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The Oxford Dictionary of Dance: Defining Dance

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With over 2,700 entries, the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Dance, published this month, is a wide-ranging and detailed book encompassing all aspects of the dance world from ballet to flamenco and Stravinsky to Matthew Bourne.

Complied by dance critics Debra Craine (The Times) and Judith Mackrell (Guardian), the Oxford Dictionary of Dance includes biographies of notable dancers and choreographers – such as Carlos Acosta and Pina Bausch – explanations of technical terms, steps and new styles.

This edition also has 150 new entries – many of which also include useful websites – charting the rise of new digital technology, emerging dance languages and experimental genres. We've listed some of our favourites below.

Some snippets

  • Acosta, Carlos (b Havana, 2 Jun. 1973) Cuban dancer and director. He studied at the National Ballet School of Cuba from 1983, then at Pinar del Rio. He worked with several companies in S.America and Italy, winning a gold medal at Lausanne in 1990, and in 1991 he joined English National Ballet as principal. In 1992 he joined National Ballet of Cuba and in 1993 moved to Houston Ballet where he created the role of Misgir in Stevenson’s The Snow Maiden (1998). A classic product of Cuban training, with exceptional elevation, virtuoso pirouette technique and an insouciant onstage charm Acosta rapidly became one of his generation's busiest and most popular male dancers, guesting with companies around the world. Since 1998 he has been most closely associated with the Royal Ballet, as principal and subsequently guest principal, and with that company has expanded his repertory of classical and modern roles, performing in many of the MacMillan ballets as well as creating roles in works by Page, Brandstrup, and Tuckett and performing Brighella in the company’s revival of Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire. In 2007, Acosta danced Spartacus with the Bolshoi Ballet in both Moscow and London. In 2003 he choreographed his first work Tocororo and in 2006 directed the first of several programmes of ballet. His autobiography No Way Home was published in 2007.

  • Ballroom dance Social dance usually performed by couples in dance halls or at social gatherings. During the 20th century these dances came to be performed widely in competitions, which flourished in Britain and America following the First World War. In 1929 the Official Board of Ballroom Dancing was founded and by the 1930s standardization of training and levels of expertise has been established. Today the annual Open British Championship ranks as the world’s most important competition. Standard ballroom dances include the waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, tango, lindy, charleston, and the quickstep. Latin American dances such as the rumba, samba, paso doble, and cha-cha-cha are also part of the ballroom repertoire. Recent television programmes including the competition Strictly Come Dancing have contributed to a mass revival of interest.

  • Bourne, Matthew (b London, 13 Jan. 1960) British dancer, choreographer, and company director. He studied at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, graduating in 1985 and joining Laban’s Transitions Dance Company. Within two years he had co-founded Adventures in Motion Pictures (over which he later assumed sole control). He started making work for AMP in 1987, while continuing to perform; he was a founding member of Lea Anderson’s all-male company, The Featherstonehaughs in 1988. His early pieces for AMP were witty, ironic, and wryly observant: Spitfire (1988) re-invented Jules Perrot’s Pas de quatre with four male models; The Infernal Galop (1989) was a parody of French manners and culture. In 1992 he produced his first full-length work for AMP, Deadly Serious, a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock films. Bourne’s natural gift for narrative generated invitations to choreograph for the dramatic and operatic stage and during the late 1980s and early 1990s he worked on productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company (As You Like It), the National Youth Theatre (The Tempest), and English National Opera (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). He also became a sought-after choreographer for musicals, his West End credits including Children of Eden (1990) Oliver! (1994) and Mary Poppins (2004). For his own company he embarked on a series of extraordinarily successful re-imaginings of classic words, beginning with a new Nutcracker (1992) which was set in a Dickensian orphanage (Act I) and a psychedelic Kingdom of the Sweeties (Act II). Highland Fling (1994) was an updated version of La Sylphide which featured the sylph as a New Age traveller and James as a lager lout while Swan Lake (1995) famously cast all of the swans, including the Odette-Odile role, as men, with Siegfried re-imagined as heir to the British throne. This production made Bourne one of the most internationally famous choreographers of his generation. After touring the UK the work enjoyed an exceptional West End run, followed by a long season on Broadway in 1998. It earned Bourne many awards including two Tonys, and since its premiere has toured internationally and been revived in the UK several times. Bourne’s next classic productions were Prokofiev’s Cinderella (1997) which was relocated to London during the Second World War and The Car Man (mus. Terry Davies and Shchedrin, after Bizet, 2000) which transferred the story of Carmen to 1960s small town America. He also created a version of La Boutique Fantasque for Images Dance Company in 1995, updating Massine’s ballet to Carnaby Street in the 1960s. In 2002 Bourne broke form AMP to found the company New Adventures, for which he has since created the small-scale dance drama Play Without Words (mus. T. Davies); a dance version of the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands (mus. T. Davies based on themes by Danny Elfman, 2005), and Dorian Gray (mus. T. Davis, 2008). Bourne creates all of his work in close collaboration with his artistic team, especially designer Lez Brotherston.

  • Covent Garden (The Royal Opera House) London’s premier opera house and home of the Royal Ballet since 1946. It opened in 1732 as a dramatic theatre but was destroyed by fire in 1809 and rebuilt the following year. It became the Royal Italian Opera in 1847 but was again destroyed by fire in 1856. The present opera house was rebuilt in 1858. In 1946, after the Second World War, it became the permanent home of the Royal Opera (then known as the Covent Garden Opera) and the Royal Ballet which, as the Sadler’s Wels ballet, transferred to Covent Farden from its home at Sadler’s Wells. In 1997 the Royal Opera house closed for a two-year redevelopment, forcing the Royal Ballet and Opera to tour during the closure period. It reopened in December 1999.

  • Hip-hop Hip-hop dance originated in New York among young Hispanic and African-American men during the late 1960s as part of the hip-hop culture of rap, scratch music, and graffiti art. The dance in always changing but essentially embraces the two styles of break dance body popping. The former is an athletic solo form in which the performer enters the dance arena in a sideways motion then dives or breaks to the floor, spins around on his head, shoulders or buttocks and ends with a freeze position. Body popping involved a series of fast, sharp actions that travel through the body in a robotic-looking alternation of move and freeze with variants of the style also including locking and krumping. After the dance and its music became internationally current from the late 1970s they were occasionally incorporated into theatre dance, by Doug Elkins, among others but since the turn of the century there has been a rapid expansion of activity with dance crews competing in international hip-hop competitions and raising the level of virtuosity. Choreographers like Rennie Harris from PureMovement company in America and Kate Prince from ZooNation in Britain have increasingly developed hip-hop as a sophisticated language for dance theatre as have Bruno Beltrão (Grupo de Rua de Niteroi) and the Membros company from Brazil.

     Oxford Dictionary of Dance, by Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell is published by Oxford University Press (paperback, £11.99). To purchase your copy now, click here.

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    For more from our specialist Dance section including news, reviews and interviews go to Whatsonstage.com/dance

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