An interesting night by the ever original Yorke Dance Project

By: Mar. 22, 2024
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Review: CALIFORNIA CONNECTIONS, Royal Opera House Original programming continues at the Royal Opera House, Linbury Theatre with the ever original Yorke Dance Project.

California Connections platforms women, and specifically modern dance pioneers Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Bella Lewitzky - all with important connections to California, and who found inspiration from the innovative, American state. 

Opening the bill is a reworking of Kenneth MacMillan’s Isadora (1981). The original piece was 150 minutes and in two halves, with the Royal Ballet offering a one hour condensed version in 2009. In 2024 the subject matter is the same - primarily Isadora Duncan the woman rather than the genre-defying dancer, and we've lost another 20 mins.

The structure of the work is pre-recorded narrations from Duncan's memoir followed by dance sections delivering the subject matter.The text absolutely gives insight into the complex, troubled life of Duncan, but the choreography is a questionable mix.

Isadora; Amy Thake & Pierre Tappon
Photo Credit: Jimmy Parratt

I found the pas de deux, ranging from naff to rough, too much on the melodramatic, literal side. The best moments being when Isadora is doing Isadora, but even these need more dramatic conviction and physical abandon in performance.

Next we see Martha Graham’s Errand into the Maze (1947), one of her most recognised works addressing the fears surrounding sexual intimacy, and it’s a privilege to see such a historic piece in action, so very much alive.

This is in part down to the intensely emotive, and highly stylised choreography as well as the engrossing performances by the cast. Edd Mitton as the Minotaur deserves a medal for coping with the awkwardly placed piece of wood located behind his head for the entirety of the piece, and Abigail Attard Montalto in the Graham role brought everything and some to her vivid portrayal of palpable fear laced with perpetual strength. It makes one wish we saw Graham’s canon more regularly this side of the Atlantic.

The programme includes a world premiere by Yolande Yorke-Edgell, the Artistic Director of Yorke Dance Project, A Point of Balance (2024), inspired by Duncan, Graham and Lewitzky and their “enduring legacies”, which Yorke-Edgell is very much a part of.

Yorke-Edgell's movement language is an interesting one, where the emotional aspects of dynamics feel more present than is often the case. Her lexicon also demands that the dancers explore their individual sense of reach and depth of breath with honesty.

A trio for the three female dancers has such a high level of connectivity in motion that one feels a shift into a meditative state. This has nothing to do with boredom, more a deepened awareness of the work's organic phrasing communicating beyond the proscenium.

Closing the evening is Meta 4 (1994) by Bella Lewitzky. Yorke-Edgell danced with Lewitzky from 1994-98 in Los Angeles, so including her canon in California Connections gives the programme’s title even more genuine gravitas. Researching Lewitzky the woman is riveting stuff, with many describing her work as “structural”, to which no one can deny.

Things start off feeling a little dry, but then one soon realises that the hydration is deeply immersed in the precision and planning of the overall work.

The choreographic phrases are clean, simple and graphic, and allow for moments of harmonious pleasure. Lewitzky uses canon to lay the scene before finding instances of flight unison to highlight the overarching, calculated ebb and flow of the work as a whole.

The final section sees the cast of four cover space in numerous configurations all with a sense of spherical endlessness, confirming Lewitzky as a serious contender when acknowledging the utilitarian power of modern dance. An interesting night at the theatre.

California Connections: Three Pioneering Women runs until 22 March 

Photo credit: Jimmy Parratt