencies in the Tate Modern over the last two years, working with both trained and untrained dancers, the notorious enfant terrible of ballet - described by Sanjoy Roy as a "ballet punk" and "dance's rock'n'roll legend" in his essential step-by-step guide - returns to the Barbican with his first new work for the Barbican stage since 2009. Some will be delighted; others will look on in horror.

Dance United: 20 & 22 October
The Place
Tickets & details:

Following his two-year residency in Hong Kong, Dam Van Huynh is Dance United's new associate artist, and this new programme features new work from him in addition to works by Kwesi Johnson, Carly Annable-Coop and Helen Linsell.

Swan Lake: 10, 13 & 25 October
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

Strictly for the classical ballet fans, this is just a heads up to remind you that in light of Tamara Rojo's premature departure for English National Ballet, Carlos Acosta will be partnered by Natalia Osipova on these dates. Mutterings hope that this will be the start of a longer-term partnership between the two.  


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Marc Brew Company & Dame Evelyn Glennie: Fusional Fragments



In today’s artistic environment focused on developing collaboration and depleting boundaries, it’s refreshing to see a choreographer questioning the validity and success of the fusion between dance styles and artistic mediums. When the lines between classical ballet and contemporary dance blur, movement vocabularies cross, linger, dive, and permeate one another, but to what degree of success?

This compelling notion was the concept behind Fusional Fragments, a work choreographed by Marc Brew in collaboration with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, and commissioned by the Southbank Centre as part of Unlimited: London 2012’s Cultural Olympiad, celebrating the extraordinary talents of deaf and disabled artists.

Five technically strong and diverse dancers graced the stage, interacting with and separating from percussionist Glennie as she wove, sang, and moved throughout the space, an influential and mesmerising force behind the movement. Both beginning and ending the work, Glennie exaggerated and morphed the soundscape, composed by Phillip Sheppard, and created her own element of interaction: a fused fragment beyond the constraint of a movement vocabulary, but still able to hold its own within the work.

Strong movement vocabularies were witnessed throughout the piece: the use of distinct lines, ballet positions and boundaries was evident, punctuated by contemporary dance’s use of levels, fragmented lines, and the breakdown of traditional partnerships. A dominating use of lighting splintered the stage, allowing the dancers to use these sharp angles to play with and interact with the space, shaping and visually distorting their own lines.

With a movement vocabulary that focuses on isolation and ‘broken’ lines, a lighting score that visually breaks down the dancer’s bodies (an interesting moment occurring when a strong light streamed across the space, highlighting only the dancer’s knees), this work mainly centers around fragmentation rather than fusion. By clearly breaking down and dividing the technical parameters of both movement styles, the idea of fusion became a little lost in the work. The work embraced both styles, but didn’t challenge them, and clearly defining the influences of the movement could ultimately lead to its confusion.

Yet there was something very compelling about this work. The atmosphere created in this piece through the movement and the collaborative elements are to be applauded, and though conceptually I felt a little let down in this work, visually this piece was something to behold.

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It's been a long summer without any dance, thanks to the Olympics, but that came to an abrupt end with Jai Hutchinson's platform Insight's brief visit to London's Shaw Theatre, featuring NineBOBNote Dance Theatre and Cloud Dance Festival alumnus John Ross in its lineup.

The programme notes for John Ross's solo Man Down explain that the piece is inspired by a true story about life in a war zone, but this doesn't really prepare you for the experience of Ross's work. While it's the kind of piece which will have many of the audience members asking themselves afterwards "What was that?!", it's a piece which will have stayed with them for a long time afterwards - and not only because in Man Down, Ross has shown himself to have the rare quality of a new and original choreographic voice.

Using voiceovers and sound effects, Man Down is the story of the life and death of a soldier named James, as reported by his platoon commander Joseph Williams. A lithe and graceful performer, Ross allows the tension of the choreography to build and subside, with creative use of movement, whether expressing grief or matching the chaos of the score.

