Spring 2015 will see the celebrations of the 90th birthday of The Place’s founding artistic director, Robert Cohan CBE, widely recognised as the founding father of British contemporary dance. The Place will host a series of events including seminars, gala performances and exhibitions in the lead up to his birthday to celebrate how Cohan transformed dance in the UK and how his influence continues today through many outlets.
Cohan was instrumental in changing the dance landscape in the UK and Europe over the past half-century, after he established the pioneering company London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Born in New York in 1925, Cohan trained at the Martha Graham School following a stint in the armed forces in his early twenties. He joined the company in 1946 and thus began his professional career in dance. Cohan became something of a protégé and quickly became a soloist, performing throughout the world as a partner to the monumental lady herself.
Cohan left the company in 1957 to choreograph. Returning to the Graham company in 1962 for its European tour, he soon became a Co-Director along with Bertram Ross, another eminent dancer of Graham’s making. In 1967 he became the founder Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, which he directed for the next 20 years. As one of the first contemporary companies in the UK it played a pioneering role in developing the art form across the country through touring, internationally too.
The Place is offering audiences unique performances and celebrations as a result of Cohan’s hugely successful career, with the programme including many highlights. The duet from Cohan’s Forest (1977), performed by dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company, the premiere of a new solo (2015) by Cohan, performed by Liam Riddick of Richard Alston Dance Company, the premiere of a new work by Tony Adigun, inspired by Cohan’s Forest, performed by dancers from The Place’s Centre for Advanced Training and Children & Youth Dance Programmes, and an exhibition of dance photographs by Robert Cohan, many of them being shown for the first time.
Early 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.
Peggy 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.
The Martha Graham Dance Company was just one affected by Hurricane Sandy, yet despite all odds the company is drawing itself back up to full height, long skirts and contractions included. The storm flooded the company’s production office, and sets and costumes were severely damaged.
The repertory, created by one of the pioneers of American modern dance, Martha Graham, is one which examines humanity, the soul and all the emotions in between. In order to fulfil the practicalities of being a full-fledged dance company, the company needed many items which were damaged for upcoming performances. Dancers, staff and a crew of volunteers worked to recover items from the company’s basement in order to restore order. Some costumes, many of which are original garments and some even worn by Martha Graham, returned to their pre-Sandy state, whereas others had to be entirely reconstructed.
So far the company has not missed a deadline or a costume requirement due to the sheer effort and support of others. However, Hurricane Sandy has also presented opportunities for the company, such as dancing without sets. The company has been able to experiment in many ways, for example, staging Graham’s 1947 classic Errand Into the Maze without its usual set of a large piece resembling a U-shaped tree that the dancer climbs all over. This enabled a reimagining of the famous setting whilst remaining true to such distinct choreography: the company meanwhile has time to recover more of its belongings.
Sets like those for Errand Into the Maze would have been replaced over time due to normal wear and tear, but Hurricane Sandy forced this to happen in quick succession. Performances in 2013 so far have meant the company borrowing items and solving problems: American Ballet Theatre even loaned its costumes for Graham’s 1949 Diversion of Angels, which has been the ABT repertory since 1999.