Treacle Holasz – Today’s Pioneer

Treacle HolaszTreacle Holasz is an emerging Irish, Ukrainian choreographer who combines her eclectic heritage to create comical and engaging physical theatre. Her latest piece ‘Why Fronts: A Contemporary Lap Dance’ is being showcased as part of The Place’s Resolution! 2014 festival.

When did you begin dancing, where and why?

At around the age of 4 my mother’s friend, Lucy, gave us some Tchaikovsky recordings, that I would put on and dance around the room doing faux ballet; I had so much fun that my mother started to take me to ballet classes at our local YMCA. Then, like so many of my dance friends, I regrettably stopped taking classes, and it wasn’t until the age of 12 that I rediscovered my passion for dance and creating movement. My skills were nurtured at The Place as part of the first year of their CAT scheme and their youth company – Shift.

What were your early years of dancing like?

So incredibly fun! One of the reasons I love teaching dance workshops and community projects now is because you can see in others the sheer excitement to learn! I have always been ambitious, from a young age I juggled studying for my GCSEs alongside attending dance classes every night of the week. Thankfully I have wonderfully supportive parents who worked very hard to not only pay for my lessons but drive me to classes. Despite never having experienced contemporary dance themselves, they have always encouraged me. I think it’s really empowering to be young and discover a past time that requires both discipline and creativity.

How long have you been performing? Did you start young?

I was painfully shy, up until the age of 17, so I was really only comfortable when I was performing. I performed throughout my school years, Shift in particular was a great and formative experience; as well making some great lifelong friends I was also given the opportunity to work with incredible choreographers like Martin Lawrence, Tom Dale and Zoi Dimitriou. I continued to perform throughout my training and on graduating performed with The March Performance Group. We were real pioneers, a group of feminists lead by American thinker Kate March. Shortly after, I met Cypriot choreographer Marina Poyiadji and we were commissioned by the European Union in 2012 to create and present a duet in Cyprus entitled ‘DECLARE WHAT’.

This work was an intensely intimate process, working together so closely we were almost able to second guess each others next movement. This collaboration sparked my interest in vocal rhythms of language, a device which I explore more throughly in my latest piece ‘Why-Fronts – A Contemporary Lap Dance’.

Where did you train and what was a typical day like?

I trained for 2 years at Lewisham College. It was fantastically brutal, we were like a dance army, we’d get in for around 8.30am to warm up then have classes from 9am-5pm, then if you were working on choreography you sometimes didn’t get away till 8pm.

I was very privileged to learn under Buddy Watkins and Ragnhild Olsen, both very different but really memorable teachers. After Lewisham I briefly went up to Northern School of Contemporary Dance but I couldn’t leave London so I decided I wanted a choreography based degree, there are some really fantastic university courses. I chose Middlesex University; a typical day was pretty varied but generally speaking you had two technique classes. The choreography classes were always my favourite as from the start there was a clear emphasis on discovering our own choreographic voice. I set up a company in my second year called DRA – we would perform choreographies at London venues to live bands and DJs, and loads of our fellow Middlesex dancers turned up in support. It was and is a really friendly, approachable atmosphere and I’m excited to be teaching a choreography workshop on 3 February at Middlesex, hopefully acting as a springboard for more collaborations in the future!

What is a typical day like now?

Very different, literally every day is different! Freelancing is tough but you feel like you make yourself achieve and every day counts. Rehearsals for my current piece
begin with tea and a quick gossip, then we all lay down, we do a series of set breathings and face warms ups then we start creating noise, warming up our lungs from there we will begin to move first improvised then into our more set material with my wonderful dancers Georges Hans and Charlie Ford. Some days I teach and rehearse with The Meyer Dancers (a 1960’s GoGo group founded by Holasz). Whenever possible I try and a fit in a hot chocolate with my friend Ruby Isla to discuss fun ways to promote my work through social media, and how to spread the word about the various choreographic workshops that I offer, with the aim of enabling others to discover their unique choreographic voice.

Do you still take classes? How do you keep on top of your technique?