Man Down would greatly benefit from an effective lighting design to emphasise Ross's choreography to make this a much more powerful piece. A couple of sections are not as strong as the others and it's possible that these could be tightened with lighting or different use of sound: time will tell. John Ross is a talented dancer and promising choreographer and a name to remember.

Appropriately for being performed on the same night as the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics, Amira Kremer's Sleepless at St James was performed by partially-sighted dancer Indra Slavena. Sleepless is a playful series of duets with pillows, with some very nice choreography performed by Indra, if very leggy choreography: the piece seems to be dominated by extensions, handstands, cartwheels and kicks. It's a light-hearted piece which seems to relish its accompaniment by Hugh Laurie.

Jack Stinton has the uncertain distinction of being the sole non-Scottish School of Contemporary Dance graduate in this lineup; also, his work, No Chance of Escape, was originally created for three male dancers but was performed on this occasion with three female dancers, and it's possible that they didn't have sufficient rehearsal time. No Chance of Escape has interesting ideas, but it lacked the sharpness of performance or choreography that it aimed for: for example, too many duets with one dancer fidgeting off to the side. It's yet another piece which seemed to aim for quantity rather than quality, and it would have benefitted from being reduced in length.

Following a brief interval, Jai Hutchinson's dancers performed Demolition in Progress, which claimed to be 'an exploration of themes of a self-destructive society', but was instead an ephemeral work with ephemeral solos with four women endlessly repeating their signature phrases while one woman hand-painted 'I KNOW WHO I AM. I AM STRONG.' on the rear wall. It's possibly a Fifties' definition of a self-destructive society?

The final work of the evening was As Yet Unknown by Lyndsey Allan's NineBOBNote Dance Theatre, which we fleetingly reviewed at the Accidental Festival. At first it appears to be three drunken women at the end of a girls' night out, each only wearing mismatching underwear and an open shirt. And then slowly some dance is worked in: two of the women launch into an improvised tap routine, then discuss a failed hair dye attempt while doing contact impro. It's a challenge to balance physical theatre with choreography, which Lyndsey Allan does skillfully, especially in bringing out the personalities and facial expressions of her dancers.

As Yet Unknown takes a while to find its stride, and loses its way from time to time, for example when extending gags for too long, but there are some great moments of genius, especially when the three women work together as a team, such as when one tells a story and the other two act it out. Lyndsey Allan, Lizzy Ryder and Courtney Robertson are all captivating performers to watch, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

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Interview with Dani Atkinson

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Dani Atkinson is a highly motivated and self-driven dancer, who had barely completed her training at Newcastle College before being offered the chance to start a new life with further training at the José Limón Institute in New York – and she needs your help to cover the costs that this fantastic opportunity will incur. It will be Dani’s first visit to the States, which will in itself be a huge transition away from the vibrant and dynamic dance community of Newcastle, which has enriched her development as a dancer since she started training.


We’ve been following Dani’s career since her performance in our last festival with Exquisite Corpse | Dance Theatre (now Lo-Giudice Dance), and so we invited her to tell us more about herself, her plans for the future, and most importantly, about her fundraising and upcoming fundraiser event.


The event will be held on 28 August at As You Like It, Archbold Terrace, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE2 1DB. The show will run from 7.30pm-10pm, and tickets will cost £8 on the door.


The evening will include a solo performance by Dani, created by Nicole Vivienne Watson of Surface Area Dance Theatre, and a duet with Dani and Anthony Lo Giudice of Lo Giudice Dance. It will also include a talk from guest speaker Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, and a raffle with prizes including a two-course meal for two at AYLI, and two tickets to see Agnes & Walter: A Little Love Story by Smith Dance Theatre.


If you can’t attend but would like to support Dani, and if you’d like to follow her journey, please visit her website


Dani’s career to date


I chose to stay in Newcastle for many reasons: I had taken my BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts Performance at Newcastle College, so I’d had the opportunity to see the training provided by the lecturers on the degree program, and I was really impressed with the standard, especially of the end-of-term dance pieces, choreography, music and movement material.


