Monthly Archives: June 2017

Dr Kate Kennedy wins public engagement award

 

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Dr Kate Kennedy

Dr Kate Kennedy, our Weinrebe Fellow in Life-Writing, has won an Early Career Researcher award in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards, which celebrate public engagement work across the University. The announcement was made at an awards ceremony at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on 28 June hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson.

Dr Kennedy won her award for her public engagement work relating to a triple biography of poet Rupert Brooke, and composers F.S. Kelly and W.D. Browne she is writing. The three men were close friends who sailed to Gallipoli together and were all killed in the First World War.

Studying archives, letters and diaries, and animating the stories she has uncovered has enabled Dr Kennedy to work with young people and adults, musicians and theatre professionals through drama, music, the media and public events, including:

  • 10 performances across the UK of her dramatized recital The Fateful Voyage across the UK with internationally acclaimed soloists and actors.
  • Directing and presenting BBC Radio 3’s commemorations of the First World War, with The Fateful Voyage broadcast from the City of London Festival as a centrepiece.
  • Creating the Gallipoli Music Memorial Trust to offer workshops, performances and teaching resources to schools; the content now forms part of the history curriculum.
  • Involving over 750 school children in creating their own creative pieces and performances for public audiences.
  • Premiering, choreographing and editing the work of the composers including previously unpublished songs, piano works and a fully staged ballet.
  • Obtaining Arts Council funding to develop The Fateful Voyage into a fully-staged play at the National Theatre.

The biography of Brooke, Kelly and Browne is due to be published in 2018.

The project has transformed Dr Kennedy’s research, developing her understanding of the stories and how they can be communicated effectively. In turn the neglected work of the composers has now been shared with many thousands.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. Dr Kennedy was one of five Early Career Researcher winners at the awards.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: “I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement.”

Professor Alison Woollard, the University’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says: “Public engagement enriches both research and society and the University is committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. I’m delighted that we are able to recognise and highlight the fantastic work our researchers are doing and hope these awards encourage more colleagues across the University to carry out their own public engagement with research.”

About the awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. The awards are awarded in three categories: Early Career Researcher, Building Capacity and Projects. Entrants can be at any level in their career and activities of any scale are welcome. Winning entries received recognition for their achievements at the Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards Ceremony that took place on 28 June 2017.

Lydia Lopokova – A 20th Century Life

At the peak of her dancing years – between 1916 and 1926 – Lydia Lopokova was one of the world’s most popular ballerinas, stamping the signature of her quick, bright technique and irrepressible stage personality onto the repertories of Massine, Fokine and the young Frederick Ashton. She was also closely connected to some of the key personalities in early 20th century ballet, moving as she did from the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and eventually to London where she become a leading figure in the newly emergent ballet culture.

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Theatre Magazine: Volume 15 – 1912

The fact that Lopokova is now far less well known than many of her contemporaries has something to do with her refusal to insist on her dancing fame once she retired, but also to do with the willingness with which she embraced her subsequent role as wife, muse, travelling companion and eventually nurse to the great economist John Maynard Keynes.

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John Maynard Keynes, 1st Baron Keynes of Tilton; Lydia Lopokova, source

This talk at Dancing Lives is essentially about the pleasures and obstacles of writing Lopokova’s biography, the challenge of piecing her life together from footnotes, anecdotal gossip and fragments of ballet history. It focuses on the difficulties of evoking her singular qualities as a dancer when all that survives of her performances are the erratic impressions of contemporary reviewers, a limited archive of photos and a very tantalising few minutes of film. It also considers the issue of how a biographer should weight the narrative of Lopokova’s life – not only in setting the story of her professional career against the dramatic events through which she lived (the Russian Revolution, the First and Second World Wars) but also in balancing the inevitably sketchy chapters of her dancing years against the far better documented chapters of her marriage to Maynard, which took her from the drawing rooms of the Bloomsbury Group, to the common rooms of Cambridge, to the inner circles of power in Washington and London.

