MacMillan’s Playground returns in Yorke Dance Project’s 20th anniversary programme

Theatre Royal, Winchester
February 12, 2019

Maggie Foyer

Yorke Dance Project, as the title of their latest programme signposts, have clocked up a remarkable twenty years of innovative dance, as the company tours both nationally and internationally. Twenty played to a packed house in the historic theatre in Winchester.

The revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground (1979) was eagerly anticipated but while it is a work of fascinating character studies, it was not seen to best advantage. The added corps of students from Rambert School and Central School of Ballet crowded the small stage, already dissected by a wire fence, to confuse the focus. I am sure it will look better when it gets to a larger stage such as the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds, but the bijoux Winchester dimensions did it no favours.

Yorke Dance Project in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's PlaygroundPhoto Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground
(dancers: Freya Jeffs, seated left, and Oxana Panchenko with Ben Warbis and Abigail Attard Montalto behind)
Photo Pari Naderi

Guest, Oxana Panchenko as the ‘Girl with Make-up’ and Jordi Calpe Serrats as the Youth were the central couple, victims in a strange and disturbing work of eccentric behaviour where raw aggression and jealousy dominated the gentler moments of affection. As the medical staff round up the ‘patients’ at the end of playtime the situation becomes clearer with hindsight, but the lines between sanity and madness remain liminal.

The choreographic language also plays along this liminal border as dysfunctional minds struggle to find body co-ordination and MacMillan experiments with an expressionistic interpretation of ballet. There were strong performances all round from both central characters and the ensemble who worked with strong commitment.

Communion by Robert Cohan, still choreographing at an amazing 93 years of age, shows he can still deliver. The work takes time to get started (and a little judicious pruning would not come amiss in the very slow opening section) but develops into a work of real quality. The men get the best of the choreography in a strong quartet that begins with shades of Hellenic posturing before moving on to something more interesting.

Yorke Dance Project in Communion by Robert CohanPhoto Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project in Communion by Robert Cohan
Photo Pari Naderi

The female section opens on a breezy 3/4 then muscles up to find more power in the rhythm. With a fine group of dancers to hand, the solos offer good opportunities for the performers. It was good to see Dane Hurst back in action and proving he can still delight audiences with the inherent gracefulness of his movements.

Between and Within a commissioned work by Los Angeles-based Sophia Stoller has an interesting concept as four dancers play out the interior and exterior facets of a single relationship. The shifting emotions are skilfully handled both choreographically and in the strong performances by the cast, Edd Minton, Freya Jeffs, Dane Hurst and Abigail Attard Montalto. Joseph Scheid’s tetchy score adds grist in a work where conflict proves more interesting than harmony.

Yorke Dance Project in Imprint by Yolande Yorke-EdgellPhoto Pari Naderi
Yorke Dance Project in Imprint by Yolande Yorke-Edgell
Photo Pari Naderi

Imprint, another premiere is director Yolande Yorke-Edgell’s tribute to the choreographers who had shaped her career. The influences are not only evident in the dance but also in the voices of Richard Alston and Robert Cohan giving their perspective on the art form. With music from JS Bach to Max Richter with Heiner Goebels and Kenneth Hesketh along the way, this was always going to be an eclectic work and it offers a variety of moods and themes but shining through, most noticeably in Yorke-Edgell’s performance, is the love of dance.

Yorke Dance Project’s Twenty programme continues on tour. Visit for dates and venues.