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Robert Cohan Gala

by Cassandra

May 9, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Last night’s performance at Sadler's Wells was a celebration of the 80th birthday of Robert Cohan. 80th? Surely not? It doesn’t seen possible, if any one seems blessed with perpetual youth it’s Cohan. Few people have done more for the cause of Modern Dance in this country than Cohan and the rapid growth of the art form since the sixties is all down to a tiny band of visionaries of which Cohan is now the sole survivor.

The evening began with his 1977 ballet “Forest” performed by Phoenix Dance Theatre, and after the interval Cohan himself came on stage to discuss with Richard Alston his lengthy career and how his pioneering spirit brought him to London in the first place. He also described in length the genesis of each of the three works being performed and it was fascinating to discover how the beautiful “Forest” was almost discarded as it had been created as a demonstration of modern dance when he was working as a ‘choreographer in residence’ in Yorkshire. Inspired by the countryside around him, “Forest” was nevertheless intended as a throwaway piece and it was only at the insistence of his dancers (showing more wisdom than Cohan himself on that occasion) that the work was finished, polished and found its way into the repertoire. With its background score of woodland sounds such as wind, rain and birdsong this lovely work of flowing ensembles, duets and solos is moving and inspiring to watch and displays the dancers of the Phoenix company to their very best advantage: the kind of ballet that when it finishes you want to watch all over again.

Cohan’s interview with Alston was preceded by a film of both his life and career, from childhood photos to footage of himself as a young dancer in New York with the legendary Martha Graham and later with the far-sighted Robin Howard in London and brought up to date with film of him in his hillside garden in France. The work that followed, “Eclipse”, was his first attempt at choreography, dating from 1959. A pas de deux that uses the darkness of an eclipse as a metaphor for the discord between men and women when their relationships break down, the male dancer wears orange for the sun and the female dancer is in a soft grey depicting the moon. A black back curtain is drawn across the stage to signal the beginning of the eclipse and the ensuing conflict between the couple. It’s a clever idea and makes a striking contrast to the evenings two more lyrical works.

It was once suggested to Cohan that he should create something to Vivaldi’s Gloria. Much as he loved the music, he gave up on it but turned instead to that composer’s Stabat Mater. This too gave him problems, and at first it seemed that Vivaldi’s music simply defeated him, then in a flash of inspiration ideas formed in his mind that he was able to translate into a ballet in a matter of days. The resulting “Stabat Mater” danced by nine young women from Ballet Theatre Munich is a moving work that shows the influence of his mentor, Martha Graham, in places but is infused with that melting lyricism that Cohan has always brought to the best of his works. The religious theme of the music is hinted at but never laboured and what emerges is a wonderful depiction on the women’s humanity. The ballet used to be in the repertory of the Rambert company. It would be a wonderful gesture for them to revive it in Cohan’s anniversary year.


Edited by Staff.

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