Another reason for remaining at Newcastle College was the lecturers’ encouragement to go out and discover the regional industry yourself, knowing that the best way to gain an insight into the industry is to be amongst it. This really appealed to me because believe that it doesn’t matter where you train because ultimately it is the person you are that makes you successful.


Dance City (the National Dance Agency for the North East) has been amazing in the provision of a free daily professional morning classes, which have helped me in many ways, both developing my technical and performance ability and providing me with the opportunity to meet and work alongside professionals whether based in the region or visiting artists. Through attending classes at Dance City I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the regional companies, and I have been fortunate to work with many including Lo Giudice Dance, Appetite Dance and most recently working with Nicole Vivienne Watson of Surface Area Dance Theatre to create a solo which will be performed at my upcoming fundraising event. Dance City also provides a great number of free workshops and company classes with visiting companies, and organises an Ignite programme, which offers professional classes, workshops and seminars amongst other events and activities to locally-based dance makers from the North East.


The time I spent working with Exquisite Corpse | Dance Theatre, now Lo Giudice Dance, was an exciting year of performances, festivals and a week residency in Prague, and I learned a great deal along the way. Through each performance, I gained a greater confidence which has continued to grow through the continued support I receive from everyone.


Unfortunately I was not involved in ‘Roma’ this year as the project ran very close to the deadline of my dissertation and I had to make a decision on which to focus upon, this however gave me the opportunity to watch the work and see it from the otherside of the stage which was great as I was able to learn through observation and appreciate the work without dancing in it.


Following my dissertation completion, I was asked by Apple Yang, the choreographer and director of Appetite Dance, to dance in her new work ‘Letters to my Father.’ This experience gave a great insight into the Chinese culture and the detail and precision that goes into classical Chinese dance, it was often challenge for my body as it was a new dance style and technique, but I thrive on a challenge and really enjoyed it.


Coming to the end of my degree, I still felt that I had so much more to learn and I felt a change in location was of great importance, as this would develop me in other ways in terms of knowledge of other dance techniques and cultures. I chose to apply to the José Limón Institute because the technique excites me: I love the play with weight, fall and recovery within his technique, and the work with the breath, as I feel that through using breath, you discover a lot more about the movement  and the depth you can take within it.


I am very interested in suspension and stillness during performance as it allows and requires the body to discover a prolonged energy to project. Limón technique will help to develop all of the above whilst at the same time encouraging me as a performer to explore and express my own individuality.

The current state of the UK dance industry


From what I have experienced of the UK dance industry in terms of funding, as it stands, is that a lot of funding is put into the creation of a piece but then there is often only one performance. I find this bizarre because there is not a possibility for the work to be seen by the wider audience, so I see this as a waste of time and money. I think there needs to be greater funding and development within a touring circuit so that a work can produce more than a one-night wonder.


While studying for my dissertation, I became aware that as a result of the government cuts, the dance organisations, companies, theatres and schools have to find other means of finance in order to survive the current climate. Increased fees for studio hire and and increase ticket prices are two methods that continue to be utilised, however this only jeopardises the industry further, as with a tighter budget, a choreographer has reduced funds, restricted access to studios and therefore less rehearsal time, which risks reducing the quality of the product.


I found that the most affected areas are companies, which are struggling to survive in the industry with the funding being either reduced or cut. While the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs disbanded last December after 25 years, other choreographers including Henri Oguike have dissolved their companies to work freelance, as this is usually a more financially effective method of working, having only themselves to fund. Nevertheless, on the other end of the spectrum, Sadler’s Wells is receiving an increase of £700,000, and Rambert Dance Company has received £7 million to build their new premises.

Some final words


It is hard to explain what dance means to me, although what I can say is that it is what I have an incredible commitment to dance, and it is of paramount importance in my life, devoting myself to the art form. The ‘buzz’ of performing is like no other, it takes me away from myself, and I become someone else and I feel myself beam. I love it.


