Professor Christopher Bannerman
Posted: March 2021

This website documents the work of the Sadler’s Wells Elixir Ensemble dancers who performed on the main stage on 23 and 24 June as part of the 2017 Elixir Festival. The company consists of ex-professional dancers and includes me, Christopher Bannerman, now Director of ResCen Research Centre, but also a former LCDT dancer and choreographer, making the collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, where LCDT performed for many years, a natural development.

The website is focused on the creative processes and performances of two dance works: Forest Revisited by choreographer Robert Cohan and director Martin Welton, and The Road Awaits Us by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar. The performance of Forest Revisited was created with ten dancers, five former members of London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) and five alumni from the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC). The five former LCDT dancers, Christopher Bannerman, Anne Donnelly (whose dancing name was Anne Went), Linda Gibbs, Paul Liburd and Kenneth Tharp were joined by NYDC alumni Josh Attwood, Hannah Mason, Kennedy Mutanga, Luigi Nardone and Ruby Portus.

Robert Cohan was artistic director, teacher and lead choreographer for LCDT and the process involved the transmission of the knowledge and insight required to perform Forest (1977) which Cohan created as part of LCDT’s pioneering residency programme. The transmission of a significant piece of contemporary dance history to a new generation of dancers involved challenges – the challenge for the ex-LCDT dancers included inculcating a way of moving from another era, and to transmit that experience as well as the movement from Forest. For the younger, ex-NTDC dancers the challenge was to embody the way of moving and then to inhabit the dance work, its movement and its stillness, to realise it on stage in the here and now – and to share that with the audience.

While many, including myself, recall the making and first performance of Forest, the record of the original process is not easily retrieved, as it did not come from a conventional creation and rehearsal period followed by a performance. Rather it emerged from a series of sessions as part of a residency programme in teacher training colleges, with half of the company doing six weeks and the other half doing the next six weeks – and three dancers, including me, doing all twelve weeks. During observed sessions we played with movement phrases with numerous entrances and exits allowing each dancer to be featured before the audience of staff and students. There were two men’s dances created and we later distinguished them by referring to the second one as ‘the Barry men’s dance’ as it was created in Barry, South Wales.

However when the company returned to its base in London at The Place, LCDT members were all quite surprised to learn that Bob Cohan wished to create a dance from what we had experienced as simply fragments of movement. What we did have was something shared implicitly, almost as a kind of tacit knowledge, the deep, embodied engagement with a way of moving and being that stemmed from Bob’s incisive and inspiring teaching. While the work involved in Forest Revisited involved remembering, I am hesitant about relying too much on personal memory. I often say that I hope that I have a good sense of history, but I know that I have a poor sense of time and, while some events can be recalled with vivid clarity, they are often isolated from the stream of time and suffer from that displacement.

The second work, The Road Awaits Us was created for the Elixir Ensemble, by Annie B Parson and Paul Lazar from New York’s Big Dance Company. This meant that the process did not involve remembering a dance work from the past, but rather the deep focus and engagement with a creative process and a creative team who we were meeting for the first time. This too was a challenging prospect as the work was ambitious and demanded precision, performance skills and the special concentration that exploring new territory requires. While Annie B Parsons and Paul Lazar exhibited consummate professionalism and skilful practice in negotiating what was, and was not, possible for these older bodies, the demands of a time-limited creative process, the cast of unknown performers, the challenges of two peoples ‘separated by a common language’ were considerable, amplified by the use of text, singing and the very specific timings required. However there was a palpable sense of excitement as the extracts from Ionesco’s absurdist play The Bald Soprano opened a door to a surreal landscape which allowed shifts in the modes of representation; a sense of abstraction topped by party hats in some moments, the portrayal of character and emotion at others and then the direct address to the audience close to the end of the work.

This is a special kind of adventure, made especially enjoyable as, like all of the Elixir work, it is part of a journey we share and a period of our dancing lives that was never expected – and which is made more meaningful by its unexpectedness.