Does the Dancing have to Stop? Sonia York-Pryce’s research with older dancers

Start as you mean to go on…

This year’s creative endeavours got off to a positive and life affirming start. I joined colleagues Jennifer Jackson and Nicholas Minns in the spacious dance studio at the Ivy Arts Centre at University of Surrey once again on 6th January at the request of dancer and researcher Sonia York-Pryce, to contribute to her research into older dancers.

Sonia’s research into ageism and the mature dancer began in 2013 as part of her Bachelor of Digital Media (Hons) at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Australia. She called it Does the Dancing have to Stop? and initially involved dancers Jennifer Jackson and Louise Lecavalier in interviews and questionnaires about their process, fitness, and performance thoughts.  This and a short film using archive footage of the young Sonia and the mature became the creative input of her degree; watch the film here.

With the encouragement of Griffith University Sonia is continuing with the research for a PhD, involving more dancers in her questionnaire intending to give the mature professional dancer a voice. Dancers so far included in her primary research: Anca Frankenhauser and Patrick Harding-Irmer (former London Contemporary Dance Theatre & Australian Dance Artists), Susan Barling and Ross Philip (former Sydney Dance Company & Australian Dance Artists), Liz Lea (Canberra Dance Theatre, Liz Lea & Co), Leanne Benjamin (Royal Ballet), Lucinda Dunn (Australian Ballet), Ann Dickie (Rambert, From Here to Maturity), Jennifer Jackson (Royal Ballet, Dancing the Invisible), Debbie Lee Anthony (Winchester University, Tacit Dance, Theatre in Motion), Louise Lecavalier (La La La Human Steps & Fou Glorieux), Claire Whistler (Rambert, Glyndebourne, artist in residence University London), Nicholas Minns (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens). I was delighted to be asked to join this distinguished roster. Her trip over to the UK from Australia has also just included a brief visit to The Hague to interview Gérard Lemaître and Sabine Kupferberg, major and influential players in the legendary Nederlands Dans Theater III, set up by Jiri Kylian in 1991 to provide a platform for dancers over the age of 40, and continuing till 2006.

The second stage of Sonia’s research is to ask a group of dancers – 4 in Australia and 4 in the UK – to re-interpret a personal dance motif that she created when studying at Laban Centre in 1987, in a dancerly appropriation of an idea from French artist Sophie Calle, see details here.  Sonia’s resulting film combining footage the different dancers’ free interpretations of her material will be called “interprète“, echoing French theorist Laurence Louppe – and highlight the experimenting/experience of a dancer. You can see Sonia demonstrating her motifs facing in different directions here.

Sad that the fourth of Sonia’s UK dancers Ann Dickie was unable to join us that day, but it was delightful to spend time exploring Sonia’s deceptively simple motifs which revealed themselves to be full of expressive possibility. The best kind of creative work, relaxed in pace and companionable, yet ultimately highly productive. We shot our surprisingly different versions in single long takes with two cameras, one for long shot, and one for Sonia to home in close on detail. Sonia had trained briefly at the Royal Ballet Senior School; over tea and sandwiches after we reminisced about teachers, dancer idols and studios…

Susie working on interpreting Sonia's motif

Susie working on interpreting Sonia’s motif

I look forward to reporting further on the progress of this thought-provoking research.

Sonia gave a paper Ageism and the Mature Dancer about her research at the Time, Space & the Body conference held at Mansfield College in Oxford in September 2014; you can read it here:

When not in study mode Sonia is a dance photographer who works in Time Exposure medium; you can see her work here.



  1. soniayorkpryce said:

    Susie thank you so much for this – re-reading this makes the project have so much value – keeping the visibility of mature dancers is my goal!!

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