Robert Cohan and British Contemporary Dance

The PlaceWith 2013 marking The Place’s 43rd anniversary, it was the opening of The Place theatre and the London Contemporary Dance School that saw a distinctly British school of modern dance. Although Robert Cohan may not have been the first person to teach or perform contemporary dance in the UK, he was the first to do it with a vision. As a dance partner of Martha Graham, one of the mothers of American modern dance, Cohan came to the UK from the US in 1967 and set in motion the careers of many of the UK’s most influential choreographers, from Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies to West End veteran Anthony Van Laast. Beginning humbly by teaching Graham technique to students, actors and artists who had little formal dance training, they were soon performing Cohan’s choreography as LCDT.

Cohan became the first Artistic Director of the Contemporary Dance Trust in London and was consequently the founding Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and LCDT, which he directed for 20 years. Cohan choreographed 43 works for the company, and puts his success down to being unafraid of aiming for the mass market, with a theatrical eye, making dance theatre which appealed to people who weren’t just balletomanes.

Cohan’s influence on the development of modern dance in Britain has been considerable. Having pioneered the teaching of contemporary dance technique, he was instrumental in developing the repertory of LCDT in the 1970s and 1980s, laying the groundwork for the many other British companies since. As a teacher, Cohan has taught extensively: besides being a senior teacher at the Martha Graham School he worked at The Julliard School, Harvard, Radcliffe, and the University of Rochester in the US, York University in Toronto and at many colleges and universities in the UK.

In 1988, Cohan was awarded an honorary CBE in recognition of his outstanding contribution to dance in the UK, and he has since taken British nationality. Cohan remains active in the running of The Place as a member of its Board of Governors.

The Anniversary of George Balanchine

George BalanchineJanuary 22 2013 marked the birthday of Giorgi Melitonovitch Balachivadze, otherwise known to ballet and dance fans all over the world as George Balanchine, born in 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Balanchine, as the co-founder of the New York City Ballet and one of the greatest choreographers of modern ballet, created the aesthetic we can recognise in theatres today, with costumes of often just leotards, tights and shoes. Other works, such as Jewels, are more classical in taste, but still echoes the Balanchine style and legacy throughout the dance sector in the twenty-first century.

Balanchine co-founded the School of American Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg in 1934, and consequently created one of his most iconic works, Serenade, as a result of his concern that his young students didn’t understand the difference between class work and perfor­mance. He decided the best way for them to learn was to give them something new and unfamiliar to dance. Balanchine said in an interview years later, “I made Serenade to show dancers how to be on a stage”, adding parts for whoever and whatever his classes consisted of. The first class had 17 girls, which explains the beginning of the piece using 17 dancers, and so on. For the emerging of the New York City Ballet, Kirstein envisioned an American ballet where young dancers could be trained and schooled under the guidance of the world’s greatest ballet masters to perform new, modern repertory, rather than relying on touring, imported artists performing for American audiences.

The School of American Ballet has been the home of New York City Ballet since Balanchine journeyed to the US, which has gone on to become one of the most renowned companies of the world. Today, the company is made up of over 100 dancers.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Promotion of Vadim Muntagirov

English National Ballet Logo

Following an outstanding performance of The Nutcracker this December, Vadim Muntagirov of English National Ballet was awarded with a new Lead Principal title on stage by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, in recognition of his exceptional dance ability. This new category for Muntagirov makes way to acknowledge the Company’s new artistic direction under Rojo, who has lots in store for 2013.

Muntagirov comes from a family of ballet dancers – both his mother and father were Principal dancers – and was trained at the Perm Ballet School, of which his father and sister were both graduates. In 2006 Muntagirov joined the Royal Ballet School and in his final year Wayne Ealing (former Artistic Director of ENB) offered him a contract with the Company as a First Artist. Muntagirov progressed through the ranks, promoted to First Soloist in 2010 and Principal in 2011.

