Rewind Forward by Yorke Dance Project – Review – Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds
By Eve Luddington, October 2017
Yorke Dance Project is named after its founder and Artistic Director, Yolande Yorke-Edgell who hails from Hertfordshire and has trained and worked with contemporary dance luminaries in the USA. and the UK. She launched the touring company in 2009.
Rewind Forward is a fitting title for this programme. One classic contemporary dance work is set alongside new pieces, including one which is still evolving. On this occasion, four dances were performed beautifully by seven members of the eight-strong company: Amy Thake, Edd Mitton, Freya Jeffs, Jordi Calpe Serrats, Joanne Pirrie, Dylan Waddell and Eleanor Ferguson (apprentice).
‘Twilight’ was created for the Yorke Dance Project recently by Robert Cohan (now in his 90s), inspired by movement from an earlier work of his, ‘Testament’ (1979). It’s an abstract piece on a bare stage with the dancers in vests and shorts. Our focus is firmly on the dancers in space and on Vivaldi’s music: its mellow tones create the mood and dictate the rhythm and movement.
The dancers make shapes and patterns reflecting or contrasting with one-another to invoke ‘the feeling of twilight; the soft glowing light in the sky that is generated when the sun dips below the horizon and its rays are reflected by the atmosphere.’ (Programme notes). They relate well to one another physically. As someone more accustomed to ‘straight’ theatre, I regretted the lack of emotion. Only in the final movement were my feelings engaged, simply because one pair related to each other as people, expressing in their faces as well as bodies, playful delight in their activity.
‘Sea of Troubles’ is Kenneth MacMillan’s response to Hamlet, created in 1988. He explained: ‘I have taken as a starting point the effect of the death of Hamlet’s father without a literal telling of the play. With the appearance of his father’s ghost, and Hamlet’s realisation of the need for revenge, his tormented world becomes a nightmare.’
This revival was created in collaboration with some of those who worked on the original. The entire piece is from Hamlet’s perspective. At first, he is taken up with events, portrayed episodically: his father appears as a ghost; his mother marries his uncle. And now Hamlet’s nightmare begins: mother crowns her new king but cannot, at first, dress him in his regal robes.
When the couple move, it’s with heavy, awkward steps as if they are fighting the forces of nature. The robe itself seems to take on a persona as it is twirled and swirled by the dancers. Scarlet-lined, it evokes murder and contrasts sharply with the plain, muted dresses of the women, the white shirts and black trousers of the men.
Crowns, a coronet of flowers and a white drape (for the ghost) are worn to distinguish characters. These costumes offer important narrative references in a complex piece and help to create strong images. The discordant music on violin, cello and piano (composed by Anton von Webern and Bohuslav Martinu) is elemental to the torment depicted.
The dancers physicalise the increasing turbulence of Hamlet’s mind with gut feeling, involving a great deal of torso movement and floor work, in episodes reflecting the fragmentation of his mind, and building to the final scene of Hamlet’s death.
Both my companion (a Shakespeare buff) and I (not so!), were absorbed in the dance and its powerful imagery.
‘Self’ was created in 2015 by 19-year-old Charlotte Edmonds who has already choreographed for several leading ballet companies. It was inspired by the pas de trois in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, Manon.
In his piece, a central female character struggles to reconcile her faith with a newly awoken sexual passion. Edmonds has used a male protagonist, as did Abbe Provost in the original book. Her title suggests that faith and seduction, represented by two female dancers, are elements of one person. A subtle but important focus is the rectangle of light projected diagonally across the stage in which the changing dominance of one force or another is emphasised by the positioning of the performers, as the ‘self’ struggles with his inner conflict.
Costumes were designed for this piece and the final dance by Peter Todd. Their simplicity frees up the performers and draws the audience’s attention to movement. ‘Seduction’ wears a light dress and is fluid, light-footed and mercurial, in contrast to ‘Faith’, more solid, more still and wearing a darker dress.
I was engaged with the conflict while appreciating the strength and grace of the dancers. The music, by Donna McKevitt, is fitting. At the end, the central self lies hopeless on the floor as ‘seduction’ moves away, unscathed. ‘Faith’ emerges from the gloom and stands over him: though still solid, her head droops and she is somehow sadder and more fragile now.
This is an accessible psychological work. I suspect that Charlotte Edmonds is someone to watch out for in the world of dance choreography.
‘Untethered’ ‘explores the binds that tie us – emotionally and physically – and what it means to be released from ourselves.’ So writes Yolande Yorke-Edgell who created the piece which, she has said, is still evolving.
The arresting initial image is of a woman trapped between rows of massive elastic bands in a frame gripped by two men. To frantic and jangling music played on strings (composed by Brooklyn Rider), she stretches and struggles and breaks free, but there are still bandages binding her torso, their ends held by two women. Slowly, with the women’s help or hindrance, the bandages unwind.
All performers wear basic dance outfits except for the character who now appears, a woman in a plain dress. She is the enabler, working gently with the central character until, as my companion put it, ‘she can fly’.
The group and individuals test and restrain her but, having gained freedom, she can resist their pressure. Sometimes she dances in step with the others, because she chooses to, but she can be herself as and when she wants.
I thought this was a powerful, accessible and universal piece, applicable too, to many particular situations. The dance spoke to me and so did the leading performer, Amy Thake.
In fact, Thake’s performance struck me throughout the evening. She has the grace and technique and energy required of any good dancer with particularly expressive arms and hands, and also a special quality which makes a good dancer outstanding; emotional expression from the gut. I enjoyed each piece but Amy Thake’s dancing and communication engaged my whole being.
images: Pari Naderi