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Friday, June 23rd, 2006 at 11:49 am
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The Dancer Returns

Having travelled the world, Ross Cooper returns to East Lothian to perform, create and teach.

Ross Cooper has recently returned to his native East Lothian after a performance record that would make you rush out and buy shares in any travel agent. Ross’s career has developed over the last few years from dancing to directing and he now finds himself delighted to be living out this exciting new phase in Scotland.
Ross began dancing while he was a schoolboy in Dunbar. “There wasn’t much support or knowledge about dance back then,” he recalls, but he continued to take classes both locally and, when older, in London. After taking a class with Maurice Bejart, Ross was offered a scholarship to the prestigious Ecole de Etoile Rudra Bejart Ballet in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he stayed on to perform. From there, he worked with the National Ballet of South Africa, AMP, Tokyo Ballet as well as a number of other dance companies.
For, although Ross trained in both classical and modern dance techniques his work today has evolved and developed.
Ross Cooper“The more ways you can move your body benefits what we do, a greater level of articulation provides a greater vocabulary when speaking to your audience. The material I work on now utilises various dance techniques, styles and influences from Darrell to Cunningham”.
About seven years ago, Ross returned to the UK to work with Matthew Bourne on an all male version of Swan Lake with Adventures in Motion Pictures. Ross then received a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, which enabled him and a group of like-minded dancers to develop and build a repertory of their own work and programming. “This repertoire is subsidised by the Scottish people and in many ways belongs to them,” he says. “We endeavour to present this work across the country to as municipal an audience as possible. The tour reflects this philosophy. Dance shouldn’t be something that only happens in our bigger cities.”
Their repertoire has included the work of Peter Darrell O.B.E. the founder of Scottish Ballet, who has been described as “probably the best choreographer outside the Royal Ballet in the last half century”. Under Darrell, Scottish Ballet developed into a highly respected National Company, not only within the UK but throughout Europe, the Far East, Australia and the USA, performing both classical and modern dance, including many of Darrell’s own works.
Another choreographer Ross regularly collaborates with is Rui Lopes Graca, choreographer with the Portuguese National Ballet, His choreography challenges the dancer technically with innovative partnering and solos, often set to varying music from Johan Sebastian Bach to Japanese Taiko drumming.
Henri Oguike is another dance maker Ross worked with recently. He has been hailed as “one of the most intelligent, entertaining, and musical young choreographers now working in Britain,’ according to Dance Magazine, USA and his commitment to incorporating live music into the performance is exciting to say the least, his Welsh/Nigerian roots coming to the fore.
An early mentor of Ross’s was Michael Clark from Fraserburgh. Starting with The Royal Ballet he broke away and developed his own highly individual dance company. Temporarily lost to ballet while he worked through a period of drug addiction and rehabilitation, his new work is now attracting a lot of attention.
All these internationally acclaimed and recognised artists have worked with Ross’s group so Ross doesn’t miss the travel and stimulation.
“All the interesting people are coming here,” he says, of The Curve Foundation’s residence at Mussel burgh’s Brunton Theatre. “The rehearsal room we use is massive, we would be able to rehearse any large scale work at The Brunton”
Ross sees this two-year residency, supported by the Scottish Arts Council and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, as an opportunity to develop his own company’s independent flavour and style while educating people about modern dance.
“The local community are used to seeing good quality international work here and hence they are quite an open minded audience. I hope that our work will bring a new and different layer to the work that already goes on here. I think our work will also challenge our audience by pulling them in various new directions” he says. “Although we are primarily performers, who present and create dance and choreography, there isn’t necessarily a lot of knowledge about dance in Scotland and East Lothian. As member of the professional dance community we have a responsibility to pass on that knowledge, so we have an educative role as well, through projects with various groups here in East Lothian and workshops with groups as far away as Skye.
“Modern dance is so new; you have to tell people about it. Modern dance has evolved out of different traditional dance techniques and philosophies. These vocabularies and philosophies are useful and our initial classical training enriches what we do now, which is a development, not something intrinsically different and the audiences we work with always comment on how accessible the type of dancing is that we do.”
