Ballet in Small Spaces Review of 2013

It is that day of the year when all our extended family make predictions as to what the coming year will hold.  I find these very difficult; much easier to reflect back on 2013 and see what that reveals.  Finding the way forward by looking to the past seems to have been rather a theme in creative work this year… 

Jennifer Jackson and I joined forces once again with deluxe improvising duo of composers Malcolm Atkins and Andrew Melvin to perform Late Work at Donald Hutera’s GoLive festival of new dance and performance in September at the Lion and Unicorn pub in Kentish Town.  The piece reflects on our past as dancers and how we are shaped by ballet’s language and historic repertoire.  This really was ballet in a very small space, but thrilling to be part of this lively and refreshing event and its richly varied programme.  You can read Rebecca Nice’s review of Late Work here: http://oxforddancewriters.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/late-work-at-golive-festival-25th-september-2013-rebecca-js-nice-reviews/

And her review of the GOlIve Festival for Total Theatre with Late Work picture heading it here:

http://totaltheatre.org.uk/golive-dance-and-performance-festival/

Meanwhile throughout the year I continued working with viola da gamba player Jonathan Rees on our collaboration Two old instruments, celebrating the salon music of 18th century virtuoso Carl Friedrich Abel for this beautiful instrument in a historically informed but contemporary interpretation.  As well as work in the studio and practice room this involved inspiring and fruitful historical research into baroque music and dance, including two days learning the minuet with expert Nicola Gaines; my attendance in April at this year’s Oxford Dance Symposium enjoying illuminating and entertaining academic papers and presentations on “Living, dancing, travelling, dying: dancers’ lives in the long 18th century”; and a fascinating practical workshop on baroque dance and gesture with Moira Goff. 

Jonathan and I showed our work in progress to professional colleagues in the peaceful setting of The Space, Clarence Mews in Hackney where we have been rehearsing together; our deepest thanks to Caroline Salem for her sensitive hosting and for providing this valuable haven for undisturbed creative time.  An encouraging response has led to us teaming up with another collaborative team for a whole evening programme of dance and music.  We already have three performances of Visible Music booked for the end of April 2014 including one at The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford on 29th April.

Because of its intimate scale and in the round presentation, Two old instruments has the potential for site specific performance in art galleries, museums, stately homes, churches or simply rooms; this is arousing interest in a variety of venues, so hopefully more dates to be confirmed shortly!

Looking even further into the past was the Oxford University research project Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers, with workshops in May in which dancers collaborated with classicists to try to imaginatively recreate the lost art of Roman pantomime, a particular form of storytelling through dance, and a symposium in October.  Excited that this project will continue in the coming year; looking forward to exploring further with academics Helen Slaney, Caroline Potter and Sophie Bocksberger, and creatively with Oxford dancer and researcher in Digital Humanities Ségolène Tarte, composer Malcolm Atkins and other dance colleagues.  You can read about the work to date here: https://balletinsmallspaces.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/ancient-dance-in-modern-dancers/

DEC Project Oxford also plumbed the past when at the instigation of artist Kassandra Isaacson we used Poussin’s magisterial and enigmatic ‘Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake’ as the inspiration for a substantial piece in our Luminous Shadows performances at the Old Fire Station in May.  You can watch a brief video by Chris Atkins, see photographs by Sarah Jex and read reviews here:  http://decprojectoxford.wordpress.com/

However despite these positive and exciting events creative activity remains precarious.  Recession continues to hit arts projects such as these with cuts on all sides, and the recent report Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital by Peter Stark, Christopher Gordon and David Powell confirmed what we have long suspected here in Oxford about the outrageous inequity that exists between funding for the arts in London and in the rest of the country. 

The “Low pay or no pay” dilemma is very real here, particularly for dancers who physically need to keep exercising their dance for it to survive, whether paid or not.  But in a local economic and cultural climate where arts funding can only be perceived as justifiable if it is instrumental in achieving some social or political end, it is hard to raise money for production costs, or to pay artists for their time spent making work, rehearsing and performing.  Developing Two old instruments has hitherto been self funded; recent attempts to get targeted local government funding to bring it to performance have been unsuccessful.  Ballet in Small Spaces is actively looking for sponsors and backers who can see the potential of this small but potentially exquisite and enjoyable project.  Please contact Susie if you think you can help in any way.  But in general a plea to all for 2014; support your local companies and performers by buying tickets, inviting friends and family, and attending shows!

On a less gloomy note:

The Exuberant Trust celebrated its 10th Anniversary year in fine style with Exuberant Oxford! a gala showcase featuring some of the talented young artists and performers who have received recent grants from the Trust, including dancers, instrumentalists, a singer, a film maker, actors and designers, all with bright futures ahead.  The evening generously hosted by the Pegasus Theatre raised £1200 towards further grants for young people in Oxfordshire needing support to pursue and develop their interest in the arts.  The Trust’s on-going Music at the Limes concert series kicks off for 2014 on Sunday 12th January with a recital of ‘Songs to Warm a Winter’s Evening’ by soprano Becky Hiller accompanied by pianist Peter McMullin, and there are further delights to come, including a recital by old friend Henry Roche, until recently Head of the Royal Ballet’s Music Staff.  Please make the effort to come and enjoy one of these delightful informal concerts, a real treat and in aid of a worthy cause. http://www.exuberant-trust.org.uk/index.html

Santa Claus came early for Oxford Dance Writers with a grant from Oxford Dance Forum to support upgrading and development of the site, which has been slowly but surely establishing itself as a platform for information and discussion about the Oxford Dance scene.  I am really grateful to Oxford Dance Forum for this helping hand and vote of confidence, as the site continues to expand, bearing witness to the surprising and cheering amount of dance activity that goes on in Oxford.  Special thanks too to all those who have contributed their thoughts and impressions about what they have seen, especially Maggie Watson, whose show and book reviews are garnering quite a following.  Please visit and enjoy, and add your comments, you will be very welcome at our new address:  http://oxforddancewriters.co.uk

Meanwhile Ballet in Small Spaces classes continue to grow, with the Monday afternoon adult beginners’ class now firmly established.  Three cheers again for Oxford Dance Forum who have offered some support for sustaining the Monday morning contemporary classes.  This series of clusters of classes with distinguished mainly Oxford based teachers in differing genres culminated in the autumn with guest teacher Lizzy Le Quesne leading a series of Skinner Releasing Technique classes, evocatively documented by Oxford based artist Antonia Bruce.  Lizzy Le Quesne will be returning to complete the series in the New Year, full information to follow very shortly.

And one last piece of news; I have just been accepted to start working part time for a PhD by Roehampton University’s Department of Dance.  My research topic emerges from my own practice as a choreographer and teacher, looking at how these roles might interact in the ballet class.  I am delighted to have as my supervisors eminent practitioner/scholars Geraldine Morris and Emilyn Claid; and I look forward very much to being part of Roehampton’s lively dance research community, and bringing fresh thinking back to share with students and colleagues in Oxford.

Wishing you all a richly creative and positively artistic New Year,

Susie

31st December 2013

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