Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, UK; February 28, 2014

Jessica Wilson

Yolande Yorke-Edgell in Robert Cohan's 'Canciones del Alma'. Photo © Pari NaderiIn a special preview performance of parts of their new touring programme, “Figure Ground”, the Yorke Dance Project presented a triple bill of work by the Project’s Artistic Director, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, plus two artists at opposite ends of their careers: Causeway Young Artist in Residence, 16-year old Charlotte Edmonds, and founding Artistic Director of the Place, Robert Cohan.

Opening the programme was Edmonds’ “No Strings Attached”. Presently a student at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, Edmonds was previously at The Royal Ballet School where she won the Kenneth Macmillan Choreography Competition in 2011 and 2012. For her latest piece, she worked alongside painter and sculptor Sally McKay, whose work is based on movement observed while watching dance, and who created the backdrop for the work. Her musical choice was a piece by Michael Gordon, also used recently by Itzik Galili in “SUB” for Rambert, a fact that was unfortunate and did detract a little from the dance.

The muscular bodies of the three male and three female dancers stood out starkly from their modest black costumes. All showed faultless technique, although (and hardly surprisingly) Jonathan Goddard shone in his melancholy interpretation of movement set for him. The title, “No Strings Attached”, is something of a play on words, emphasised by the lack of direct connection between the dancers. There was generally a distance between the movement and its initiators.

Following a short film documenting the archival process for Cohan’s 1978 “Canciones del Alma”, Yorke-Edgell performed a stunning portrayal of the solo. Originally created for Canadian dancer Susan Macpherson, it was reconstructed here by Cohan personally. It had only been previously performed once in the UK, by McPherson at The Place in 1979.

Sometimes it is more desirable aesthetically if movement is pure in its intention and perceived narrative, rather than consisting more of making shapes, however incredible the facility. With its Graham-esque contractions, falls and cupped hands, “Canciones del Alma” certainly held much more meaning and intention than the other two pieces on the programme. The emotion and feeling behind it was clear. Of course, no doubt Cohan’s considerable experience as a choreographer, even when the piece was made, was also important.

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in the studio.  Photo © Pari Naderi

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in the studio.
Photo © Pari Naderi

Despite its age and Graham influence, the movement is in no way dated. “Canciones del Alma” is enjoyable and intense in equal measure, and is all about the solo dancer as a meditation. Yorke-Edgell commanded the attention, her genuine emotive intention always being well-projected to the audience. She was strong and secure, embodying pure calm and serenity while showing quality and strong technical ability She danced completely in the moment. So much so, that the piece became a living experience for those watching. Her standing ovation was entirely deserved.

Closing the bill was Yorke-Edgell’s new work, “Unfold to Centre”, inspired by pioneering US computer-animation artist Larry Cuba’s film “3/78 (Objects and Transformations)”. Full of Cunningham curves and dressed (appropriately) in futuristic unitards, the piece is (post-)modern in its approach, full of those sometimes empty graphics and phrases that echo the strains of the late Merce Cunningham’s own company.

This is not to say the work and its choreography is not enjoyable, but some phrases do inject more life and interest into the almost space-like work more than others. The non-narrative classical ballet vocabulary may be slow-paced but is certainly not weak. “Unfold to Centre” could, though, do with condensing slightly, in particular, it would have benefitted from movement being finalised rather than left hanging and slowly trailing away.

The complete “Figure Ground” programme will premiere in late 2014 and tour throughout the UK and USA in 2015. For more details, visit www.yorkedanceproject.co.uk