Dancing the Invisible – Late Work

Dancing the third age – Researching mature dance

Endurance plus Enthusiasm ?

Preparing for our first performance tonight at the Lion and Unicorn. We will ‘get-in’ on the day and the other performers haven’t seen the venue.  This is like small scale touring 30 years ago. All decisions about lighting, sound, spacing, entrances, exits, scale and feel of the place are all ahead of us – then the show …performing the unknown and being witnessed. Into a corner of the small terror of contemplating this show creeps something which resonates. Both Susie in Oxford and I in London happen to be listening this morning to The Life Scientific. What communicates is ‘enthusiasm for the subject’.  So as I gather my thoughts and boots made for walking and dancing, I ponder Endurance plus Enthusiasm – hmmm – is that what ageing dance looks like?

(The long) wait and see…

Questions asked – going forward to Ashton

The return to late working.

We are preparing for performances at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre.  I noticed an article in The Times on September 7th;  ‘Grey Power: endurance can improve with age’ was the headline, for a story about Diana Nyad now aged 64. Thirty-six years after her first (unsuccessful) attempt to swim 110 miles from Cuba to US, she had completed the course. Attitude is key factor and the stories of people sustaining their quality of life and even claiming to reverse the physical ageing process – made for encouraging reading.


Our practice has an athletic dimension and the physical goals (staying fit, resisting the fall into gravity!) are important drivers.  But – as our veteran teacher Roger Tully would stress – ballet is a Performing Art and the primary focus is on what and how we communicate, with the audience, with each other in dancing.


This will be the third venue for Late Work.  Each occasion throws up different challenges. The stage is tiny, so we are re-calibrating the ‘steps’ for a confined space and our performance for up close connection with the public. It feels as if even more precision and detail is required to shape my sometimes unruly inner impulses: kinaesthetic, imaginative, emotional.


Having just spent the day at the Ashton Symposium, I am pondering the discipline imposed on early dance makers by the dimensions the Mercury theatre  … how in going back, we go forward. This was the thrust of Alastair Macaulay’s talk at the beginning of the day. He referenced Lupokhov’s comment to Balanchine in the early 1900s that choreography ‘should go forward to Petipa.  How do we go forward to Ashton now? I think it’s a question that Late Work also asks.


hands on deck

hands on deck

The summer has slipped by and –  it has been memorable. As well as seeing the sun – and welcoming the feel of its ‘burn’ deep into the ageing bones – I’ve presented our work at conferences. At the Dance and Somatics Conference in Coventry I reflected on the impact on my mature dance now of discovering Roger Tully and Feldenkrais in the 1990s – and at Corps-de-Ballet International in Paris, I presented a paper co-written by Susie Crow and me on LATE WORK. It’s a rich process that seems to have a life of its own and will take … years to unfold fully. Soooo – in the interim we will be presenting a new version in a North London pub on 24th and 25th September as part of the GOlive Festival. Rehearsing over the next weeks and resuming posting!

Reflection on The Sleeping Beauty

Ashton used to say that watching The Sleeping Beauty was like having a private lesson in the art of composition in classical ballet (Kavanagh 1996, p.309).  The richness of Petipa’s choreographic text (despite its mutability and variation from one production to another) and the particular poetic and historic symbolism of the work, give it layers of significance and the potential for depth in individual artistic interpretation; to my mind according it the equivalence in status of such canonical musical masterpieces as the Bach cello suites, which invite artists to measure themselves and make a definitive personal statement of their understanding through their performance of the work.

In Late Work we explore tiny sections of the choreography and conceptual elements of The Sleeping Beauty as a trigger for improvisations and for the composition of new solos that in some ways examine our own pasts as dancers; and throughout the piece it remains a source of reference and imagery.  Jennifer had always felt an affinity with the role of Aurora, and chose that we focused on the first and third act solos.  My own attachment to the work is perhaps more diffuse.  It was the first ballet I ever saw, in the Royal Ballet’s Touring Company version with designs by Oliver Messel; and nightmare visions of Carabosse’s gnarled hand and snake entwined stick coming round my bedroom door troubled my nights for some years – not to mention the cobwebs…

Taking Late Work forward…

Meeting in Oxford on a raw January day, but the sun is shining for the first time in a while.  We mull over how to take Late Work forward.  Difficult to untangle the relationship between the project’s aspects as both research and performance.  Is it primarily an investigation of the relationship of technique and choreography in the education of the dancer?  Or is it a poetic meditation on the qualities and histories of two aging dancers, exploring the potential audience reaction to such work?

Late work at Roehampton today


This feels like a big challenge, we prepared in April and now this performance is shoe horned into the pressurised calendar of teaching, assessments, research applications, administration as well as domestic life. Roehampton is a particular context  – we can expect an audience of contemporary dance students, academics, researchers with ballet expertise.


I remind myself that it is enough but important to be in the spirit of the work and to explore the dialogues –between Susie’s and my dance, between the musicians and the dancers, between this moment and our embodied practices and knowledge.  All we can do is to attend to and build the conditions in which something might happen.

The next iteration …

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