This spring, the Brunton will see Merce Cunningham’s ‘Signals’ on stage. If Martha Graham was the founder of modern dance (she launched her dance company in New York in 1926), the next phase of its evolution was spearheaded by Cunningham during the sixties, when he collaborated on cross arts projects with masters like Andy Warhol, who, incidentally made two screen prints of the dancer.
Cunningham created the ‘event’ in 1964, in part as a response to the problems of presenting dances in all manner of theatre spaces while on tour. The relationship between dance and music became much freer, to the point at which the dancers in Cunningham’s company learn and rehearse a work in silence and often do not hear the music until the first performance, or at any rate the dress rehearsal.
Over the last 50 years, Merce has created various events with over 200 choreographic works His work now forms the main technique that is taught in Modern Dance everywhere. The Curve Foundation, while at The Brunton Theatre, will be the first Scottish company to perform his work, Signals, last danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Ross is understandably excited about the work he is producing at the Brunton, not just with his own group but also with the East Lothian Youth Dance Company, which is looked after by Dawn Hartley.
Dawn has been successfuylly developing dance in East Lothian for over 5 years Ross believes that by offering these young people the structure of these already choreographed works, they will improve their techniques, and this will influence the way they think about Art.
“This implanted knowledge can only lead to greater creativity,” he says. “When they pick up a book on dance or even a book on Art, they see those names [whose work they’re learning] and go ‘yeah, right, I know what this is about.’ The more you know, the more you can take from it.”
Ross describes the dancers at ELYDC as full of enthusiasm. “Someone once said that talent is the ability to work hard and if that’s true, they’re talented in abundance. It’s very rewarding to work with open-minded young people. These dancers have all come into dance in really different ways and this enriches the material we work on together”
To be a dancer, Ross suggests, requires physical awareness, timing, musicality and a good brain. The complex work they do needs intelligent dancers who know not only how to look after themselves but when to push themselves both artistically and technically. Professional dancing is every bit as physically demanding as being a professional sports person. But Ross maintains the difference is that you never know what a choreographer is going to ask you to do. He says, “You must be open-minded whenever you walk into a studio and you need to be able to think about the work and develop it onto your body. This process helps you to move and think in ways that you never thought possible.”
Ross likens the lifespan of a dancer to that of a footballer without the financial benefits, “However,” he adds, “the skills you learn as a dancer are more transferable. When you dance, you learn to question yourself and to think creatively. This approach creates more malleable individuals”
The comparison with sport doesn’t end there. Both are dependent on your physique, which means taking care of yourself, avoiding injury and even colds and maintaining a healthy pattern of eating and drinking.
“I don’t find it restricting,” Ross says. “Most people find, even if they just exercise once a week, making your body work, making your brain work, that there isn’t the same propensity to eat rubbish or do negative things. None of us even watch our weight particularly, other than to ensure we get enough nutrients.
“Once you’ve been training all day, you can’t go to the pub at night and drink a lot. If you ran five miles and someone handed you a pack of cigarettes, you just wouldn’t fancy it!”
So meeting up with old friends from school doesn’t involve heavy celebrations. Ross lives in Leith and says he is always bumping into old friends. “If you spend eighteen years in a place, you’re bound to meet people you know when you come back and growing up here I know a lot of local people,” he says. “It makes it easier, it’s nice to build links of longer standing and to see the impact of what you do indirectly and directly.
“I’m really enjoying this residence. It is a great building for us to have the opportunity to work in and I hope that we reward the local support and community by giving East Lothian a distinct and exciting voice on the international dance scene”
In their inaugural season at The Brunton Theatre, The Curve Foundation will
perform and present an exciting modern dance programme to include 2 World
Premieres, 2 Scottish Premieres and The Curve Foundation will be the first Scottish Company ever to be given permission to do work by Merce Cunningham.

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