Robert Cohan CBE - Contemporary Dance Master at 90
The Place, London Contemporary Dance School
Rachel Elderkin | Thursday, March 26, 2015
As Robert Cohan CBE enters his 90th year, The Place & London Contemporary Dance School will celebrate his outstanding contribution to contemporary dance.
A series of seminars and exhibitions plus a unique gala performance will highlight the great influence Cohan’s work has had on British dance; an influence that continues to this day.
Born in New York in 1925, Cohan trained at the Martha Graham School and then joined the company in 1946, dancing roles as a soloist and as a partner to Martha Graham and later becoming co-director. This, combined with his own choreographic work, would have been an impressive career in itself, but it was the changes Cohan brought to the dance scene in Britain that have truly left their mark.
His active approach allowed the dance scene to spread out from London and reach artists and audiences across Britain.
In Britain, Cohan met Robin Howard. They teamed up to found a school for contemporary dance in London, creating ‘The Place’ of which Cohan became founding Artistic Director and remained so for 20 years. Cohan’s vision for contemporary dance training was key in the development of this art form in the UK. Through his company, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, which took on dancers trained at the school, he pioneered the idea of leading residencies across the country, raising the profile of contemporary dance and providing an opportunity for other British companies to evolve. His active approach allowed the dance scene to spread out from London and reach artists and audiences across Britain.
Encouraged and Nurtured
Cohan also collaborated with composers and designers which, although a commonplace feature of contemporary dance today, was a rather more original concept at the time. This gave choreography a new freedom, allowing a greater control over the artistic direction of a work. Cohan even encouraged members of his company in their own choreographic endeavours, and in turn nurtured the careers of choreographers who have become icons of British dance in their own right; Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies and Darshan Singh Buller among them.
As Artistic Director of LCDT Cohan created many works and some of his most notable choreographies, including Forest and Cell, both of which will be re-visited at his celebratory Gala performance. While he resigned from LCDT in 1989 (when the company disbanded) and retired to France, Cohan continued as a freelance choreographer, creating works for Scottish Ballet as well as companies in Germany and Italy. For 10 years he was also artistic advisor, and choreographed for, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.
Contemporary dance is a varied and continually evolving style and, these days, Cohan’s choreography is rarely seen and the technique of Martha Graham mostly resigned to the classroom. However, his legacy to dance remains. Cohan’s extensive teaching and choreographic achievements have been recognised with a number of honorary doctorates and awards and in 1988 he was awarded a CBE for his outstanding contributions to dance in the UK. As the dance world celebrates Cohan’s 90th year, it is clear that he remains a key figure for British dance and it would not be unreasonable to say that his pioneering vision led to the strength of the dance scene here today.
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