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 Post subject: Robert Cohan at 80
PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 11:27 am 
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Robert Cohan at 80
Sadlers Wells Theatre
London
9th May 2005


Last night’s performance at Sadlers 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 and 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 him 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 and 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.


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PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2005 4:37 am 
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Robert Cohan Gala
By Debra Craine for The Times


SOMETIMES it’s just as important to remember where you come from as it is to see where you are going. This one-off event, a tribute to Robert Cohan, choreographer, teacher and pioneering director, was one of those times.

Where would contemporary dance be in this country without this expatriate American? For 20 years, at the helm of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Cohan helped to spawn the dance boom of the 1970s and 1980s. He trained scores of dancers, developed a generation of choreographers and made dozens of dances.

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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2005 6:11 am 
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80th Birthday Celebration
By Jann Parry for The Observer

A gifted teacher, Cohan adapted Martha's methods to accommodate British bodies and souls. Not just British, because the London Contemporary Dance School at the Place became a mecca for students from around the world. Dancers who graduated into the London Contemporary Dance Theatre company (1969-1989) broke away to found companies of their own.

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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2005 9:30 am 
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Robert Cohan at 80, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 9th May 2005



Half-way through this rich and emotionally charged evening, Robert Cohan was interviewed by Richard Alston. He started by telling us how he came to live and work in London:

“I never thought I would leave New York and the main reason it happened was because of Robin Howard. Robin was on the Board of the Martha Graham Dance Company [where Cohan was dancing and teaching] and had helped to bring the Company to London and Edinburgh. He was keen to develop the Graham technique and style in England and at first he sent dancers on scholarships to New York to study with Graham. He planned that they would return and pass on their knowledge, but they opted to stay in New York.

“So, then he asked Martha to release me to come to England and set up a school and a company. I wasn’t convinced, as I had been a pioneer in one country and wasn’t inclined to repeat this experience in another. But we agreed on so many things: the need for training at a high level leading to professional dance and for a company and a centre. I realised that you don’t get offered something like this twice in your life, so I agreed.”

Alston asked whether the reality was daunting:.

“Well it was more daunting for Robin – he lost all his money. It was all very exciting for me, planning what the school should be and so on. Teaching meant so much to me; I learned to be person through my teachers, books and training as a dancer. Your body is like a puppy and needs training – discipline, hard, physical work, learning how to wake up every muscle in your body.”

Robert Cohan went on to talk about the dances we were seeing that evening and you can read his comments in Cassandra’s review. He ended with the disarming statement: “I think we’ve done enough talking, let’s see the dance.”

We saw three works by three companies and hopefully this is a sign of a revival of interest in his work, which has been neglected since the demise of London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Cohan looked understandably delighted to see a talented array of young dancers performing his work.

I saw an excerpt from “Forest” at a Gala a few years ago and Cohan told me in an interview later that it was one of the works he most wanted to see again. Phoenix Dance Theatre has been dancing “Forest” around the country for several months now as part of their current mixed bill and it showed in the polish and verve of their performance. This meditation, set in a forest has an accompaniment of natural sounds as the dancers spin slowly across the stage with outstretched arms and as the pace gathers bound like gazelles. At its heart is a duet, full of longing and beautiful partnering.

Cohan’s early works were solos and “Eclipse” was his first for more than one dancer. Dating from the late 50’s, abstract expressionism is a clear influence and there are hints of Cunningham. However, even in his work Cohan is exploring relationships as the two dancers strive for a conjunction that fails. As Alston commented “Eclipse” is filled with gestures that stick in the mind. None more so than when the dancers arch back, supporting each other across their bent knees with arms stretched upwards. Jonathan Goddard and Ino Riga from the Richard Alston Dance Company performed with emotional charge.