When I was at Uni I did take class at The Place, but as a freelancer I can’t commit from one week to the next in case I’m performing or teaching – so I really rely on drop in classes. My personal 2014 resolution is to take up a ballet class again, I think it’s a technique you just fall in love with again as you get older. It’s a bit like being an artist when you learn first draw, you use a pencil, then you get excited by inks, water colours and oil and you sort of take the pencil for granted but without the pencil the painting is arguably a mess so with the discipline of the pencil you find a freedom to be creative. So you could say that Ballet is my pencil, Ha!

What’s the best part of performing?

When you see someone in the audience smile or laugh or even just look you dead in the eye and you think “YES! They get it”. I think it’s far harder to make an audience laugh and connect with you as a human being rather than an unobtainable ‘performer’. I never want to lose sight of the fact that dance should be enjoyable escapism. I’m a born entertainer: if you are paying us money, I want you to go home thinking “We just got entertained.” A personal pet peeve of mine is when I go and see a work and company are so self indulgent that they appear to be enjoying the evening more than the audience.

What piece will you be performing at Resolution!? What is it about?

I’m really proud of this work called ‘Why Fronts: A Contemporary Lap Dance’ (or if you are on the twitter-sphere, #Yfronts). Essentially it is a piece which explores the influence that gender has on society’s attitude towards movement, questioning why certain movements performed by a woman are viewed as provocative, whereas exactly the same movements or pose performed by a man are deemed
animalistic? We are also debating whether the popular but controversial dance form of a lap dance should be considered pro or anti-feminist? My dancers Georges and Charlie had a workshop with acclaimed pole dancer VEGAS (Sasha Allen) in the art of pole and seduction; she has been really influential in the work as she gave us such a frank account of her professional working life.

Which part of contemporary dance do you enjoy most?

I love moving the most, physically dancing. It is a varied and rich style and to an extent it is a misunderstood style that is often under represented – I’d like to see it be given a lot more coverage. I strongly believe that people should be encouraged to feel OK if they “don’t get it”, the wondrous nature of contemporary dance is that is doesn’t have a linear and one dimensional narrative, it isn’t something that needs to be ‘got’ or understood fully, but more emphasis needs to be placed on works being created purely for enjoyment purposes.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be part of the dance industry?

Not to listen to advice! There really is no magic recipe or clear path into any creative industry. I think you can carve your own path and make your own opportunities; you don’t always need to rely on platforms or funding awards, put on events with people whose work you dig and venues you love and just make things happen, your way.

What’s next for you? When are you performing at Resolution?

We are performing on 11 February – we really want to have fun with the piece, it’s going to be more like a party than a performance, There’s a strong cultural influence from my Irish Ukrainian heritage so we have a live Bodhran player Tad Sargent joining us, we are also asking some of the audience to join us on stage, then there is talk of vodka shots… My dashing dancers be stripping down to their Yfronts so it really is one for the diary! We both hope to tour the work and also to teach our choreography workshops alongside it to dancers of all abilities. At Holasz Choreography we are all about remembering, creating and having a ruddy good time!

You can keep up to date with future dates, plans and gossip here:

  • or @holaszchoreog on Twitter

Why-Fronts – A Contemporary Lap Dance is part of a triple bill and is being performed alongside Jenni Wren’s Slanjayvah Danza: MinorTears and LCP Dance Theatre’s Am I. For tickets and more information please visit

Body Of Knowledge

ResCenEarly November saw the launch of a new strand of ResCen, the Research Centre of Middlesex University. This strand is dedicated to the reaching and works of Robert Cohan, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and now a teacher and choreographer in his own right.

Cohan went on to establish The Place, London, with Robin Howard, and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, bringing a specific style of contemporary dance to the UK.

The students at Middlesex University are taught the Cohan method of the Graham technique by Anne Donnelly, a student descendant, passed down from teacher to student to teacher again, creating a legacy which is both complemented and supported by ResCen. The Cohan method does not differ widely from pure Graham technique; the principles of movement remain the same, just with the additions of Cohan’s profound teaching method and incorporation of the body and mind.

Robert Cohan, is the founding artistic director of The Place alongside Robin Howard, who financed the years following The Place’s inception. It was born from the journey of the Martha Graham technique from America to London by Cohan, seeing his work and legacy documented in by his colleagues and students to preserve his teaching method and also include interviews about his ethos and various works.

