Ballet in Small Spaces Review of 2014

It is New Year’s Eve, so time once again to look back on the year and take stock before ringing in 2015… A useful exercise!

A year of performing, testing my limits as a “mature“ dancer, at a time when there seems to be gradually increasing interest in older performers. Two old instruments, my collaboration with viola da gamba player Jonathan Rees, was paired with Dances, Oracles, Mysteries devised and performed by artists of Barefoot Opera in the double bill Visible Music for a mini tour of performances in Bristol, Shoreditch and Oxford at the end of April. Subsequently Jonathan and I also performed twice in the welcoming setting of St Helen’s Central Library in May.  Response has been most positive and we already have a further performance of this adaptable piece confirmed for another library, this time in the intimate studio space of state-of-the-art The Hive in Worcester on 7th February. You can find full information about this project here.

My rehearsal sessions at URC in the early part of the year were often attended by visual artist Antonia Bruce, building a portfolio of evocative ink and wash drawings of dancers – Oxford based Rachel Gildea, Marina Collard and myself, as well as Luca Silvestrini’s talented company Protein Dance at London’s The Place – for her solo exhibition Blue Moon at Art Jericho in April. We squeezed into the intimate gallery space for the crowded exhibition opening to dance extracts of our work to put her lovely pieces in context. The exhibition was a huge success and we were invited back to close it with more dancing. You can find information about this and images here and here, and I feel very privileged to have been able to display further beautiful images from Antonia elsewhere on the BiSS blog this year.

Antonia was also drawing regularly at the Monday morning contemporary classes at URC. Thanks to underwriting from Oxford Dance Forum, it was possible in the Spring Term to continue and complete the cycle of Skinner Releasing classes led by Lizzy Le Quesne which had proved popular not only with dancers but with participating visual artists wishing to get inside the dance.

Summer saw a break from these classes but in the autumn the series was reborn as Collective Contemporary Class, now jointly programmed by Rachel Gildea and myself. Teachers from September included John Darvell, Cecilia Macfarlane, Marina Collard, Fiona Millward, Aya Kobayashi and Roosa Leimu-Brown; all of these talented and distinguished artist-teachers with Oxford residence or connections. These regular classes provide a valuable and much needed resource to support local professionals in their practice, and enable the sharing of a rich range of experience; Rachel and I live in hope that we can ultimately convince funding bodies of the benefits that this essential on-going professional development provides… Delighted to report that we have a further programme in place resuming on 5th January with Roosa Leimu-Brown; and you can keep up to date with the programme not only via posts here on the BiSS blog but also on the CCC Facebook page here.

By Easter a heavy schedule of studying, rehearsing and teaching was taking its toll, and to ease this I gave up teaching Friday evening classes for Oxford Academy of Dance. A fitting ending to 9 years of teaching was provided by OAD’s as ever impressively professional show held at Wychwood School, for which I had choreographed a brief pointe work study for members of the Friday evening intermediate class. Great to see how these young dancers rose to the challenge of pointe work by dancing with confidence and clarity in performance; I felt proud of their achievement. Friday classes continue at URC, now taught by the experienced and popular Lesley Tunstall.

Dancing did not stop after Two old instruments. Following on from initial workshops in summer 2013, Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers with the support from The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) continued its investigations of ancient Roman pantomime techniques with dancers; and the performing group Avid for Ovid (A4O) emerged, initially consisting of dancers Ségolène Tarte and myself and musican/composer Malcolm Atkins. In May three stimulating one day open practical workshops were programmed at the Jacqueline Du Pré Music Centre at St Hilda’s College exploring different dance storytelling techniques led by dance artists: Kathak with Anuradha Chaturvedi, Butoh influenced physical storytelling with Yael Karavan, and neutral mask technique with Marie-Louise Crawley. This fed into the development of short solo pieces which A4O performed over the coming months in a variety of informal contexts at the Ioannou Centre, Iffley Church, Modern Art Oxford as well as the hugely entertaining Festival of Ancient Tales organised by the indefatigable Lorna Robinson for the East Oxford Community Classics Centre at Cheney School. Not to mention Metamorphoses – dance interpretations of the poetry of Ovid, our sharing of work to date in the beautiful Al Jaber Auditorium at Corpus Christi College on 28th August.

Work continued through the autumn developing further dances from more complex stories, and now delighted to include Marie-Louise Crawley as a full member of the group, we returned to the Al Jaber to show these works in progress on 28th November. TORCH funding for ADMD has now finished but we feel that this fascinating work has acquired real momentum and made some positive contacts, and we look forward to developing it further in the coming year. You can follow our explorations on the Avid for Ovid blog here, and news of events will be posted on the Facebook page here. Watch this space!

Meanwhile ballet classes at URC have continued as usual; my teaching providing me with constant opportunities for questioning the subtleties and complexities of the phenomenon of the ballet class as part of my on-going PhD research. I have become a regular on the Oxford Tube heading to the leafy setting of Roehampton University to shut myself in the library for afternoons of reading and cudgelling my sprawling ideas into shape, as well as to make contact with other members of the Dance Department’s thriving research group. But also to attend as many classes as possible with much loved teacher Roger Tully, who at 86 has finally decided to retire from regular teaching and will shortly be leaving his house and historic studio in Notting Hill Gate. For his regular students the end of 2014 truly marked the end of an era. Plans are afoot to archive and document Roger’s important work, and to continue sharing what we have learned from his practice in regular classes.

We live in uncertain times; and institutional funding to take forward creative work and bring it to its full potential remained as elusive as in the previous year. So I would like to finish by saying a big thank you once again to all those who responded with such generosity to my plea for “angels” for Two old instruments; your support enabled beautiful costuming that has contributed significantly to the success of the work, and is greatly appreciated. Another welcome and positive note this year has been the increased interest in dance coming to light within Oxford University; not simply the support of ADMD’s research with dancers giving A4O a springboard, witness also the presence of established artists such as choreographer Rosie Kay and movement director Struan Leslie as artists in residence, and the exciting burgeoning of Dance Scholarship Oxford, DANSOX, spearheaded by Dr Susan Jones and Dr Fiona Macintosh at St Hilda’s, which has programmed some great – and packed out – events with guest luminaries including Dame Monica Mason, archivist Jane Pritchard, choreographer Siobhan Davies and Martha Graham dancer and teacher Marni Thomas Wood. You can find information about such events in the Dance and Academia category on Oxford Dance Writers here.

Here’s hoping that 2015 brings more of this growing support; to use the hoary old Strictly catchphrase “Keep dancing!” – but also keep going to see the dance, and bringing your friends and family too…

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year,

Susie

You can read the review of 2013 here

 

 

 

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