I love the company Netherlands Dans Theatre: their technique, choreography and performances are all amazing, Jiri Kylián’s Petit Mort is my favourite work – no matter how often you watch it, it never gets old.


I am also a great fan of physical theatre, especially DV8 and Lloyd Newson, I find myself very interested in human psychology, the power of the mind and the tricks it can play on you. Lloyd Newson’s work is inspiring; the vast amount of research and human discovery is amazing, and I would love to work under a great such he. My favourite work my DV8 is Strange Fish, although watching it late at night by yourself can be quite scary!


There are many other companies I love for various reasons, I find it hard to pin which is my favourite, I like versatility, excitement, but what I really love to see is that the dancers are present and enjoying themselves. You can do the smallest of things, but if you are able to capture and take the audience with you, that is the power and performance strength like no other, and that’s the skill I aspire to gain.


Watch Jiri Kylián's Petit Mort, Part 1 and Part 2.



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A New Future for Royal Ballet Flanders?

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The dance world has a very short memory. When Royal Ballet Flanders, described by Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times as "one of the best companies in Europe",  briefly visited London in April on its tour of the UK, few people remembered the furore surrounding the company less than two years previously and the doomed campaigns to protect it.

On 23 October 2010, Kathryn Bennetts, the Artistic Director of Royal Ballet Flanders announced her "resignation" due to decisions made by the Belgian government making her position untenable and raising serious concerns about the future of Royal Ballet Flanders. The Minister of Culture, Joke Schauvliege, who has freely admitted that "she didn’t need to know anything about culture", announced that as part of the government's cost-cutting, the Opera and Ballet companies are to merge, with all artistic programming decision-making to be made by a supervising intendant (administrator) for both companies, and not by each company's Artistic Director.

In the seven years of Bennetts' tenure, she has transformed the company into an award-winning company of international renown, building up its repertoire to feature works by many of Europe's leading choreographers, especially William Forsythe, despite a budget of barely a quarter of that of comparable European companies. Although Bennetts successfully managed to reduce the company's debts through international touring, she was criticised for being "too ambitious" while the company is being punished for not doing more to increase its appeal to audiences within Flanders itself.

While in London, Bennetts gave a talk at Sadler's Wells's Lilian Baylis Studio, in which she discussed the company's future, adding that not only were a significant proportion of the company's dancers leaving, but also the rights to all of the company's full-length works were being revoked as part of the protest at Bennett's treatment by the Belgian government; 26 April, at the International Dance Festival Birmingham, saw the last-ever performance of Forsythe's Artifact by Royal Ballet Flanders.

Yesterday, on 20 August, Kathryn Bennetts tweeted "Never have been so happy to get on a flight in my life. Goodbye Antwerp hello Warsaw."

Today, Dance East has proudly announced that its director Assis Carreiro has been appointed the new Artistic Director of Royal Ballet Flanders. The press release reminds us of all her impressive achievements in raising Dance East to one of the country's most significant national dance agencies, with a funding increase of 60% over the last five years, and of the many choreographers and companies she has worked with over the years - including a brief stint at William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt.

For any company seeking to expand its profile, repertoire and core funding, Assis Carreiro would be a tremendous asset. Yet one cannot read through her career profile without recognising her sheer ambition - and then wonder how that will sit with the Belgian Ministry of Culture, who appears to be averse to ambitious Artistic Directors. Indeed, the background situation implies that the Artistic Director role is little more than that of a caretaker, overseeing a reduced budget, reduced repertoire and reduced cast of dancers, as well as a reduced scope for artistic decision-making.

It's all too easy to imagine that Carreiro has exciting plans and ideas for the company's future, and it remains to be seen how she handles the challenges and handicaps which she'll be facing. To quote Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, "it would take a miracle".



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Can You Come Out to Play?

Never one for being good in my own company, I need other people, or a busy environment in which to feel free to play with movement. A piece I'm currently rehearsing for involves the use of, among other things, a pool of water, and lighting a bowl of lighter fluid. And it’s great fun. The power I felt from being 'allowed' to simply play with these elements took me by surprise.