Now The Place is home to many contemporary and jazz classes, alongside the Richard Alston Dance Company and London Contemporary Dance School, no longer London Contemporary Dance Theatre which became the recipient company of London Contemporary Dance School students. The Place offers termly classes in techniques such as Release, Cunningham, Limón and Graham, alongside some ballet and jazz.

Phoenix Dance Theatre

Phoenix Dance TheatrePhoenix Dance Theatre has grown over the last thirty years to become a renowned and respected British dance company. Founded in inner-city Leeds, the company has become a leading contemporary company and now completes both national and international tours in the aim to bring inspiring and entertaining dance to the widest possible audience.

Founded in 1981 by David Hamilton, Donald Edwards and Vilmore James, Phoenix’s fresh approach to contemporary dance won much support from its audiences and critics. The company began with just male dancers and went on to appoint female dancers from 1987 following the appointment of Neville Campbell as Artistic Director. Cambell worked to expand the company to ten dancers, and also expanded the company’s repertoire. In this year also the company established its permanent base at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds city centre.

1991 saw Margaret Morris take over as Artistic Director, and with this saw the expanding of the company’s UK and international touring. In 1996 the company were the some representative of British dance at the Cultural Olympics in Atlanta, and the company continued to grow under two more Artistic Directors, establishing an archive and rebranding the company. Phoenix has seen many styles of directorship and many growing facets as a result: under Javier De Frutos, for example, the now multi-cultural company won the ‘Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Modern)’ at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards.

Current Artistic Director Sharon Watson was appointed in 2009, re-introducing the company to diverse and mixed programmes of work and revived classic pieces from the companies rich repertoire. The company now aims to be the leading middle scale dance company in the UK, having just celebrated three decades of dance. The company’s new home at Quarry Hill means Phoenix can continue producing high quality work for even longer.

Resolution! Review: Calling Dance Writers

The PlaceThe Place is once again opening it’s annual Resolution! festival up to reviewers who wish to be partnered by a professional critic and pass judgment on some of the UK’s most promising new dance companies. The Place has engaged with audiences and participants, championed the best ideas, and created inspiring conditions for artists and enthusiasts to realise their potential for over forty years, including that of Resolution!. Combining London Contemporary Dance School, Richard Alston Dance Company and the Robin Howard Dance Theatre, together with pioneering learning, teaching, outreach, recreation and professional development projects The Place champions contemporary dance in particular, and all its strands.

The Place’s approaches to participation, education, creation and performance inform each other, respond to today’s world, and embrace risks to build on the achievements of dance history and to transform and enrich lives. By shaping where dance is going next The Place offers a multitude of opportunities to see new dance, take part in something new or join discussions about key concepts and critical issues for the world of dance today. In particular, Resolution! has become one of the biggest dance festivals in the UK, showcasing new works by emerging choreographers each year at The Place running from Tuesday 14 January to Saturday 15 February 2014.

As a result, Resolution! Review is an online platform covering the entire festival. Supported by a team of national newspaper critics, who are paired with a team of young writers, mentored by the professional dance critics. Each show is reviewed by both and each review is promoted by The Place, who are now on the lookout for reviewers for Resolution! 2014. The festival does not require technical dance experts, just excellent writers who can communicate responses honestly and in an engaging fashion. The successful applicants will have access to seminars providing opportunities to ask questions around current working practices.

Spotlight On Peggy Lyman Hayes

Peggy Lyman HayesPeggy Lyman Hayes danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1973 to 1988, featuring in works including Lamentation, Frontier and Acts of Light. She is one of the master instructors at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York and is currently responsible for restaging Graham’s works for the Martha Graham Trust.

Lyman Hayes is now considered somewhat of an authority on Graham having been a former principal with the Graham company, an instructor and repetiteur for the Trust epitomising a lifelong commitment to dance, and the Graham company in particular. 2013 marks Lyman Hayes’ 40th anniversary with Martha Graham and she has been honoured by the Martha Graham School Scholarship Luncheon in New York City, an important annual benefit event for the School, with proceeds supporting the School’s Scholarship Fund.

The teaching career of Lyman Hayes began when she was aged 14, valuing the students’ experience through clear observation, allowing the dancers to explore and develop their technique: Graham has a strong value throughout Lyman Hayes’ teaching. Lyman Hayes has spent much for her adult life sharing this with others, forty years into her association with the company.