Judith Mackrell studied English and Philosophy at the universities of York and Oxford, and became dance critic of The Independent in 1986, moving to The Guardian in 1995. She has broadcast widely on radio and television and written several books on dance including Out of Line and Reading Dance. Her works of biography and social history include: Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova – Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008); Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation (Macmillan, 2013); and The Unfinished Palazzo: Life Love and Art in Venice (Thames and Hudson, 2017). She has just started work on a group biography of women correspondents writing and photographing during the Second World War, to be published by Macmillan.

Tony Gray Visiting Scholarship

The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing invites applications for the Tony Gray Visiting Scholarship, tenable for one year.

Closing date: 28 July 2017

Start date: 9 October 2017 (or as soon as possible thereafter)

The scholarship awards £500 expenses to the recipient, and a further £500 towards the organisation of an event. We are interested in applications from anyone who has recently completed their PhD, up to experienced senior researchers.

The scholarship comes with the expectation that the recipient will organise an event related to their field, with our financial and administrative support. This could range from a seminar, invited guest speaker, to a day colloquium or full conference.

The researcher will play an active role in the community of academics at OCLW, and take part in the weekly seminar meetings. The elected scholar will obtain membership of Wolfson Common Room (entitling them to a University Card and use of the Bodleian Library; use of the dining hall for meals; use of the college library and sports facilities; room hire and eligibility of most College committees). The researcher will benefit from the intellectual community of the College and University: they may join College clubs and societies (a charge may apply for some clubs), use all the College facilities, attend Guest Night dinners and bring guests to dine in Hall for lunch and dinner. They may also apply to the Accommodation Office for housing during their stay, although there is a great demand, and it may not be possible to meet their needs.

Please submit the application form, accompanied by a current CV, to oclw@wolfson.ox.ac.uk [marked ‘OCLW Tony Gray Visiting Scholarship application’] or by post to: Dr Kate Kennedy, OCLW, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, OX2 6UD.

Photo by Prasanna Kumar (CC0 1.0)

Choreographic Forum – nicht schlafen by Alain Platel / les ballets C de la B

There’s been so much interest in OCLW and DANSOX’s event Dancing Lives, and here is another brilliant event about dance, happening in Sadler’s Wells just a week before ours:

Join the Society for Dance Research in a discussion on Alain Platel / les ballets C de la B’s nicht schlafen on Monday 3rd July with invited speakers Katalin Trencsényi and Dr Kélina Gotman, two days after the performances at Sadler’s Wells on 30th June and 1st July.

Dramaturg Katalin Trencsényi will present her research on Alain Platel’s collaborative dramaturgy and the development of nicht schlafen over the past year, while Dr Kélina Gotman will discuss the consequences of nation/post-nation or transnationalism, and how we might read cohabitation onstage. Both speakers will then propose some questions to open up the discussion.

Biographies:

Katalin Trencsényi is a London-based dramaturg, researcher and associate lecturer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). As a freelance dramaturg, Katalin has worked with the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre, Corali Dance Company, and Company of Angels, among others. Katalin is co-founder of the Dramaturgs’ Network (d’n), worked on its various committees, and from 2010 to 2012 served as its President. Katalin is the author of Dramaturgy in the MakingA User’s Guide for Theatre Practitioners (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015), co-editor of New Dramaturgy: International Perspectives on Theory and Practice (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014), and editor of Bandoneon: Working with Pina Bausch. (Oberon Books, 2016). For her research on dance dramaturgy, Katalin was recepient of the the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas’ Bly Creative Fellowship Grant. Katalin has a PhD from the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.

Kélina Gotman teaches Theatre and Performance Studies at King’s College London. She writes regularly on the history and philosophy of theatre and dance, cultural history, writing, translation, and the history and theory of disciplines and institutions. She has contributed among others to Performance ResearchAbout Performance (on the work of Alain Platel), Choreographic PracticesTextual PracticeSubStance, and various edited collections. She is author of Choreomania: Dance and Disorder (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, Studies in Dance Theory) and Essays on Theatre and Change: Towards a Poetics Of (forthcoming, Routledge). She has collaborated on over two dozen dance, theatre, and experimental opera productions in Europe and North America, as a translator, dramaturg, performer, director, writer, designer, movement director and curator. She is currently preparing among others an edited volume on performance, translation and everyday multilingualism, and a chapter on choreic gesture in Platel and the ballets C de la B’s Out of Context: For Pina for an edited volume on Platel’s work.

