Arts & Culture

Cohan Collective brings together international artists, led by Contemporary Dance pioneer Robert Cohan

Following a successful pilot project last year, the Cohan Collective has grown to give nearly 30 choreographers, composers, dancers and musicians the freedom to collaborate and experiment without judgement.

This paid opportunity is artistically directed by world renowned Contemporary Dance artist Robert Cohan CBE, the Founding Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Along with Cohan’s long-time collaborator, and composer, Eleanor Alberga whose music has been performed by many leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, London Mozart Players and the Women’s Philharmonic of San Francisco, and worldwide. The Cohan Collective has been instigated and made possible by international dance company Yorke Dance Project, supported by Middlesex University.

With the aim of enabling Cohan and Alberga’s legacy to trickle through to the next generation of artists, eight mid-career choreographers and composers have had the experience of collaborating intensively for two weeks from 1-13 August.

Cohan said, “Since the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, much has been done to liberate dance, where it used to come secondary to the music. Let us find the equilibrium between the two forms and not interpret the music but use it to create and translate into movement.” This course allowed for that exploration to take place through specially formed tasks from Cohan and Alberga, which were there to challenge the artists and encourage them to work together. For example, they had to create a short piece of music/choreography in just one day and using restrictions, such as time, not as limitations but a driving force.

Robert Cohan talking to the Cohan Collective Photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

Robert Cohan talking to the Cohan Collective
Photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

Yolande Yorke-Edgell, Artistic Director of Yorke Dance Project and who has been mentored by Cohan herself said, “The Cohan Collective has developed from last year considerably, bringing forward the aim of influencing the next generation of emerging artists.”

Composers and choreographers were shortlisted from a large number of applicants, after having to submit a brief stating their career history and how the Cohan Collective would benefit them.

Donnelly said, “The Cohan Collective course is an oasis for artists to come and experiment. From the wealth of expertise of Cohan, Alberga, the mentors and other professional artists involved the composers and choreographers can absorb fundamental ways of working in collaboration with other artists.”

The choreographers involved this year were Jacqueline Bulnes, Dane Hurst, Nina von der Werth and Michael Naylor, who all range from specialising in contemporary dance to more commercial and hip hop styles.

Nina von der Werth, London-based choreographer, who is currently concerned with new audience engagement and the creation of visually-stimulated political dance theatre, said, “I went with the intention of soaking up all of this priceless information and to challenge my own practice without the pressure of having to create something and the financial concerns that come with it. I am now able to go away and reflect on this experience and carry it forward into my future.”

Nina von der Werth working with Adam Lori Photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

The composers involved were Ryan Latimer, Adam Lori, Anna Appleby and Jose Puello, again all having different approaches to creating music, whether that be for stage/screen or as part of a classical orchestra.

With each art form comes its own discourse and how this is communicated within the world of dance or music is often alien to each other and outsiders. The Cohan Collective helps to break down these barriers, allowing a free flow of information.

Adam Lori (AKA F-l-u-x), who has written music commissioned by the BBC, Channel 4, Richard Branson, ABC, NBC and Virgin, to name but a few said, “The Cohan Collective allowed me to explore a new musical language and be able to collaborate with others, discovering a mutual vocabulary with those from such different backgrounds in dance and music.”

Supporting the programme, through mentoring those involved, was esteemed composer, Gary Carpenter and past student of Cohan, and reputable choreographer, Kim Brandstrup. Gluing the course together were also dance technique teachers, including Anne Donnelly (Associate Professor Middlesex University), who also teaches Cohan technique on the course, and guest speakers, Richard Alston CBE and Mark Anthony Turnage. All have worked closely with Cohan and Alberga, enabling a cohesive and holistic depth and insight into their overarching practice.

Kim Brandstrup mentoring Dane Hurst Photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

Kim Brandstrup mentoring Dane Hurst
Photo: Yolande Yorke-Edgell

Fourteen professional dancers and four musicians took part in the residency, undergoing a rigorous audition process to ensure that the choreographers and composers had a versatile group of strong artists to work with.

Adding another layer to this year’s Collective two graduate dancers were given the chance to observe and learn from this wide pool of professional artists. An account of their observations can be found here.

Leanne Steel, recent graduate from Middlesex University said, “I enjoy looking at traditional techniques such as Cohan’s and seeing how it can be used in today’s contemporary world. The musical side of the programme has inspired me to see how composers and choreographers can problem solve together in a constructive environment.”

This truly unique project brings together such a vast amount of expertise and should not be overlooked, showing how beneficial such a programme can be for practising artists.

Details about Cohan Collective 2017 will be announced in January via YorkeDance.comThe

Cohan Collective is supported by Arts Council England, The Stanley Picker Trust and Patrons of Yorke Dance Project.

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