It's rare that, as adults, we're given such opportunities, and I think that it's a privilege that dancers are afforded more than others. It’s taken for granted, expected, that children will and must play: it aids social development, dexterity, and, in the words of Einstein, ‘play is the highest form of research’. So when is it that things change, and why? At some point we become to cool to play, perhaps we feel we’ve researched enough, and that we know all we want to know. I for one hope I never feel that way!

As well as playing with fire and water, I’ve recently been playing at being a woodland creature throughout summer festivals, and at being part of a human living room. The uncertain glee in a child’s voice when invited to sit on our sofa made of bodies was wonderful to hear: ‘Am I really allowed to sit? But it’s not really a chair!?’ She sat, she had a biscuit (from the human coffee table), and all was well.

A key part of a Dance Movement Therapist’s work is encouraging play, and in the short time that I studied this I gained a huge amount of knowledge and insight about myself, and how I relate to other people and the environment around me. All from moving, exploring and playing with the props / tools / toys that we were provided with.

I consider improvisation to be a form of play, but as it’s often very structured and goal- orientated, I think the sense of freedom can be lost. I think as performers, we’re extremely lucky to have the opportunity to freely explore a movement, a piece of music, a prop or a subject matter, and that as part of a creative process, this should not be used simply as an introduction or a way to get started, but should be constantly revisited and researched. We’re also free to play dress up, to become other characters and encourage the imagination of our audience to join us, which is of course a key reason why Joe Public wants to go to the theatre: everyone wants to be able to experience something ‘other’.

My car boot is currently stocked with, among other things, a Barbie skateboard, thousands of ping-pong balls and a bag of sand. These things have been used, and will be again, to encourage playfulness in dancers young and old, of many years’ experience or of none, and the results both artistic and experiential are great and, I’m sure, a hundred times better than if I just taught some new moves.

So don’t be a grownup. OK, be a grownup, but be a grownup who can play. If it’s good enough for Einstein…

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I, Dancer

So, I have this theory.

It may not be new or earth-shattering, but it’s something that’s been playing on my mind these last few weeks.

Ask me what it is to be a professional dancer and I give a very vague answer. It’s more of an extended “Errr…” with a slight shrug, coupled with an apologetic smile. The results are very unglamorous, but the moment passes, the conversation moves on, and I feel somewhat mystified with my answer. It’s not that I’m dispassionate about what I do, it’s that the term “dancer” is an elusive one, even to me.

Often I feel my problem is the discrepancy with language. You say potato and I say, well… potato. Like any good essay, the beginning is governed by the shaping of your own definition, applying parameters to what it is you are writing about. Place those parameters up in life and it is easy to think that you are missing out on something, conversely, fail to shape them to some degree and you enter a stupor (exhibit A).

I think I may be able to eradicate future vague (read: embarrassing) situations if I solidify my identity by not living a semi-detached lifestyle, but rather embracing a full-bodied experience of dancerdom, whatever shape and definition it takes. More and more I realize a path to “success” is elusive if you can’t find within yourself what success means to you, and the means you have to achieve it.

And so my theoretical proposition is this: the artist is lived, not acquired.

Acquiring something begs for definition. Living something allows for life to grow and shape itself, a career/job/calling can develop and extend beyond the boundaries that have been set up. How many times are your inspirations been those who step outside what you’ve expected? If I’m to surprise myself, really push myself, and fall into the lifestyle I crave, it defies definition.

So enter project Exiting Stupor.

It is giving myself permission to surprise myself.

It is being and living the dancer and not believing it’s something that I’ll create for myself in an instant. I’ve been training for years, thinking and acting like a dancer for years and yet I’m still waiting for the moment when I feel like I am a dancer – strange, isn’t it? It’s not your conventional job. There are no parameters, guidelines or timelines. The “dancer” is as individual as the person and that’s what makes them fascinating – it’s what keeps art interesting, moving, and developing, because a deep-seated interest in every human being is what it is like to be another.

