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Richard Trinder
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@richardtrinder
3:13 PM 24th November 2023
arts

Yorke Dance Project Presents California Connections: Three Pioneering Women

 
Yorke Dance Project, the contemporary ballet company run by Yolande Yorke-Edgell, gave its world première of a new mixed bill called California Connections: Three Pioneering Women, at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds last night before embarking on a UK tour in autumn 2023 and spring 2024.

A scene from <i>Isadora</i>. Dancers Edd Mitton and Amy Thake. Photo by Deborah Jaffe
A scene from Isadora. Dancers Edd Mitton and Amy Thake. Photo by Deborah Jaffe
California Connections: Three Pioneering Women is a warm and, at times, brutally honest tribute to three extraordinary female choreographers from the eponymous state. Those ladies are Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and Bella Lewitzky.

Yolande Yorke-Edgell. Photo by Darryl Viddes Kennedy
Yolande Yorke-Edgell. Photo by Darryl Viddes Kennedy
Yorke Dance Project was itself founded in Los Angeles, a city seen by many as the birthplace of American modern dance.

Isadora

Kenneth MacMillan’s three-act ballet Isadora, created for The Royal Ballet in 1981, captures the life of San Francisco native Isadora Duncan.

Yorke Dance Project, Yolande Yorke-Edgell and Lady Deborah MacMillan have distilled the original into a new one-act chamber work that explores the conflict between Isadora’s search for love and her mission to revolutionise the art of dance.

Using Duncan's own words as a voice-over and with impeccable dancing from Amy Thake (as Isadora), we follow a painfully transparent narrative revealing a life driven by two great and sometimes conflicting passions: love and art. Never shying away from Isadora Duncan's self-inflicted problems in her marriage and with multiple love affairs, we follow her tragedies with the loss of her children and her seemingly unworkable relationships.

A compelling watch.

Errand into the Maze

<i>Errand into the Maze</i>. Dancers Edd Mitton and Amy Thake. Photo by Pierre Tappon
Errand into the Maze. Dancers Edd Mitton and Amy Thake. Photo by Pierre Tappon
Martha Graham spent her formative years in Santa Barbara, California where she was first introduced to dance. Her 1947 masterpiece Errand into the Maze is a duet based on the legends of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur.

Influenced by the theories of the psychologist Carl Jung and set to a score by Gian Carlo Menotti, it confronts human fear and explores sexual power struggles. Only the very best behaviour from the audience prevented shouts of "just leave him, he's not worth it".

This is the first time the work has been seen in the UK in 20 years. Laurel Dalley Smith, a former member of Yorke Dance Project, and now dancing with the Martha Graham Dance Company, made a guest appearance at this Leeds première.

Meta 4

<i>Meta 4</i>. Photo by Pierre Tappon
Meta 4. Photo by Pierre Tappon
In Bella Lewitzky’s fast paced, bold and physically demanding Meta 4, four dancers perform four movements to an original score for string quartet by Robert Xavier Rodriguez. The solo from Lewitzky’s Suite Satie, set to Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No 1, is an example of Lewitzky’s sculptural style of movement. Yolande Yorke-Edgell danced with Bella Lewitzky from 1994 to 1998 when Lewitzky retired and disbanded her company.

Meta 4 completed a thought-provoking and beautifully executed evening of dance where Yorke Dance Project demonstrated that abstract art and a narrative structure are not mutually exclusive.

The Yorke Dance Project dancers are Luke Ahmet, Abigail Attard Montalto, Eric Caterer, Ellie Ferguson, Jenny Hayes, Dane Hurst (in 2024) Edd Mitton, Pierre Tappon, Amy Thake, Harry Wilson and, for the Leeds première, guest artist Laurel Dalley Smith.

California Connections: Three Pioneering Women continues around the UK. Details can be found here: yorkedance.com