Lyman Hayes’ career began performing with ballet companies on Broadway and at Radio City, for example, yet it was when she began training in the Graham technique that she knew it was the technique for her. She discovered that dancing was more than simply moving the appendages, learning the craft of movements such as contraction and release, and learning about the use of the core. It is this physical charisma which Lyman Hayes strives to teach her pupils.

Lyman Hayes celebrates the freedom of the Graham technique, creating a ‘magnetism in the air’ which cannot be taught without emphasising the physicality of the movement, both dramatically and emotionally.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hofesh Shechter, the next Brighton Festival Director

Hofesh ShechterIconic choreographer Hofesh Shechter has been named as the individual to guest direct Brighton Festival 2014. Running from 3 May to 25 May, the Brighton Festival is an annual mixed arts event that takes place across the city. Whilst full programme details will be announced on 25 February 2014, it is already knowledge that the festival will open with Shechter’s contemporary dance company’s new production, Sun.

Sun has been co-commissioned by Brighton Festival and runs from May 3 at the festival, marking the end of the production’s world tour. Shechter, who is also a composer and musician, is one of the most important choreographers of the twenty-first century, creating many innovative works for his dance company. This is in addition to that for the U.Dance youth company as part of Youth Dance England’s U.Dance 2012 festival at the Southbank Centre last year. Meanwhile, Sun features 14 dancers and a soundtrack composed by Shechter himself, embodying the piece entirely.

The Hofesh Shechter Company was named the first resident company of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival in 2008, so it is now fitting that 2014 will see Shechter direct the festival. Since 2008 his dance company has been commissioned by Brighton Festival to create works including Shechter’s cornerstone piece Political Mother. Shechter has expressed his fondness of the seaside town as a place where one can develop and grow artistically as an important thing.

The Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival is renowned for having an inspiring, energising and encouraging arts quality, something with Shechter has valued over the last five years. After such a successful time as part of the festival in the past, it seems a natural progression for Shechter to work closer with the festival as a director.

Uniform Standards

Dance UniformWhilst the stereotypical uniform for dance is much the same, different uniform is required for different dance schools, different exam boards and even different dance grades. For a non-dancer, the assumption of pink ballet tights and a leotard for ballet is not so far from the truth, the stereotypes also formed for tap and modern jazz. Contemporary and lyrical classes tend to be a little more free and liberal in terms of what the dancer dons, and can range from anything to short shorts and tights tops to tracksuit bottoms and baggy pyjama-style tops, known on the whole as ‘baggies’, often used in any dance class for warming up.

Despite the stereotypes, dance teachers all employ certain uniform and dance wear standards for their students. Some prefer their dancers to be comfortable with what they are wearing, whereas others maintain that a dancewear uniform enforces discipline and technique as the teachers are able to see the dancers’ bodies easily. For those who like to see their dance school uniform worn, or neat dance wear purchased, their dancers are more likely to adhere to the standards required during dance exams too. Some dance examination boards define each grade through different coloured leotards, waist elastics or style of ballet shoe.

Aside from ballet, jazz dance and modern jazz is also sometimes subject to requirements such as these. Some exam classes, or even individual teaches, will ask that no split sole jazz shoes be worn, for example, or alternatively that split sole jazz shoes are preferable. Some argue that split sole shoes – be it jazz, ballet, jazz trainers or even tap shoes – offer no support and a full sole provides more for the technique. However, dance shoes, like the rest of the catalogues and wardrobes full of dance wear, are usually dictated by teachers and dancers grow up with these views instilled.

25 Years Of East London Dance

East London DanceIn celebrating the past, present and future of East London Dance, its celebration of 25 years of dancing success saw a huge variety of performances come together under one roof at Stratford Circus. The abundance of vitality and passion was overwhelming, with one piece even gaining the Royal seal of approval: ‘Family Tree’ was originally conceived as part of the Coronation Festival earlier this year. Featuring performers from Middlesex University, Kingston University, University of East London and One Youth Dance, it was packed full of energy and celebrated the influence of the Commonwealth on contemporary Britain.

