Professor Christopher Bannerman
Director ResCen Research Centre
The postings on the blog are from March 2020 and document the beginnings of a new Elixir Ensemble work created by Ben Duke with assistance from Ruby Portus who danced in the Elixir ll work Forest Revisited (Cohan and Welton). Ruby was also a Sadler’s Wells Young Associate Artist 2018-19 and presented her own choreography on the main stage there. I assume that her work with Ben has been arranged as a further opportunity for artistic development. I am excited about working with Ben and I also regard this as an opportunity for artistic development.
While I sometimes bemoan the tendency for contemporary dance to forget everything that has happened previously, as Jonathan Burrows said in The Elders Project, ‘everything disappears in this stupid art form’; I also celebrate its ability to respond to this moment and to reinvent itself, often by borrowing from other art forms or other external influences. I know little about the ideas for the work except that it involves some, but not all dancers from the Elixir Ensemble and an equal number of early-career dancers who represent the Elixir dancers in their youth.
I have seen Ben’s work in the past and his recent work Juliet and Romeo so I am not surprised when he tells us of his background in theatre as part of an introduction to some of the things we may be exploring in this process. I am comfortable with this and understand that my task is simply to make myself available, a task made easier by the relaxed atmosphere Ben creates as we explore some movement ideas and even when we move into more autobiographical explorations. Somehow, I am ready for this now and have complete faith that Ben will avoid any wallowing in old dancers’ nostalgia – something I fear, as I noted in the Introduction to the Elixir Ensemble web pages.
Once again, I have missed a previous session due to commitments overseas and so I was not present at the audition arranged to select the dancer who would represent the younger me. The intermittent attendance issue is something that is intrinsic to project-based work and particularly Elixir Ensemble sessions as we each have a range of other commitments. However, the first session I was able to join, Alex was not able to attend, so in the session documented in the blog, we are meeting for the first time and getting to know one another.
Shortly after this session the first Covid-19 lockdown began and only now, in March 2021, are plans being made for re-engaging with the process and for a performance date sometime in winter 2021 at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells. How this work will evolve is completely unknown to me. I note however, that Ben has a way of revealing an individual’s internal world in his work and that the autobiographical explorations almost took on the feeling of a confessional or therapy session. But this may have simply been what happened at that rehearsal – it may not be a guide to future developments.
I look forward to further sessions and future developments with enthusiasm as this late and unexpected phase in my dancing career continues to fulfill the elixir function that Sadler’s Wells so presciently proposed in the name of the festival and the group.