Muntagirov’s first performances with the Company were in Barcelona where he partnered Senior Principal Daria Klimentová in the lead role of the Poet in Les Sylphides as part of the Ballets Russes centenary celebration. He has continued this phenomenal partnership with Klimentová across his career with ENB, including roles such as Albrecht in Giselle, and as her Prince in The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty. With ENB, Muntagirov has received the challenging role in Derek Deane’s Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall as Prince Siegfriend, originally intended to partner world renowned Polina Semionova, but later dancing with Klimentová on opening night.

Muntagirov is captivating on stage, having flourished as a technically assured and commanding performer, attacking the most difficult roles in classical ballet repertoire. It seems his work has only just begun, presenting even more challenges by ENB and encouraging him to emerge even further as one of the most prominent male ballet stars of the twenty-first century. Muntagirov was the winner of the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Outstanding Male Performance (Classical) in 2010.

Akram Khan

Having returned to full form for the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Akram Khan has recovered from the notorious injury to his Achilles tendon and is set to perform DESH at the UK’s leading dance house in October 2012. The performance was originally postponed due to Khan’s injury but the UK premiere of the production is going full steam ahead to the delight of many dance fans decked out in their leggings and leotards. Sadler’s Wells, renowned for presenting dance in all its forms to the widest possible audiences, will also be including in its October highlights three critically acclaimed works returning to the theatre.

As an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells, Khan’s latest work, linen trousers and all, made its world premiere in 2011 to unanimous critical praise. The Olivier Award-winning DESH is a full length bare-footed contemporary solo, and Khan’s most personal work to date. Meaning “homeland” in Bengali, DESH draws on multiple tales of land, nation and resistance, all converging in the body and voice of one man trying to find his balance in an unstable world. Moving between Britain and Bangladesh, Khan weaves threads of memory, experience and myth into a surreal world of surprising connection.

For DESH, Khan joined forces with visual artist Tim Yip (production designer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, writer and poet Karthika Nair, Olivier Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook and slam poet PolarBear to create a powerful work which has since defined his career. A collaboration of extraordinary proportions.

Images courtesy of Andy Miah at Flickr.

Beyoncé Vs. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker Despite much time elapsing between the esteemed choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s next moves in the dance world and the similarities of her work with a high-heeled music video of Beyoncé’s, it still seems fit to draw upon the links between the almost chilling uniformity of De Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas and Beyoncé’s Countdown music video, seemingly inspired by the choreographer. This connection between the contemporary dance world and the pop culture to which Beyoncé belongs is becoming shorter, with both choreographers and music artists being inspired by alternative stimuli.

De Keersmaeker, 52, whose company Rosas is full of fierce and dynamic dancers, trained in both Brussels and New York and could consequently be called the godmother of the Belgian contemporary dance movement that spawned such offspring as Jan Fabre, Alain Platel and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Although she’s an acclaimed figure in the dance world – however not for her leotard and leg warmer wearing persona – she is less of a household name outside it, but that changed late in 2011 with her work ‘borrowed’ by Beyoncé for the music video to promote her new single. The two videos are very similar in terms of movement vocabulary, setting and intention, with another sequence in the music video strongly resembling choreography from Achterland, a filmed version of which won the Dance Screen award in 1994.

Regardless of claims of stealing, plagiarism and copyright, it is clear to see that references to other artistic elements are frequent among the producing element of art, including references to modern dance. On a positive note, the choreography of Rosas Danst Rosas was able to reach mass audiences in an altered format, which a dance performance could never achieve, enabling new audiences to inadvertently appreciate De Keersmaeker’s talent and skill emanating throughout the dance world.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

James Cousins

James CousinsJames Cousins (who may be argued as one of the most exciting new choreographers of 2012), is dusting off his practice shoes and preparing to present a programme of new work at Sadler’s Wells, the renowned ‘dance house’ of the UK.