SDR’s Choreographic Forum is open to students, researchers, artists, and practitioners.

Attendance is free for Society for Dance Research (SDR) members / £6 full price / £3 concessions (students) + booking fees. Tickets available here.

For more information about the performances and to book tickets.

The 2017 series is curated by Iris Chan, Victoria Thoms, Florent Trioux & Lise Uytterhoeven.

Photo credit: © Chris Van der Burght

Dancing Lives

The lives of dancers are among the most elusive subjects for life-writing. Not only is the art form itself ephemeral, notoriously difficult to capture in notation and on film as an accurate record. Dancers are often reluctant to talk about themselves – “we are what we do” – is the familiar refrain. Historically, the life of the dancer gets lost in the account of the processes of choreography. Sources and records are often difficult to find, especially in the case of pre-twentieth-century subjects, and frequently testimonies left by dancers themselves may be focussed on a particular aspect of self-presentation rather than an emphasis on historical accuracy. Nevertheless, there have been many vibrant, searching accounts written (or ghost written) by dancers themselves, such as Tamara Karsavina’s Theatre Street (1930), which provide insights into the mysterious back-stage daily rigours, emotional highs and lows of the profession.

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This conference brings together a host of experts, dancers, scholars, and critics who have intimate knowledge of the lives of dancers in many different forms, and a host of questions will be discussed, centred on the issue of how do people write about the lives of dancers and choreographers? What distinctions are there in writing about a twentieth-century dancer (as Judith Mackrell has done for Lydia Lopokova), and those who must rely on the archive to piece together accounts of pre-twentieth-century dancers’ lives, or those (like Jane Pritchard) who have unearthed the importance of dancers who are largely unknown and who have gone unrecognised in the historical record.

The question of life-writing also implies the problem of how does dance as a silent form itself represent life stories? In addition to uncovering the sources and methods of scholarship and various genres relating to dancers’ lives, we shall hear from Jennifer Homans, whose work currently focuses on the life of choreographer, George Balanchine, an artist who frequently questioned narrative form.

We will hear from our keynote speaker, Dame Monica Mason, an account of the impact of travel on the lives of dancers, and from other scholars about the diasporic conditions bearing on the lives of dancers from outside Europe.

And we get an opportunity to watch and listen to current dancers from Rambert Dance Company who have collaborated on choreography and considered the “life” of the choreography itself. A combination of practical demonstration, film, biographers, practitioners, discussion and speakers promise to make this a stimulating and enlightening day.

 

Marie Taglioni: The First Female Superstar of Ballet

Marie Taglioni’s overwhelming success in ballets such as La Sylphide triggered a cult of the ballerina which was to last for many decades, and which swept away the image of the acclaimed male dancers of the past. This paper for Dancing Lives accompanies Marie Taglioni on her way to celebrity from Stockholm over Vienna and Stuttgart to the Paris Opera, where she created some of her most memorable roles, and from there to other major ballet cities.

It explores questions such as: which changes in the world of ballet paved the way for Marie Taglioni’s triumph, and how did she acquire her reputation? How did Taglioni describe her own life in her memoirs, and what did others write about her? Furthermore, it reveals how Taglioni’s glory was documented and diffused through artistic representations of her.

Iris Julia Bührle is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow (English) and a Junior Research Fellow at New College,Oxford. She studied comparative literature, history of art and international relations in Stuttgart, Paris (Sorbonne-Nouvelle/ Sciences Po) and Oxford, and she has worked for UNESCO, the Bavarian State Ballet and the Paris Opera. Her doctoral thesis (Paris/ Stuttgart) entitled Dance and Literature: the choreographic adaptation of works of literature in Germany and France from the 18thcentury to the present day was published in German in 2014. She also authored a bilingual (English/ German) biography of the British dancer Robert Tewsley. Her current project is on Shakespeare and dance.

Presence and Absence: Kurt Jooss

My paper for Dancing Lives 2017 considers the dancer/choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901-1979). He is probably best known for his iconic role as ‘Death’ in his 1932 dance drama The Green Table. During his exile from Nazi Germany, in England, between 1933 and 1949, Jooss embodied his complex life in both dancing and choreography.

