Ballet in Small Spaces Review of 2015

A year of dancing, teaching, study and music…

On a quiet day in January at the Ivy Arts Centre in University of Surrey Jennifer Jackson, Nicholas Minns and I danced for Sonia York-Pryce as part of her research into ageism and the mature dancer, improvising on her material. This enjoyable experience resulted in short individual interpretations, which along with those of other dancers in UK and Australia Sonia edited into an atmospheric compilation, Interprète/Inappropriate Behaviour. Shown to acclaim as an installation at the Whitebox Gallery of Queensland College of Art at Griffith University in August it subsequently won the Gold Medal in the first ever Joie de Vivre Dance Film Competition here in the UK. You can read more about this and find links to the films here

Dancing continued in February with a further performance of Two old instruments with viola da gamba player Jonathan Rees in the impressive Hive library in Worcester; read about this here. We prepared for this with rehearsal at Didcot’s welcoming Cornerstone Arts Centre; and were back there again in June, this time with Jennifer Jackson and violinist Jenna Sherry, to work on another musical collaboration. Set to Ravel’s beautiful and richly complex Sonata for violin and cello, inflect, unravel received an informal showing in the Church Hall at Holy Trinity Barnes on 17th June before its first formal performance on 18th June as part of Donald Hutera’s vibrant GOlive Festival at the Giant Olive Theatre in Kentish Town. The four of us had a great time making and performing this together and we hope that further opportunities to complete and perform it may become possible. You can read more about inflect, unravel here.

This year for the first time GOlive ventured out of London for performances in Winchester and at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford 15th to 18th July. Avid for Ovid was delighted to be included in performances of the second GOlive programme on 17th and 18th July with solos from Ségolène Tarte as Lycaon, Marie-Louise Crawley as Myrrha and myself as Tisiphone. Our first exposure of this work in a theatrical contemporary dance context; great to show it in front of a different audience and alongside other artists working in different genres – Shane Shambhu, Anuradha Chaturvedi, Susan Kempster and Ffin Dance from Wales – and to enjoy the dramatic and expressive possibilities afforded by theatrical lighting. Malcolm Atkins’ scores found a new fan in Donald Hutera! You can read reviews of these GOlive performances on Oxford Dance Writers here and here. The season was a great success, providing a valuable opportunity for Oxford dance artists to show their work alongside other independents and situate themselves in a national context through Donald’s lively curation. Watch out for further exciting GOlive initiatives in the coming year.

Later in the year Avid for Ovid got to perform in another very different context. We were invited to be part of the immensely popular DEADFriday evening event at the Ashmolean Museum on 30th October, putting together a collection of short performances of our spookiest characters for Hallowe’en and throwing in some improvisatory casting of Roman curses… surrounded by the imposing classical figures of the Cast Gallery, with hundreds of visitors passing through. All part of a year of broadening our range and flexing our performative muscles, which also included a workshop for 62 primary school children at Cheney School in February, and a performance by Marie-Louise and Malcolm of Myrrha at the Birmingham Dance Network Platform event on 23rd October. Huge thanks are due to the inspiring and indefatigable Lorna Robinson, the driving force behind East Oxford Community Classics Centre and the Iris Project, under whose auspices we are now EOCCC Artists in Residence rehearsing regularly at Cheney School. We finished the year talking about our working processes at an alumni event for classicists at Corpus Christi on 15th December; and with a works outing to the lovely Winterbourne Gardens in Birmingham, where we will be performing in at the opening presentation of scholar Miriam Bay’s Ovid’s Garden next June – more information about this delightful project on the A4O blog here.

But it wasn’t all dancing; ballet teaching at URC continued to form a solid backbone to BiSS activity, even if the schedule was occasionally disrupted by performances, family events and also an unforgettable trip to China in April to visit my brother in Beijing. A heartfelt thank you to Ségolène Tarte for keeping classes going while I was away with a stimulating and refreshing mix of Gallic style, charm and thoughtful rigour.  Thanks also to lovely Ellie Carter who brought freshness and American energy as a guest teacher in February – as well as impressive experience as a performer with Ballet Met and American Repertory Ballet and a teacher at Ohio State University. We all wish her well in her new role as a mother, and hope she may come back to inspire us in class again!

Ellie had joined us for some of the Collective Contemporary Classes which ran during the spring and summer terms on Monday mornings. An impressive roster of guest teachers for the year included Roosa Leimu-Brown, Marina Collard, Lizie Giraudeau, Cecilia Macfarlane, Aya Kobayashi, Fiona Millward and Sarah Hyams. Sadly despite some very popular sessions, the classes did not achieve sufficient numbers overall to maintain themselves unsupported. So we have taken a break, but hope that in 2016 this valuable initiative may be reborn. A great opportunity to experience a range of styles of dance and the huge knowledge of some wonderful artists; Oxford dance artists need such regular opportunities to come together to feed and share their practice, and maintain their technical and creative know-how. To see what has been done to date check out the CCC Facebook page here; and if you are interested in these classes please let me know.

Ballet and contemporary came together in the summer for the first ever URC Summer Workshop early in August. For 5 days I taught a 2 hour morning ballet class and Lizie Giraudeau a 2 hour afternoon contemporary class for adult dancers, providing an opportunity for intensive dancing, development of old skills and exploration of new. The ballet class included study of some classic repertoire, the famous corps de ballet entrance, adage and waltz from the opening of Act 3 of Petipa’s La Bayadère; and Lizie’s class provided an opportunity for those who had never tried contemporary dance before to dip their toes in the water and experience the exhilaration of floorwork, contact and improvisation… It was heart-warming to see how people grasped these opportunities and made visible progress. Definitely an enjoyable experience to be repeated, you can read about it here.

Throughout the year I was continuing with my PhD studies. After many redrafts I am delighted to report that my project received its confirmation at first attempt in May.  Since then there has been even more reading, and two presentations at conferences; for Limits and Margins, the Roehampton Research Student Conference in September, “The Ballet Class: oral tradition in academe”; and in October “Music as a contribution to learning in the ballet class” at Jonathan Still’s conference Music and movement as process and experience, convened under the auspices of the UCL Institute of Education’s Music Education Special Interest Group and held at the Royal Academy of Dance.

In May Jonathan and I had worked together to devise a short course for Oxford University music students interested in acquiring the impressive skills of ballet class accompanists.  A small group of talented young pianists attended Thursday morning classes, and made their first attempts under Jonathan’s immensely experienced tutelage. I often use Jonathan’s CDs for class; it was a real treat for us all to enjoy his fabulous playing live. Hopefully this small beginning may open the door to more live music in class; experiences throughout this year have reinforced the sense of how enriching it is to dance in collaboration in the moment with wonderful musicians such as the Jonathans Rees and Still, Jenna Sherry and Malcolm Atkins. As the old year closes I look forward therefore among other projects to a forthcoming choreographic collaboration with Jennifer and the exciting Maxwell Quartet in the coming year, making a piece for the newly reborn Images Ballet Company of London Studio Centre.

I will of course keep you posted of this and other forthcoming projects in what looks to be a busy and exciting year ahead; but remember that you can always find out more about dance going on in Oxford by following Oxford Dance Writers for on-going information and reviews of dance events and publications. Contributions are very welcome; please do use the site to comment on what you see and read; and if you would be interested to write and review more formally, please get in touch…

Wishing you much joie de la danse in 2016!








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