Wayne McGregor’s ‘FAR’ was also featured, inspired by the controversial Age of Enlightenment. As a previous neighbour of East London Dance as the Redbridge Council dance co-ordinator, McGregor’s work epitomises aesthetic qualities of contemporary dance. Particularly representative of McGregor’s specific performance style, ‘FAR’ marked a similar milestone for the prestigious company and the renowned choreographer’s repertoire of work. Folk Dance Remixed, a fusion of street dance and folk dance, presented ‘Step Hop House’ which merged live music, folk and breakdance, and even beat boxing in an eclectic mix. A true crowd-pleaser, ‘Step Hop House’ demonstrated the versatility and variety of all East London Dance has achieved. The piece was a unique combination of humour and skill, and even included some signature Michael Jackson moves.

It was the representation of youth dance however which truly celebrated East London Dance, the future. Companies such as Avant Garde Youth and Unity Academy were fierce, slick and professional in their sharp expression; the young dancers gave much hope for the future of dance, particularly in the East of London. The sheer dedication of all involved in celebrating the 25 years were full of optimism, championing the many skills and concepts as just a snapshot of what dance can offer in the future whilst maintaining the legacy of East London Dance.

The Growth of Lyrical, Contemporary And Jazz

Contemporary DanceWith the now mainstream TV entertainment programmes such as So You Think You Can Dance and Got To Dance, dance culture has shifted in the UK.

Before the emergence of programmes of this type and of this popularity, contemporary dance and lyrical jazz techniques were less ‘discovered’: ruling the day was ballet, tap and modern jazz, with the increasing growth of hip hop and street dance.

Large performing arts institutions offering dance classes on a huge scale, such as Pineapple, Danceworks and Studio 68, offered and continue to offer an abundance of daily classes to all ages and abilities. Whilst lyrical and contemporary classes were on offer to the attendees of the classes, it seems the growth of the dance television programmes has increased their popularity. Moreover, the style of lyrical, lyrical jazz, contemporary and contemporary jazz has shifted completely, with classes now offering both the technical side of these styles as well as the steering the performance qualities seen on the programmes.

Despite the technical side of dance, the television programmes convey a prominent sense of intention behind the movement in addition to a ‘jazzy’ narrative. Telling a story through dance is not a pre-requisite yet it seems for television this is desirable in order to appeal to the entertainment of the mass audiences. This is in addition to relating the movement through screen and making it desirable for its environment, namely a competition. As a result, the dazzling leaps, high kicks and multiple turns have made their way into mainstream, everyday classes; not necessarily a good or bad thing, simply an observation that these movements and choreographies are becoming increasingly popular.

Purely technical classes, however, have not disappeared, just added to by this increase in popularity of the dramatic and heartfelt movement portrayals on television. Dancers who look for both sides of the lyrical dance coin now have the added benefit of a certain sense of performance behind the class.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Alvin Ailey: A Keynote Figure In American Modern Dance

Portrait of Alvin Ailey (1955)Alvin Ailey is widely regarded as one of the keynote figures in American modern dance, having established the stature of his Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater throughout the world. Ailey was born on 5 January 1931 in Texas, with his experiences of life in the rural South later inspiring some of the most memorable parts of his most popular and critically acclaimed work Revelations, through what he called ‘blood memories’: the blues, spirituals and gospel.

Ailey’s formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes. Horton was the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the United States and became Ailey’s mentor. After Horton’s death in 1953, Ailey directed Lester Horton Dance Theater and then began to choreograph his own works. In the 1950s and 60s, Ailey performed in four Broadway shows and went on to study dance with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm, some of the huge powerhouses of American modern dance.

1958 saw Ailey found Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Ailey was a pioneer of programmes promoting arts in education to multi-racial American culture until he died on 1 December 1989.

The Ailey company has performed for an estimated 23 million people at theatres in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents, celebrating the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and preserving American modern dance. The company continues Ailey’s mission by presenting particular works of the 79 from Ailey’s past and commissioning new ones: in all, more than 200 works by over 80 choreographers are part of the Ailey company’s repertory. Before his death, Ailey designated Judith Jamison as his successor, and over the next 21 years, she brought the Company to unprecedented success. In July 2011, Jamison passed this great responsibility to Robert Battle as Artistic Director.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.