His dominating presence as a performer in these troubled times is juxtaposed with his absences from the stage and his company, Ballets Jooss. During these enforced estrangements he continued to live in the company’s repertoire. It was here that he made the transformation from choreographer drawing on his German background to that of someone rooted in English soil.

He became a British citizen in 1947, four years after premiering Company at the Manor, a dance he described as ‘so utterly English’. I consider Jooss in terms of presence and absence in his work to examine his life in England. I draw on archival materials and interviews I conducted with Jooss in 1978 to look at his dancing life historically.

Michael Huxley, Reader in Dance in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at De Montfort University, teaches and researches in dance history.  His specialist areas include early modern dancers 1900-1945; the work of the choreographer Kurt Jooss; dance, the natural and wellbeing in the 1930s.  His interests include the pedagogy of dance history, the idea of the modern dancer as choreographer in the 1930s and history of the Alexander Technique.  His teaching of dance history includes the early modern period, the emergence of new dance in the UK in the 1970s, and contemporary dance of the 21st century, especially the work of Akram Khan.

Leaves of Silk

by Clare BrantProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture and Co-Director, Centre for Life-Writing Research. Cross-posted with permission from the Department of English at King’s College London.

The Dear Diary exhibition is now open, until 7th July! Promotion got underway well before opening, with various radio features including Radio 2’s Jonathan Ross Show on 4th May, and  BBC London, Monocle Radio, Radio Oxford and other outlets; on 3rd June, I take Dear Diary to Radio 4’s Saturday Live show (listen from 9:00 BST).

One publicity commission was for the Sunday Times series ‘6 of the Best’. I thought long and hard and put together a list only to discover that ‘Best’ is determined by what the picture editor thinks can be illustrated best. Several suggestions hit the cutting room floor. One was  British artist Ian Breakwell’s visual diary – an idea I owe to Lucy Bayley, a PhD student at the ICA (thank you, Lucy). You can see a selection of Breakwell’s work at the Tate, including The Walking Man Diary (1975-1978).

A diary’s lure of intimacy…

Breakwell has made various experiments with the diary form. One of the most compelling is the photographic diary he made of an unknown man who regularly walked past Breakwell’s flat in Smithfield in the City of London, where from his third floor window the artist was often looking out. The images all have the same vantage point and the same mysterious subject; the passing of time is captured through the diary unevenly, so that some photographs are taken seconds apart while others are separated by months. The resulting pattern of similarity and difference, heightened by collage, plays with a diary’s lure of intimacy: by denying us even incremental knowledge, Breakwell makes his diary intriguingly baffling.

W.P. Barbellion
W.P. Barbellion, or Bruce Cummings, unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons

Another suggestion was W.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). This diary has an extraordinary story. The author’s real name was Bruce Cummings; he made his pseudonym from Wilhelm, Nero and Pilate as examples of the most wretched people to have lived.

Writing a diary gave Cummings the opportunity to call on philosophy for help; as his illness progressed he prepares for death with gentle humour and a sense of beauty…

In 1915 Cummings was a naturalist who went for a medical prior to signing up for the First World War; the doctor  sent him home with a letter. On the way back he read it, and discovered he had multiple sclerosis – and that his family already knew, and indeed had known for some time.  Aged 26, he suddenly had a very short future. Multiple sclerosis comes in several forms, all cruel. Barbellion knew he would be facing loss of functions like mobility, but he mobilised all his mental and emotional resources. Writing a diary gave him the opportunity to call on philosophy for help; as his illness progressed he prepares for death with gentle humour and a sense of beauty. His celebration of existence is poignant: ‘To me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe — such a great universe, and so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time’.

The title of the work The Journal of a Disappointed Man, is slightly misleading: Barbellion  is disappointed in the sense that life is being taken away from him, but he converts disappointment into the most profound celebration of life. Being a naturalist helps: the complexity, beauty and vivacity of other forms of life gives him much to celebrate, and reminds him – and us – that humans are organisms in a mutable universe. The MS Society recommends Barbellion’s Journalto people with multiple sclerosis. I recommend it to everybody. It is sobering, humbling, cheering, comforting  and touchingly human.

