From the dark mood of a mental asylum in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground through the religious abandon of Robert Cohan’s Communion; from a penetrating inquiry into a relationship between two people in Sophia Stoller’s Between and Within to Yolande Yorke- Edgell’s homage to her masters in Imprint, Yorke Dance Project’s TWENTY was satisfyingly meaty and varied.
Rarely performed since its 1979 debut, MacMillan’s Playground (pictured above) is a powerful piece of dance theatre, inspired by the choreographer’s interest in the dividing line between sanity and madness, the result of his own lengthy foray into psychoanalysis and his mother’s epilepsy.
The playground of the title is the common room of an asylum, where a group of vacant-eyed inmates replicate everyday relationships and power games in haphazard and distorted ways. Alliances form and are broken by interlopers. Bursts of expressionistic dance dissolve into nothingness. A gesture of hope gives way to the slouching of despair.
Set to a dissonant, occasionally crashing, often menacing score by Gordon Crosse, Playground portrays its subjects with a mix of curiosity and compassion that truly gets under your skin.
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Robert Cohan in the development of contemporary dance in Britain, and Communion shows us exactly why.
Yorke Dance Project in Robert Cohan's Communion, photo Pari Naderi
Now 94-years-old, Cohan became the first artistic director of The Place in 1967 and has been instrumental in developing the form. His choreography builds on the Martha Graham school in which he was trained, but goes beyond to create a style all his own.
Communion is Cohan’s sixth work for Yorke Dance Project. A large-scale ensemble for nine dancers – YDP’s own plus invited guests – it is a concentrated meditation on religious feeling, incorporating ritual gestures associated with a number of religions.
It starts with the full ensemble slowly walking up and down stage in a line. At intervals one or two individuals drop off the formation. They raise arms and eyes to heaven before being reabsorbed into the line. Eventually the line gives way to other formations. The dancers fall on their knees; or they take up the typical posture of Eastern mediation.
To a score predominantly by Nils Frahm, that alternates between dreamy landscapes and forceful chords, Communion' s rigorous and expansive choreography – core contractions, tilted arabesques, fully extended arms – allows smaller groups and solos dancers to express varying tinges of religious feeling. It's a meticulous work of wondrous clarity.
Between and Within is a short new work where the LA-based dance-maker Sophia Stoller considers the complex dynamics of relationships between two people through two couples. Sometimes they mirror each other, sometimes they exchange partners. Their gaze is a permanent interrogation. Set to a specially commissioned score by Justin Scheid, it’s an accomplished and intriguing vignette.
The programme ends with Yolande Yorke-Edgell’s Imprint, her homage to the people who’ve had a determining influence in her career as a dancer and choreographer: Robert Cohan, Bella Lewitzky and Richard Alston.
A sequence of dances for groups of varying numbers, it relies perhaps too much on recorded voices making considerations on dance, what it is, what it’s for; and it transparently borrows from Yorke-Edgell’s mentors. It’s uneven and over-long, but ends in such a glorious pastiche of Richard Alston’s dances, with their fluid, vibrant, joyous movement, that some of its longueurs are promptly forgotten.
|What||Yorke Dance Project, TWENTY Review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
14 May 19 – 17 May 19, 14 May at 18:30; 15 May at 18:00; 17 May at 19:00 Dur. varies No performance 16 May
|Website||Click to book|