California Connections: Three Pioneering Women

Kenneth MacMillan, Martha Graham, Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Bella Lewitzky
Yorke Dance Project
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

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Isadora: Amy Thake and Eric Caterer Credit: Jimmy Parratt
Errand Into The Maze: Edd Mitton and Laurel Dalley Smith Credit: Jimmy Parratt
Meta 4: Abigail Attard-Montalto Credit: Jimmy Parratt

California Connections:Three Pioneering Women, is Californian by name but not in spirit. Tonight’s mixed bill is a far cry from immortalised images of golden-flecked surf-side culture; the stuff of dreams for light-deprived Northern Europe. The only connection with California here is that the women celebrated in tonight's programme—Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, Bella Lewitzky as well as Yolande Yorke-Edgell—lived in California, impacting their creative journey one way or another.

Tonight celebrates the 25th year anniversary of Yorke-Edgell’s Yorke Dance Project, working tirelessly to bring little viewed pieces from the contemporary dance history catalogue to life. Honouring dance roots and female strength in the face of adversity is what tonight is all about. With this in mind, the evening opens fittingly with a revival and shortened version of Isadora, originally created as a two-act ballet by Kenneth MacMillan in 1981—a tribute to her life and work.

Limpid and floatingly supple in a white, neoclassical gown, Amy Thake captures beautifully the fragility and strength in Isadora Duncan, the famed figure who rejected the confines of classical ballet to explore freedom of expression in movement, revolutionising dance at the turn of the 20th century. Thake, all lean lines and feline smiles, is an apparition of a Greek goddess as she sensually breezes through Duncan's life events, leading only with her body and emotions. Duncan’s story is narrated by a silky voiceover revealing her loves and losses and, tragically, the deaths of her three children. It stops without revealing her tragic end in a car accident—her scarf was caught in a car wheel and it strangled her to death. It is a heartbreaking snapshot of a pioneer who changed the course of dance history through her vision and strength of creative honesty.

The second half of the programme offers a real treat in a rarely seen revival of Martha Graham’s 1947 Errand Into the Maze. Based on the Minotaur myth, it features a woman, the captivating Abigail Attard-Montalto, playing Theseus. Another powerful female role, pictorially striking in strength of form and shapes with fingers outstretched like spikes in a B movie and strident positions held in stillness as if waiting for photo. The message is clear: this woman is a fighter and will devour the Minotaur or any other male obstacle that crosses her path. Edd Mitton dances the monster with solid strength of conviction as he holds a staff across the dancer’s shoulders and neck, his face and head shrouded in a sack for the whole performance.

A Point of Balance, Yorke-Edgell’s choreographic ode to Martha Graham, receives its world première in this programme. Movement centres around a woman at the turning point of her life, casting aside a shadowy past to embrace a more positive future. The piece is backed by a rich and varied soundtrack from Laurie Anderson to Heiner Goebbels and the Kronus quartet, and subtly snowballs in movement from dancers thrusting out in sharp lines, then melting into something all the more soft and flowing.

The evening ends with Bella Lewitzky’s Meta 4. Interestingly, Robert Zavier Rodriguez was commissioned to compose the music, which also plays on the theme of four: four musicians, four instruments and four sections. Such precise formatting resonates in the choreography as it builds a playful, joyful connection between the dancers as they wind and weave on and off stage, changing outfits, then back to create solid geometric forms and shapes.

A pleasing end to a full and varied tribute to modern dance as it develops through time in the capable hands of four inspiring female powerhouses.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi

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