Balloon of Mr Sadler
The Balloon of Mr Sadler, 1811, via Wikimedia Commons/ V & A print collections

William Wyndham’s diary provided me with a wonderful case study in balloon madness…

Just as the exhibition powered up, I was also running around giving talks related to my forthcoming book on eighteenth-century ballooning: Balloon Madness: Flights of Imagination in Britain, 1783-1786(Boydell & Brewer, autumn 2017). It was a hectic doubling, except my balloon book does have a whole chapter about a diary. It belonged to William Wyndham, who was an MP, mathematician, classicist and convivial dreamer, and it provided me with a wonderful case study in balloon madness. It also provided methodological challenges, because the diary’s entries about balloons are frustratingly laconic. Having just started his diary, Windham confided to it, like many eighteenth-century people, a sense he was not getting enough done. On 7th February 1784 he wrote ‘Did not rise till past nine; from that time till eleven, did little more than indulge in reveries about balloons.’ (You can read the whole text online, as The Diary of the Right Honourable William Windham, 1784-1810, ed. Cecilia Anne Baring, 1866).

What did that entry mean? What was going on in his head? I had to adapt critical tools from life writing to reconstruct Windham’s  balloon reveries, though joyfully he did turn those reveries into action . On 5 May 1784, at the height of balloon madness, he made a successful ascent with the Oxford aeronaut James Sadler from grounds near Hampton Court, watched by a collection of Fellows from the Royal Society. His diary entry afterwards begins: ‘Went up in balloon. Much satisfied with myself; and, in consequence of that satisfaction, dissatisfied rather with my adventure…’ It seems to have cured his balloon madness; his reveries moved on to other things.

S. A. Andrée and Knut Frænkel with their crashed balloon, 1897, via Wikimedia Commons.
S. A. Andrée and Knut Frænkel with their crashed balloon, 1897, via Wikimedia Commons

Air-minded people can be generous in sharing stories, and a later balloon episode also involving a diary came to me by way of a former student, Eric Larsson (thank you, Eric). It joins a literature of ice which also has dedicated admirers, and a fine critic in Frances Spufford , author of  I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (Faber & Faber 2003). This story begins in 1930 on a Norwegian sloop in the Arctic, with geologists and seal hunters aboard. They discover the remains of an expedition, long presumed lost. On 11 July 1897, the Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée and two companions had ascended in a hydrogen balloon aiming to discover the North Pole.  They had had to land on the ice and travel on foot in rigours which eventually defeated them.  (Read more of their story in the New Yorker magazine).

Each of the three men had kept diaries and all were eventually published. One waterlogged notebook was recovered by a reporter, Knut Stubbendorf, who dried it in his cabin, and recounts the experience of turning the pages for the first time:

“I have seldom, if ever, experienced a more dramatic, a more touching succession of events, than when I began the preparation of the wet leaves, thin as silk, and watched how the writing or drawing, at first invisible, gradually became discernible as the material dried, giving me a whole, connected description written by the dead – a description which displayed unexpected and amazing details, and which allowed me to follow the journey of the balloon across the ice during the three short days from July 11 to 14, 1897.”

This thrilling moment in which invisible writing emerges to be readable, and the visible writing tells of what happened, has stayed with me: it could be a compelling metaphor for what all diaries are and what they do. They say what happened, and they make that a mystery to be revealed, a voice from the dead which can become alive again.

So please keep a diary – you never know if it may fall into a researcher’s hands! And please come and visit the Dear Diary exhibition! You can share your thoughts about diaries and your diary practice via the exhibition website.

Dear Diary: A Celebration of Diaries and their Digital Descendants
Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, 26 May – 7 July 2017, Weds–Sun, 11:00-5:30.

You can also contribute to ongoing research in the Ego-Media group by going to their DiaryBox. The Ego-Media team (also members of the Centre for Life Writing) would like to know about the shape of your online day – or night! – so as to understand better how digital traces can be read as diaries, and what they can tell us about self-presentation online. Your contributions  will be ‘leaves of silk’, with invisible ink drying into unexpected and amazing details… Share your stories today.


You may also like to read: It’s In My Diary – behind the scenes of ‘Dear Diary’.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and not those of the English Department, nor King’s College London.