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Dancin' Oxford Spring Festival

Annual dance festival with a range of performances and workshops.
Richard Chappell Dance
Various venues, Fri 28th February - Sun 8th March 2020

The Dancin' Oxford Festival goes from strength to strength, and this year even includes a photographic exhibition, for those who'd like to see behind the scenes at the ballet. With dance performances, taster sessions and workshops, and a new discussion club for post-show debate, there are many ways to get involved, no matter how active you want to get this year!

Highlights for kids include a Baby Boogie, perennial favourite of parents who enjoyed their disco days and would like to introduce their children to some good music. You can learn some new moves at the workshop first. For a crazy fusion of kathak, hip hop, street dance and physical storytelling, catch Sonia Sabri Dance's family-friendly show Same Same… But Different at the North Wall on 7th March.

If you like free performances, head to the Westgate this Saturday for the Festival Launch, featuring six companies performing over five hours. Or try the Natural History Museum on 1st March where on the hour you'll see a free excerpt from Neon Dance's Puzzle Creature. This mesmerising performance is inspired by architecture. If you like it you can buy a ticket to watch the whole thing that evening.

Outside Oxford city the Festival is spreading out to Cornerstone in Didcot, and Abingdon, while inside the city everywhere from the North Wall through to Rose Hill Community Centre gets a taste of the festival, from big spaces (Riverdance at the New Theatre) to small. We're especially looking forward to Gecko and Mind The Gap's A Little Space, at the Playhouse. Gecko always push at the boundaries of dance and physical theatre to tell complex and sometimes hardhitting stories. They've teamed up with incredible performers from Mind the Gap, one of Europe’s leading learning disability theatre companies to explorethe idea of a little space to ourselves where we can be who we want, but fears might leak away under the floorboards.

In a year where top British choreographer Richard Alston is disbanding his company, it’s encouraging to see really good emerging talent. Moving With The Times presents specially-commissioned work from Amy Foskett Dance, Dishtri Dance, and Thomas Page Dances, exploring mortality, compass directions imagined as live elemental forces and the journey of human consciousness, and the parts of life we all have in common. If proof were needed that emerging doesn’t mean lightweight, then here it is.

And if these shows get you thinking, why not stay for Dance Audience Club afterwards? It's a space to debate and reflect, like a book club but for dance shows, to get audeiences talking, and see if any two perceptions of dance are the same.

March 2, 2020
An 'heure exquise'

Nocturne, St Nicholas Church, Sun 1st March 2020

I entered St Nicholas Church on Sunday afternoon with very little idea of what to expect from ‘Nocturne’, merely looking forward to a relaxing hour in the beautiful Church and an opportunity to appreciate some romantic music in the heart of Abingdon.

The first performance was from Diana Hinds, a full-time local musician. I was intrigued before she had even taken her seat, for Hinds wore a red velvet dress, which reminded me of the attire from Merlin and other medieval costume dramas.

It was evident that Diana Hinds is a dexterous musician from the first few bars. Her rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s 1er Nocturne in E flat minor, op 33, no 1, was dreamy, with an exciting dynamic range. The piece was haunting and eerie with subtle harmonies and unexpected resolutions, typical of the style of the French composer.

Before the piece had concluded, Joëlle Pappas rose from where she had previously been seated behind Hinds. Her dress, courtesy of Emma Lyth, was equally intriguing yet very different, with various autumnal colours combined together to create a floaty ensemble. As Pappas approached the central area of the Church between the aisles, she began to twist her wrists and paint a lost, wounded expression on her face. The founder of ‘Joëlle Pappas Projects’ proceeded to perform her original creation, delving into the traumas felt by a tormented and isolated woman, creatively threatened by deception and exclusion.

The routine was inspired by the poetry of Victor Hugo and Théophile Gautier, and Pappas brilliantly captured the trials of her character, telling a story through her expressions of suffering. The entire performance was intimate and each movement was carefully chosen. As Pappas glided down the aisle, the dance was complemented by the delicate dress and the soothing melodies from the piano.

