Arts & Culture

EXCLUSIVE: Contemporary Dance pioneer, Robert Cohan leads new pilot project for choreographers and composers

World-renowned choreographer Robert Cohan CBE and his long-time collaborator and composer, Eleanor Alberga have been mentoring three choreographers and composers, all at various stages of their careers. They have been passing on their indispensable knowledge to continue their legacy of creating intuitive contemporary dance and music.

“How do we make dances better? How do we continue to both refine and challenge our methods? How can we encourage more fully-realised and deeply-considered dance-making from ourselves and from our colleagues?” – Robert Cohan, May 2015

Out of these questions rose the idea for the Cohan Collective, a two-week, intensive, choreographic residency, conceived by Cohan, in collaboration with international dance company, Yorke Dance Project and supported by Middlesex University. This took place from 24th August till 5th September, culminating in a sharing at the Place, London, where Cohan is the founding Artistic Director. The Cohan Collective’s mission is to further develop the depth and quality of choreographers’ and composers’ work and working methods.

The choreographers being mentored were Jonathan Goddard, Phil Sanger and Charlotte Edmonds, alongside composers, Rolf Hind, Donna McKevitt and Andy Kyte. All having a chance to cross-collaborate and learn from one another. Both professional and graduate dancers were also involved, further widening the pool of reciprocal learning that this project achieved.

Edd Mitton, Yorke Dance Project company member, took part in the Collective as a dancer, he was able to absorb information from all that took part, dancing for all the choreographers and composers during the daily tasks. He was exposed to different ways of working but also being a choreographer he was able to question his own practice and thought to himself ‘how would I respond to each challenge?’.

Edmonds was recruited to take part in the Cohan Collective as part of Yorke Dance Project’s mission to maintain relationships with the young people that they work with and maximise the potential of young talent. Edmonds first worked with the company in 2013, at the age of 16, as their Causeway Young Artist in Residence. She is now joining The Royal Ballet for their 2015/16 Season as the first choreographer to participate in the new Royal Ballet Young Choreographer Programme and has been commissioned to choreograph for the Royal Academy of Dance Genẻe 2015 at Sadler’s Wells, London.

Cohan’s guidance has helped Edmonds to find even more ways of crafting material. She says, “working alongside composers, choreographers and dancers all at different ages and with different levels of experience I have seen that learning never stops and in creativity there is never one answer but never-ending approaches to problem solving. ”

Robert Cohan CBE and Eleanor Alberga mentoring Charlotte Edmonds and Andy Kyte (photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell)

Robert Cohan CBE and Eleanor Alberga mentoring Charlotte Edmonds and Andy Kyte (photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell)

The first week of the residency involved creative, daily tasks set by Cohan and Alberga guiding the Collective through different processes of composing movement and sound scores in collaboration with one another. Trial and error is welcomed where there is no pressure to deliver a polished product, which is often restricted in the ‘real world’ by such factors as cost.

Cohan says, “it’s not about whether you like or dislike what is made, it’s about if it works”. In a Facebook generation where we are constantly searching for approval in the form of likes, taking risks is often ignored. During one challenge the composers were only allowed to use one pitch in their music making and the choreographers had to direct sitting down throughout the rehearsal day.

Alberga, who recently opened the last night of the BBC Dance Proms with a commissioned piece expresses, “one aim of the Cohan Collective is to really push these choreographers and composers out of their comfort zones.” She mentioned how she recently watching George Balanchine’s Agon (1957) and that in Igor Stavinsky’s musical accompaniment it is apparent that there was such a strong collaboration between the choreography and composition. Alberga commented that dance work today has gone away from that prominent relationship between music and dance and the Cohan Collective looks to bring this back.

Kyte, who has just graduated from a classical music degree from Middlesex University, was pushed by Alberga to really ‘juice out’ the motifs that he made. He had only worked with dance once before and this opportunity enabled him to see sound visually and experience the choreographers’ interpretations of the tasks. He says it was great to collaborate intensively in such a way where thoughts constantly were “bounced off each other”.

Andy Kyte composing (photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell)

Andy Kyte composing (photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell)

Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Artistic Director of Yorke Dance Project has been mentored by Cohan over the past couple of years as both a dancer and choreographer. Sharing this experience is important to her to continue the flow of knowledge and experiences of all that is encountered when working with such influential figures. 

Yorke-Edgell says, “Cohan and Alberga’s advice and mentorship is priceless. Being mentored by Cohan myself he taught me to pull apart what’s inside the choreography to delve deeper into the process of making. The Cohan Collective is an important part of Yorke Dance Project in nurturing artists.”

The Cohan Collective also involved daily class in Cohan technique taught by, Anne Donnelly (Associate Professor Middlesex University) and ballet classes taught by Paul Liburd MBE. Both have worked extensively with Cohan and Alberga during their time with London Contemporary Dance Theatre and throughout their subsequent careers.

During the residency participants also heard from two guest speakers about the process of collaboration, Richard Alston CBE and Stephen Montague. The idea of this to make use of people whose practice has been inspired by earlier working experiences with Cohan.

Having witnessed the project at the beginning, middle and end of the two weeks it was clear that many revelations were made by those involved. This is a fantastic opportunity for choreographers, composers and dancers at any age and will be great to see the Collective make a return in the future.

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