The climax of the evening was Cohan’s “Stabat Mater” created after an anguished blocked period in around five days. It is one of the most beautiful of contemporary dance works, full of symmetries as well as asymmetries and with exquisite pas de bras and patterns for the nine women dancers. The theme of loss runs through the work to Vivaldi’s score and in these times when hyper-kinetic work dominates the dance scene, this lyrical piece strikes a different chord that is very appealing. Ballet Theatre Munich performed “Stabat Mater” to a high standard and afterwards one dancer told me how much they had enjoyed learning and performing the work. There was a Rambert revival in the 90’s and I hope they will bring it back before too long.

Happy 80th Birthday, Bob.


Last edited by Stuart Sweeney on Tue May 31, 2005 5:29 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: ROBERT COHAN'S STUDY DAY AT THE PLACE
PostPosted: Wed May 18, 2005 8:44 am 
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On Sunday 8th May, The Place held a Study Day dedicated to the work of Robert Cohan, choreographer and artistic director of London Contemporary Dance Theatre for years. All one can say after having attended the day is thank you and congratulations to the organisers for offering such an enjoyable day in celebration of the work of one of Britain’s finest choreographers in contemporary dance. It was wonderful to see that most of the attendees were students, not only from the London Contemporary Dance School, but also from some of the most important vocational dance schools in London. The presence of students and their engagement with the day’s different procedures gave the act a freshness and depth rarely achieved in this kind of events. There was a feeling of tradition being handed down to the new generations and a remarkable reception of this tradition, as students questioned their predecessors on the future of the art form.

The day started with a short historical introduction by Jane Pritchard (archivist for both Rambert Dance Company and English National Ballet). She gave two dates as landmarks in Cohan’s career: 1946 – the year he took his first class - and 1969 – when he decided to remain in the UK and choreographed one of his most groundbreaking works, Cell -. She emphasised the importance of Cohan’s influence in developing an audience for contemporary dance in Britain through the work of London Contemporary Dance Theatre. As part of that audience myself, I can only agree with this statement.

Then, before the screening of Nympheas (1983), Bob Lockyer explained the process of recording the different works for television in the good old years, when television did show dance programmes on a continuous basis! He explained the importance of the cutting process and how this could be done either by musical phrases or by dance movement phrases. He said he had always preferred the latter.

The screening of Nympheas was a revelation. A beautiful piece of work, it reminded one of the lyrical qualities often associated with the work of Paul Taylor. But also, it was an eye opener in terms of the technical and stylistic qualities of the interpreters themselves. What a beautiful group of dancers! Watching Siobhan Davies at the prime of her career was enlightening.

Cohan himself explained the original idea for the piece and the creative process that followed. He emphasised the importance of using one’s imagination in order to fill in the gaps in the choreographic process and he emphasised this by simply stating that “you’ve got to trust your imagination. If you don’t, it just won’t happen.” This was one of the many wonderful quotes Cohan gave us all during the day.

Cohan gave advice on the choreographic process to young students that I would simply value as priceless. No matter how many choreographic classes one takes, a couple of Cohan’s remarks and simple advice were more useful than those many hours spent in the studios trying to work out how to put a piece together. Without doubt, my favourite quote came at the end of a Masterclass rehearsal of his pas de deux Eclipse, when a student questioned his praise for form. As he simply put it, our simplest actions during the day have got a starting point and an end: we get up, get out of the house and, no matter how much we wander off our original plans, there is always a feeling of closure at the end of the day. He established the parallel between that overarching shape that we unconsciously trace in our lives and the notion of form. When the student explained the problems she had in her choreographic work because of all the ideas she wanted to work on, he simply said: “don’t be a victim to your ideas”. How fascinating to hear a contemporary choreographer using the same idea as Mallarmé: “you don’t make a poem with ideas, you do it with verses”. In a post-modern world where these things are underrated as old fashioned “formalism”, it is most important that students get to hear them from people that they can respect.

There were moments of nostalgia. The panel discussion led by ex-members of the company provided so many wonderful insights into the work of London Contemporary Dance Theatre that I found it difficult not to think of its disappearance as a tragic loss in the dance world. However, this disappearance and loss were never mentioned. At the end of the discussion, another student raised another fascinating question: what can be done in order to get back to the values and commitment these dancers seemed to have and that our world, that seems to price athleticism and physical power above all else, seems to have lost. It was wonderful to hear students questioning these things, to see them re-thinking their training and the process of artistic creation in this way. The answer provided by the different dancers, many of whom are important teachers in different vocational schools in the country, was simple: it is up to them. They are the future and therefore it is their responsibility when making their artistic choices.