Rory Carver joined Diana in the second half of the concert for a series of French songs, (luckily, translations were in the programme for non-French speakers!) beginning with Fauré’s 'Clair de Lune' - not the arguably more famous 'Clair de Lune' by Debussy, but an equally soft and gentle song. We were treated to some Debussy shortly after, though, with the bitter sweet ‘Nuits d’étoiles’, ‘Le jet d’eau’ and ‘Beau soir’. Carver’s tenor voice filled the Church with every song, and he showcased his vocal range magnificently throughout. (Just in case you were wondering, Carver didn’t continue the theme of slightly unusual outfits, choosing a blue suit instead, but this did not detract from the impressive quality of each of his performances!)

Reynaldo Hahn’s ‘L’heure exquise’ concluded the concert with its gentle melodies, reminiscent of a lullaby. It was a marvellous choice to summarise the afternoon; an ‘heure exquise’!

March 2, 2020
Emphasising the power of dance

Moving With The Times, Pegasus Theatre, Fri 28th February 2020

Dancin’ Oxford’s annual celebration of creativity, movement and imagination at Pegasus Theatre sees three different dance companies grace the stage with innovation and sophistication. The vast differences in styles between the companies remind us how dance has evolved in so many ways, but the pieces all have a common ancestor; the power of storytelling.

Amy Foskett Dance are the first company, presenting a new piece, ‘Burning House’. It begins completely still, with a single dancer balancing on a castle of white duvets. Suddenly, the castle melts and the dancer seemingly falls. The show has begun.

What follows is precise and meaningful contemporary dance, depicting environmental and social issues. It conveys the theme of the whole evening ('Moving With The Times’) perfectly and feels very relevant, with current problems portrayed through beautiful shapes and manoeuvres. Every moment is captivating as we follow this intimate performance, analysing the symbolism and meaning behind each gesture. At some points, the dancers throw themselves onto the duvets, with the soft landings juxtaposing the hard-hitting issues demonstrated in their piece. The fragility of human life is conveyed through a sequence featuring stunning lifts after which two female dancers' bodies become lifeless, manipulated like puppets by their male counterparts, who desperately try to create an illusion of life. The refusal to accept human mortality is explored by the company with a combination of the devastating themes and the delicacy of the dancers, creating a mesmerising performance.

We can hear the next performers edging closer, as the bells around their ankles jingle while we wait with anticipation for Drishti Dance. Starting with elegant armography, the dancers have poise and take great care in every action. They are incredibly well-rehearsed, as the contemporary Kathak work requires them to know every single rhythm of the speech-like music and move as one. As they turn at the speed of light, it feels like they can see the future, and know every pattern or pulse coming their way as they fuse contemporary themes and staging with traditional techniques. Their cast includes the winner of the South Asian Category of BBC Young Dancer 2017 and it shows; as the pace increases for a vibrant and demanding section, highlighting the finesse of the Drishti dancers. The immense journey of human consciousness is explored in the piece, ‘Sanket’, also inviting the audience into the concept of Astadikpala, ‘Eight Guardians of Direction’ as they stun us with their energetic artistry.

The final performers take to the stage following an interval, in which intrigue has been created by decorating the stage floor with many colours of tape. When the four dancers enter, they stand in corner boxes, where they are confined whilst they throw their bodies around as if dodging bullets. Gradually, they escape their separation and begin colliding, the first meeting seeing extreme lifts and dramatic physicality, complemented by the metal sounds in the unique score. Constantly telling the story with their facial expressions, the adventurous Thomas Page dancers begin to unpeel the tape and cross borders. With one dancer left in the central box, piano music plays for a beautiful contemporary solo. Adding to the symbolism, photographers join the dancers, perhaps implying that in our modern world we cannot escape public attention in the face of trauma. The socio-political ideas allow for so much to be interpreted and inferred from the performance. By the end of this astonishing piece, the company has broken barriers and come together, illustrating how we can break free from a trapped society and become a community, and emphasising the power of dance.

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