Heralding the celebrations of Robert Cohan’s 90th anniversary year Yolande Yorke-Edgell’s enterprising company, founded in 2009, is touring a programme, Figure Ground, containing two of his works. He had already restaged a solo, Canciones del Alma, for Yorke-Edgell last year and he has now contributed a quartet, Lingua Franca, in collaboration with the dancers.
Lingua Franca is based on a quartet from Cohan’s 1984 Agora, made for London Contemporary Dance Theatre, of which he was the founding artistic director. The Place, home of LCDT and the London Contemporary Dance School, celebrates his birthday on 27th March in a programme including Lingua Franca, with a gala the previous evening.
Material from Agora has been reworked to suit the present dancers: Jonathan Goddard, Phil Sanger, Laurel Dalley Smith and Yorke-Edgell. They come from different training backgrounds and experience, reflected in the way they warm up on stage at the start of Lingua Franca. The piece opens with Eleanor Alberga, pianist and composer, flexing her body and fingers before starting to play her own composition: she is the only one of the performers to have worked with Cohan as LCDT’s music director during his prime years as creator and teacher.
The others stretch their bodies on the floor, listening through earphones to Cohan’s recorded instructions (audible to the audience) as a video recorder is set up in the background. Yorke-Edgell sits checking her laptop. These dancers have access to technology their 1980s predecessors didn’t. But they don’t have the same Martha Graham-based technique that shaped the sleek physiques of LCDT dancers: the concave solar plexus in contractions, the plunging tilts, the sustained falls to the floor.
Instead, they make their own, less sculptural shapes, some more flexible than others, each with a distinctive dance personality. Jonathan Goddard has the most compelling presence, not least because his clearly focussed movements reflect the music, Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, that Alberga plays after her warm-up contribution. He is joined by Dalley Smith in a duet that makes use of her suppleness and his core strength. At the end, all four entwine, sharing the common language they have evolved and enjoyed with Cohan.
Yorke-Edgell performs Canciones del Alma with conviction and understanding of the lyrics that inspired it – three poems by the 16th century mystic, St John of the Cross, set to vocal music by Geoffrey Burgon for a male countertenor. Cohan had created the solo for a Graham-trained Canadian dancer, Susan MacPherson, in 1978 but has no recollection of its single performance at The Place a year later. The movement contains Graham-like intensity in its expressiveness: apprehension and resistance in stiffened arms and recoiling body, then surrender and ecstasy as the woman accepts the love of her creator. Though Yorke-Edgell no longer has the fluency the choreography requires, her sincerity reveals what she striving to attain.
Her own choreography is performed in Unfold to Centre, first shown at the Lilian Baylis Studio in February 2014. Her starting point was a computer animated film from 1978 by Larry Cuba composed of points of light dancing into varied configurations – old-fashioned by today’s expectations of electronic ingenuity. Like the twinkling lights, six dancers converge and disperse, curve and lunge, fold and unfold around Goddard as their centrepiece. Its repetitive vocabulary isn’t enhanced by a false ending, all six surrounding Goddard, arms upraised, followed by an inconclusive coda.
Opening the programme is Charlotte Edmonds’s early work, No Strings Attached, created in 2013 when she was just 16. Well-crafted, it is supposed to prefigure the theme of the Figure Ground title of the programme by exploring spatial relationships between the dancers – a claim that must be true of every piece of choreography. Her structures are simple: unison moves for three men, then three women; a central duet; canon unpeelings for all together in line-ups, following the rhythms in Michael Gordon’s Weather One score. Unfussy, this very promising work has the virtue of abstaining from running in circles, the bane of every unimaginative chunk of contemporary choreography. Lurid green lighting lets Edmonds down. She could learn from Cohan how to sculpt dancers with side lighting – the innovation with which he (and others) transformed dance productions from the 1970s onwards.