Cousins attended London Contemporary Dance School, graduating in 2010 from three years worth of dance tights and foot thongs, and went on to win the New Adventures Choreographer Award which has set him in excellent stead for a future career in choreography. The award was set up in 2010 to mark Matthew Bourne’s 50th birthday, to be run bi-annually in order to provide young choreographers the chance to develop and hone their choreographic skills under the mentoring of Bourne himself. Whilst training at LCDS, Cousins was awarded the prestigious Robert Cohan Award for the most promising dance artist, as well as co-ordinating the third year touring company LC3, leg warmers and all. His three years also included performing in three different works at venues across London, including Laban and Rich Mix, in addition to Verona, Italy. Cousins was also involved in external projects directed by dance artists and professionals such as Katie Green, Donald Hutera and Darren Johnstone.

Cousins is currently performing too, dancing for Marc Brew Company alongside rehearsing for his own show, whilst Cousins’ choreography has been performed across London and abroad. Cousins’ own double bill at Sadler’s Wells is a result of inspiring teachers and fantastic training at LCDS, enabling Cousins to, for example, perform in Bourne’s Swan Lake on Broadway upon leaving college, as well as appearing in the 3D film version of the iconic show. As a choreographer, a possible highlight of Cousins’ career could be having his work performed at Buckingham Palace for the Duke of York’s 50th birthday… bar Sadler’s Wells!

Image courtesy of the James Cousins Dance.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain © MGM

23rd August marked the 100th anniversary of legendary dancer Gene Kelly’s birth date, in addition to him also being a legendary actor, singer, director and choreographer! One of Kelly’s most memorable dance films is Singin’ In The Rain in which he dons his tap shoes as actor Don Lockwood, splashing through the puddles and sunshine of Hollywood glamour and love. Throughout the film Kelly is athletic, acrobatic and an incredible performer, just as he was in other productions, performing perhaps one of the most famous film dancers of all time.

It may or may not be a well known fact that in Kelly’s rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain”, he was sporting a fever of 103 degrees when the number was shot. In that year, 1952, the Motion Picture Academy gave him an honorary award — his only Oscar — for “versatility”, providing some recognition of his fantastic work in the performing arts industry, despite not flaunting his athletic dancer’s body in a leotard and men’s tights!

Kelly also starred in other ‘dancing films’ such as An American in Paris, dancing “I Got Rhythm”, with the film winning won six Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1951. In addition to dancing, singing and acting in An American, Kelly also choreographed, mixing elements of ballet, tap, soft shoe and shuffle, all performed with vigour.

Five years after his acclaimed performance in the rain, Kelly’s final MGM musical, 1957’s Les Girls, saw him dance with Mitzi Gaynor and again demonstrate incredible dance talent and fitness: skidding across a table on his bottom, scooting across the floor on one knee, leaping to the top of the bar on one foot, sliding down the bar on his right side and grounding himself for the remainder of their duet. Kelly’s masculinity and on and off-screen power was dominating and talent-filled, despite the fact dancing was very foreign to American popular culture at the time. Kelly proved that male dancers did not have to be effeminate, championing dance for the talent and skill involved rather than a particular gender, making his dancing look completely effortless yet powerful.

Image courtesy of the MGM.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

Nigel Charnock

Nigel Charnock, one of the founders of DV8 together with Lloyd Newson, recently passed away at the age of just 52. Charnock was and is still seen by many of one of the true originals who kept contemporary dance bright and evolving, preventing it from becoming stagnant. His complete dedication to extremes and the pushing of artistic boundaries was what many of his audiences and fans were drawn to, in his rejection of the theatrical, the jazz boot, jazz hands and leg warmers.

To some Charnock may have appeared fearless, and may even have been feared, often creating dance extremely controversially. It has been argued that his on-stage eccentricity may also mirror that of his real-life, blurring the boundaries between entertainment and a personal need for output, be it artistically, emotionally, or both. British contemporary dance twenty and thirty years ago presented many talented performers who engaged with and embraced homosexual identity in theatrical dance, extending the limits of entertainment, and indeed art itself, Charnock singing, dancing and making jokes amongst others such as Newson, Michael Clark and Javier de Frutos.