It’s time to play. To exist. To live.

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AD Dance Company: And We Gather

Old floorboards creaked, the temperature rising as you ascend the small but cozy theatre space that is The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. It’s an intimate setting, bringing the dancers in close proximity to their audience, immersing both parties in loud music and mood lighting. A lone female dancer, dressed in black lace emerges from the corner, casting a long shadow onto the back wall. Her hair is severely coiled on her head, her movement quick and precise.

So begins AD Dance Company’s program And We Gather; injury had unfortunately affected these performances, and the company have done a wonderful job of reworking things at the last moment.

Calling upon the inspirational likes of Marie Rambert and Wayne McGregor is a vast and ambitious claim. Were both choreographers sitting side-by-side, these iconic British names may never have fathomed themselves in the same sentence, but this clash of choreographic influences has found a resting ground within the night’s program. Comprised of two works, Slowly We Collide and And They Have Escaped, both pieces sought to examine the influence of gender in choreography.

Slowly We Collide, choreographed by artistic director Holly Noble, leads a tangled journey, the two female dancers taunting and compelling the four male dancers to accompany them. There we strong overtones of swan images in this work, the dancers lifting their arms and isolating their shoulders, artistically preening before beginning another duet. Both male and female dancers had strong facility, and high legs abound in this work, punctuated with technically strong pas de deux work from the dancers.

I wonder at the ultimate intention of this piece, the male dancers showing no compulsion to physically respond to the female dancers who would cling to them, clearly trying to dominate. Were they commenting on the balletic dynamic of a female lead and her partner, I could forgive the ambivalence the males displayed, but a stronger call for an interrelationship would have developed a clearer notion of what was going on. The male dancers, often echoing the females in flipping their legs, matched one another so closely there was a stronger unity than division.

And They Have Escaped, choreographed by company members Chandelle Allen and Brett Murray, was busting with music and material. The whole company, entering the stage and creating boxes for themselves conveyed a series of duets, trios and group work, which was instigated by the dancers exiting their box. Progressively, they did indeed escape, with movements which were powerful, punctuated and fragmented. The tone of this piece contrasted strongly with the last, and the influx of the aforementioned inspiration was hinted at in the varying partnerships.

I would be interested to see this work displayed on a longer trajectory. There were so many ideas, and before they completely unraveled they were recapped and wound up to a conclusion. A whirlwind series, these relationships belied the long male solo at the beginning which involved the dancer darting and mimicking a dancer in another box, encouraging him to move. This solo captured a poignant moment, and this sensitivity carried throughout the rest of the piece may have calmed and shaped the rest into a more paced work.

AD Dance Company has grappled with an overload of ideas which never had the time or space to develop completely. While the dancers were certainly technically capable, the conceptual content was too ambitious and failed to achieve the physical resonance within the dancers for them to emotionally understand the piece and move their audience. Whilst the overall intent of this work was to gather, there were so many fragments that drove both of these pieces to disperse.

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Marc Brew Company: Fusional Fragments

Rough Cuts performances are a rare opportunity for audiences to watch a piece in an intimate setting while it’s still a work in progress. Dance East allows resident choreographers the chance to use their facilities, showcase and test-drive work before its completion. The Rough Cuts format also includes a Q&A session at the end of the performance, allowing the choreographer to get direct feedback from the audience on their unpolished piece.

The evening’s performance is choreographed by multiple award-winner Marc Brew, a classical and contemporary-trained dancer who has had his own established company since 2001.

Fusional Fragments is the culmination of a year-long collaboration with renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and composer Phillip Sheppard. It is also a commission by Unlimited to celebrate the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

With the help of five dancers with incredible strength and skill, Marc Brew Company uses Fusional Fragments to explore whether ballet and contemporary dance should mould together or whether they should stay eternally fragmented.

The distinct movement vocabulary of Marc Brew is hypnotizing. It drags the audience into the intricate yet quirky folding and unfolding balletic lines and movement. The partnerwork in the duets and trios demand to be watched.