Finally, I would like to mention the Open Class performed by members of Phoenix Dance Theatre and led by Darshan Singh Bhuller. It was a series of exercises based on Graham technique that Cohan had devised in order to provide dancers with the basic training of their bodies for the day during their careers. The series of exercises ran through without pauses, so that concentration and stamina levels were kept up to a maximum. While watching them, I remembered what a beautiful system of training Graham’s is; how well thought out and how organic for the body and mind. For a moment I thought students might find it boring, to see a whole class routine of what – I assumed- was their daily practice. I was shocked to hear the reaction at the end of the class, it just made me realise that, sadly, this system may not be as common anymore as I thought it was.

Robert Cohan’s Study Day was a wonderful opportunity to revive the history of contemporary dance in this country. It worked wonderfully. I just felt sorry that it is not only ballet that has seen its heritage work so badly neglected, but that it is something that has been shared in an even more muted way by contemporary dance. Still, as the dancers told the young students, it is up to them to recover all this and make it relevant in their artistic lives. That is how it should be and let’s hope this is the direction the younger generation chooses to take.


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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2005 9:47 am 
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Press Release

Robert Cohan, The Place's founding Artistic Director, receives tributes, awards and gifts for his lifetime of achievement in dance

Following the performance in honour of Robert Cohan at Sadler’s Wells on Monday 9 May, Robert Cohan was presented with the National Dance Awards special committee prize in recognition of his lifetime’s achievement in dance. The award was presented by Dame Beryl Grey on behalf of the Critics’ Circle.

This prize is the latest honour for Cohan in the year of his eightieth birthday, and caps a weekend of events organised by The Place for this anniversary.

Ian Fisher, Chair of The Place, opened the celebrations by announcing The Place’s birthday present for Cohan: new bursaries to support the training of six talented young dancers over the next six years at London Contemporary Dance School. The weekend continued with a study day at The Place exploring the full range of Cohan’s work and legacy.

In the programmes for the Sadler’s Wells performance that brought the weekend to a rousing close, Clement Crisp, dance critic of the Financial Times, wrote:

“Robert Cohan’s was the power, the knowledge, the skill, the sheer persistence and the dedication that found how contemporary dance might be made to flourish in a new land.”

Richard Alston, one of Cohan’s original students at The Place and now his successor as Artistic Director, said:

“Dancers and dance lovers of every generation have come together this weekend to share and celebrate the work of Robert Cohan. Through his bursaries, another new generation will benefit and draw inspiration from this extraordinary man, and that seems to be the perfect way for us to say: ‘Happy Birthday, Bob’.”

For further information, contact Tim Wood at The Place 020 7387 1507 tim.wood@theplace.org.uk

Notes

Robert Cohan CBE, previously a principal dancer with and Co-Director of the Martha Graham Company in New York, joined The Place as founding Artistic Director in 1967. He established London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, a company he remained closely associated with until its closure in 1994. He continues to serve on The Place’s Board of Governors.

The Place is London’s leading international centre of excellence in the development of contemporary dancers and dance-makers. The extraordinary range of its activities includes the London Contemporary Dance School, Richard Alston Dance Company and the Robin Howard Dance Theatre, alongside pioneering education and outreach projects, and research and development opportunities for professional dance artists.


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2005 5:28 am 
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Robert Cohan at 80
By Katie Phillips for The Stage


To celebrate the 80th birthday of Robert Cohan - prolific choreographer and founding artistic director of The Place, this performance of three of his works ranges from American modern, through the beginnings of abstract expressionism to pure dance. Although today’s audience may consider the choreography - first created in the sixties and seventies - somewhat far removed from choreographic chic, it is important to remember the context in which these pieces came about.

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