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February 2020 issue

Posted on January 28, 2020

ALINA HI RES new 2 Image Credit Moran Norman

We take a look at modern dance this month, from Isadora Duncan at the start of the 20th century, to Sharon Watson, director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, Lin Hwai-min and Cheng Tsung-lung of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Ellen Yilma of Richard Alston Dance Company and Sean Cheesman, choreographer of The Prince of Egypt, which is about to open in London’s West End. There is lots more, too, including a report of the 60th anniversary of the National Ballet of China, reviews of two very different productions of Coppélia, and a reminder that MOVE IT, the UK’s biggest dance event, is coming back to London in March.

Phoenix rising

Sanjoy Roy meets Sharon Watson, director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, on the eve of her new production, Black Waters

Sharon Watson February“The turning point of Watson’s career – joining Phoenix – nearly passed her by. Founded in 1981 as an all-male company, Phoenix under Neville Campbell’s directorship decided to take female dancers in 1989. ‘They weren’t going to call me,’ wails Watson. ‘Apparently they didn’t want to interrupt my career that was starting to flourish in London. I just thought: that’s not on!’ The message must have got back to them somehow, because she did then get the call inviting her for a new six-month project, along with three other women who had trodden the path from Harehills to London Contemporary: Pam Johnson, Seline Thomas, and Watson’s sister Dawn.

“Those six months turned into a decade of dancing – and also choreographing – with Phoenix. ‘It’s where I found my voice as a dancer and an artist. The narrative work was really important to me, and I felt I was getting in touch with the spirit of the company too. I was fighting against the labels of being a black dance company, because we are artists first and foremost. We were trained like any other dancer, and wanted to be respected for who we were. I spent a lot of time trying to unpick that. The other dancers would say I was a bit gobby,’ she laughs, ‘but I can live with that now!’”

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With honour

Marianka Swain speaks to Jacky Logan about being awarded the first Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Services to Same-sex Dancing

Jacky Logan February“Logan also recognises that seeing same-sex dancing ‘is a very visible way of achieving more tolerance, freedom and equality in society. I wouldn’t have spent so much time on same-sex dancing if I didn’t also feel it was contributing towards liberation for LBGTQI people.’ Her monthly night at the Rivoli is a unique space where traditional male/female dance roles and a freer gender mix happily co-exist, and she’s also taken same-sex dance into mainstream spaces like the Southbank Centre, BBC documentaries, and of course inspiring Stepping Out, the column that’s run in Dance Today and Dancing Times for a decade.

“It’s not without risk, though – even now. ‘I actually got my first hate mail the week of the Brexit referendum, just because I teach same-sex dancing and they believe we’re evil and need to be cured.’ Nevertheless Logan is immensely proud of how far we’ve come, and the platform that this honour could give her to keep increasing the visibility and understanding of same-sex dancing – not just here, but around the world.”

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Making waves

Nicola Rayner asks Sean Cheesman, choreographer of The Prince of Egypt, how you recreate the parting of the Red Sea and what it’s like to work with the biggest pop stars in the world

Sean Cheesman February“How much has the dance world changed since the 1980s? ‘The great thing about it is that there’s so much on social media, exposing dancers to so many different styles, but the bad thing is they can get stuck looking like everything else, instead of being creative and coming up with their own thing, which is what I like: someone standing out because they’re different.’

“The landscape has changed too, hasn’t it? ‘It’s a very different world,’ Cheesman agrees. ‘I feel that, for example, when Prince was known for being so controversial and naughty it was always done tongue in cheek. Now I feel things can be too blatant. Even Madonna, back in the day, was a little tongue in cheek. I miss that humour.’

“Was there a moment when he knew he would pick choreography over being a dancer? ‘As a child, I didn’t know there was a word “choreography”, but I used to always say to my mother, “Mum, come to the living room and I’ll show you what I made up.” I was always doing things like that. I think it got to the point where I got more joy from creating than dancing. It’s a different feeling, because once your piece is out there, you have no control of it.’”

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Also in the February issue…

Graham Watts on the final bow for The Nutcracker’s Yellowface

Anna Kisselgoff salutes Isadora Duncan, the great pioneer of modern dance

Get ready for the ultimate birthday party of 2020 as MOVE IT celebrates 15 years

David Mead talks to Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Lin Hwai-min and Cheng Tsung-lung

Marianka Swain goes in search of her Strictly Come Dancing fix this spring

Debbie Malina finds out how the arts can be beneficial to the health of the nation

Derek Young remembers the Veleta Waltz

Anya Grinsted thinks the wisdom on which ballet’s legacy is based must not be forgotten

Graham Watts attends celebrations held by National Ballet of China in Beijing

Marianka Swain reports on the debut of the UK Equality Open

Jack Reavely goes “Somewhere in time”

Gerald Dowler looks at Soviet choreography in the 1960s

Margaret Willis interviews Richard Alston Dance Company’s Ellen Yilma

Laura Cappelle on Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of Coppélia

James Whitehead returns to the subject of ballroom footwork

Igor Stupnikov attends the Diaghilev PS Festival in St Petersburg

Jack Anderson sees new works by Pam Tanowitz and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York

Simon Selmon celebrates the return of the “twenties” with a quick Charleston lesson

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Let’s Dance International Frontiers, Breakin’ Convention on tour, Richard Alston Dance Company, Blackpool Museum, Alina Cojocaru at Sadler’s Wells, RAD centenary celebrations, Russell Maliphant at the Coronet, Hello, Dolly! in the West End, New Year Honours, Plaque to Mathilde Kschessinska unveiled in Paris, Anthony Crickmay and Harold King remembered, new books on Edgar Degas and Mark Morris, Dance School of the Year, Carl-Alan Awards, Urdang launches new competition, Elmhurst Ballet School, TDCI World Cabaret Performer, Tring Park School on stage, new course at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, we look back to February 1980

Reviews include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet am Rhein, Ballet of Difference, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Ballet Theatre UK, English National Ballet, New Adventures, Northern Ballet, Natalia Osipova, The Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Pam Tanowitz, Saburo Teshigawara, Tivoli Ballet Theatre, 2Faced Dance

The February issue is now in shops – including branches of WHSmith – or you can buy your print copy here or buy your digital copy from all good app stores

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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