A highlight was the dynamic performance lighting of Andy Hamer throughout the piece. At the beginning of the performance, it seemed as though the live sounds of Dame Evelyn Glennie were being initiated by the movements of the dancer breaking the fragments of light projected on the stage.

The finale was exceptionally beautiful, with three dancers onstage in a kaleidoscope of light, completely surrounding the audience and making them feel like they were part of the of the lyrical and coherent performance.

After a year in the making, all of the elements for Fusional Fragments finally came together for this preview: it was like magic happening in front of my eyes.

Fusional Fragments will be performed at the South Bank Centre August 31st. You will be missing out if you don’t go and see it.


Tickets for the South Bank show can be bought here:

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New Adventures: Play Without Words

At the recent premiere screening of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D, a member of the audience asked Bourne how he manages to tell stories without words. While the question was within the context of Swan Lake, it would have been far more obvious to mention Play Without Words, originally commissioned by the National Theatre in 2002 as part of their Transformation season, which was devised to appeal to younger audiences with experimental works.

As part of Matthew Bourne's 25-year anniversary celebrations, Play Without Words follows hot on the heels of the retrospective of his earliest works, Early Adventures, which saw the young Bourne veer between a theatrical path and a pure dance path. In Play Without Words, Bourne clearly leapfrogged over the entire dance spectrum, creating a work which lies somewhere in the grey area between physical theatre and dance theatre, too tightly choreographed and performed to truly belong to the physical theatre world, and with too little dance content to be at home in the world of dance theatre.

In the Play Without Words programme, Matthew Bourne explains that he has cast two or three dancers for each role to highlight the choreography for each character, which would probably be overlooked if only one dancer is performing each role, but not if two or three dancers are performing simultaneously, or variations of each role. And there lies the genius of Play Without Words: not in the storytelling, but of watching the dancers move and interact with each other.

The storyline itself, flimsy though it is, is based on Harold Pinter's 1963 film The Servant, and Play Without Words recreates a world set in 1963, influenced by several other new wave British films from that period. The story follows Anthony and his manservant Prentice, who rises up against the three Anthonies - cowering underneath the stairs to escape him - and finally ending on an equal footing. Additional characters include Glenda, Anthony's fiancée, and Sheila, the housemaid-in-duplicate-only. And yes, if you add all them up, they amount to quite a lot of people on stage at any time. The effect is often that of the museum scene in the Thomas Crown Affair remake: lots of identical characters, but which ones are which?

Considering the storytelling of Matthew Bourne's other works such as Swan Lake, The Car Man or Cinderella, people expecting similarly coherent storytelling from Play Without Words will be disappointed, as the show drifts from morning to afternoon to evening, from indoors to outdoors and between characters. But this is Matthew Bourne's work, after all, so we're rewarded by the tiny gestures and nuances: in one scene, Anthony (Richard Windsor) is sitting in a chair reading a newspaper while Prentice nonchalantly turns the pages as he walks past, then drops a cushion behind Anthony's back when he leans forward. In other sequences we see different outcomes for the characters: for example after the Prentices' uprising, one Prentice sits in the armchair while his Anthony sits on the floor beside him being patted on the head; another Prentice reluctantly pours a drink for his master, while the third Prentice is sitting on the stairs giving Anthony a shoulder rub.

Play Without Words, now ten years old, is a timely exploration of what choreography can achieve, with the upcoming Place Prize and its interest in stretching the boundaries of choreography. And while the choreography is astounding, with razor-sharp performances from the cast, it is let down by its storytelling which prevents it from being a truly amazing show.


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WatkinsDance: Angled Eye

There's a growing movement which encourages dancers to explore their choreographic interests - eg Rambert Dance Company, Hofesh Shechter Dance Company and Royal Ballet's dedicated (and funded) seasons, or even smaller dance companies such as Diciembre Dance Group and AD Dance Company which encourage other company members to try their hand at choreographing works for the company. As seen with the recent showcase of choreography from Hofesh Shechter Dance Company's dancers, if the dancers are used to dancing in a particularly stylised manner, then their own work will almost certainly be a variation of that style. There's also the risk that they might not be that good at choreography - which isn't normally too much of an issue in these circumstances, and anyway, you can't expect everyone to be good at everything.