DV8 was founded in 1986, a combination of physical and dance-theatre. DV8 since presented a number of provocative and emotive pieces, such as establishing its breakthrough with Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, a gruelling and yet graceful all-male work, including a young Russell Maliphant. In addition, the subsequent acclaimed production Strange Fish featured strongly Charnock’s powerful persona on stage and film. Charnock then presented a number of personal pieces which have been likened to stand-up comedy, such as Hell Bent, Original Sin, Resurrection, Human Being, and Frank in small London theatres. In a more commercial enterprise, Charnock was commissioned for the integrated dance company Candoco and became artistic director of the Helsinki Dance Company for three years, indicating that not only will Charnock’s legacy live on, but it will flourish and become even more well-known.

The opinions expressed in the above article or review are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.


Some Like It Hip Hop

Some Like It Hip Hop
Image srouce:

ZooNation Dance Company’s Some Like It Hip Hop is returning to the Peacock Theatre in London from 20 – 13 October 2012 following its world premiere last year. Sporting urban dance trainers and tracksuit bottoms, in some cases, the company earned widespread critical praise and standing ovations in 2011. Following in the footsteps of the company’s 2006 smash hit Into the HoodsSome Like It Hip Hop will return ahead of an extensive tour to locations including Salford, Truro, Canterbury, Guildford, Edinburgh, Bradford, Leicester, Nottingham and Wolverhampton.

Kate Prince directed and co-choreographed Into the Hoods, which first premiered at the Peacock Theatre in 2006, later opening at the Novello Theatre in 2008. It became both the first ever hip hop dance show to open in the West End and the longest running dance show in the West End’s history. Prince was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer, and the show won the Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Ensemble Performance.

The Olivier award-nominated production Some Like It Hip Hop unites fantastic dancing with an engrossing storyline, telling a tale of love, mistaken identity, cross-dressing and revolution through ZooNation’s trademark style of hip hop, comedy and physical theatre. ZooNation Dance Company is directed by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Prince, founded by her in 2002 to provide a permanent base for street dancers working in the commercial music industry. Amongst the jazz trainers, leotards and glitter hairspray of some of the commercial industry today, ZooNation has since performed at festivals and events around the world, such as Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells’ annual international festival of hip hop dance theatre. In 2010, ZooNation became a Resident Company at Sadler’s Wells.

The show’s original cast is returning for the production’s second London run led by Tommy Franzen from the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Darcey Bussell is Back!

Darcey Bussell

Five years ago, Royal Ballet principal ballerina Darcey Bussell, arguably the greatest British dancer since Margot Fonteyn, retired and moved to Australia, putting away her pointe shoes. She has now returned to the UK and has recently been elected, tutu training and all, as the new president of the Royal Academy of Dance, one of the world’s most influential dance training organisations. Bussell is also due to resume her role as a judge on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in the autumn, digging out her New Yorkers and fishnet tights again.

The RAD, which was founded in 1920 to reinvent dance teaching, has a syllabus that is now taught to 250,000 students in 79 countries. The RAD aims to promote knowledge, understanding and practice of dance internationally, and Bussell follows in the ballet shoe footsteps of another former prima ballerina, Dame Antoinette Sibley, who retired after 21 years as President. Already Bussell talks of the RAD approaching an even wider range of dance styles in order to remain at the forefront of the evolving arts scene. Bussell is already re-entering the world of British ballet in additionally becoming a patron of The New English Ballet Theatre which is dedicated to supporting home-grown performers.

Bussell cites Sir Kenneth MacMillan as her dance inspiration, one of the great choreographers of the twentieth-century, who helped revive full-length ballets in Britain. He was first to recognise Bussell’s potential and as a result she became the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal ballerina at 20 years old. Years on, Bussell’s energy is still impressive, and her post-retirement activities have included a children’s dancewear range, the Magic Ballerina series of children’s books, and pilates. She is the new face of Sanctuary Spa skincare and has been working on an autobiographical picture book.

Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.