The programme for Angled Eye features five works created by Anna Watkins of Tavaziva Dance: a very remarkable achievement, especially considering that she only founded WatkinsDance last year, and that her lengthy bio makes little mention of her choreographic background. It's unusual to see a company so focussed on quantity, not to mention length of works, especially compared with the likes of Pair Dance (who Anna has danced with) and Hofesh Shechter, who nurture pieces over several years before creating any more.

The lineup for Angled Eye started with an opening work by Watkins and Bawren Tavaziva performed by Rambert Dance Company's youth company Quicksilver and an excerpt from a work by AD Dance Company - the only non-Watkins work of the evening - followed by four pieces by WatkinsDance.

The first of the four WatkinsDance pieces, Broken Silence, served as a potted summary of Watkins's choreographic ideas in the opening minutes, which were then repeated and recycled throughout the rest of the evening. Broken Silence was about "powerful female dancers", and it was indeed performed by intense-looking women; the opening sequences used a mixture of high-speed movement and slow full-body undulations, punctuated with satisfying kicks, and much reliance on repetition. While it's refreshing to see a piece adhere to its programme notes, Broken Silence was a little too literal in places: the dancers covered their mouths with their hands to indicate being silenced, while the audience saw rather more of the dancers' crotches than they might have liked, thanks to the "erotic" aspects of the choreography.

Inseparable was a duet with interesting dynamics, the male dancer ranging from disinterested to instigating much of the movement, while the female dancer shifted between needy and aggressive and back again.

Domination was a solo performed by Lauren Wilson, which seemed to have slightly more diverse choreography than the preceding pieces, with more hyperextended movements and a significant amount of kneeling-based movement. Similar to her role in Broken Silence, Wilson glared at the audience challengingly, reminding us of what a fierce dominant female she is, slicing the air in case we're in doubt. Unfortunately, the use of repetition gave the impression of trying to extend the piece beyond its natural length, without sufficient ideas to fill the additional length.

If the previous works suffered from insufficient ideas, Forget-Me-Not more than made up for that, with an excess of ideas but a shortfall of cohesion.

Forget-Me-Not was was recently performed at Rich Mix as part of a double-bill with (threads), and is Watkins' tribute to her mother who died when she was thirteen. It's certainly not what you'd expect from a tribute or dedication, and if not for the voiceover at the start and end, it would be all too easy to forget.

In Forget-Me-Not, Watkins uses two distinct choreographic styles and shifts between the two throughout the piece, either using smaller, more controlled movements, almost lyrical in style, or Watkins' physically dynamic style. When performing in the latter style, the dancers appear to revisit sections of the preceding pieces, and again, there's a feeling of the piece being dragged out unnecessarily.

It's extremely ambitious and audacious to programme so many of one's works in one show, and certainly few companies would dare to do the same: in fact the last quintuple-bill I can recall seeing was Dutch National Ballet's celebration of Hans van Manen. And in no way can Anna Watkins be compared with van Manen.

The downside of such a programme is that while each work would have more impact on its own, as part of such a full programme, each piece lessens the impact of the subsequent works, resulting in an anticlimatic ending. Watkins certainly redefines abstraction, relying on seemingly unconnected sequences with some recurring movement being the only thing tying them together. Also, given the intensity of Watkins' choreographic style, there's no room for uncertainty or lack of synchronisation, and there was a little too much of both from the dancers.

There are two main issues here: firstly, the focus on output has had a negative impact on the quality and definition of the work, and time and energy would have been better spent on creating fewer shorter pieces, which in turn would help Watkins develop a clearer choreographic voice. The second issue is that until she does, she will find it hard to attract an audience outside of family and friends, as a showcase of five unedited works by a new choreographer can only be described as one thing: a vanity project.


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