The School which brought contemporary dance to the UK is the subject of a new book

London Contemporary Dance School performing Wednesday Night by Rick Nodine. Photo by Camilla Greenwell

Changing The Face of British Dance – a new book by Henrietta Bannermann celebrates 50 years of London Contemporary Dance School, to be published on 2 March 2020 by Dance Books Ltd. It marks the move, 50 years ago, of London Contemporary Dance School into its permanent home at The Place in Euston and it is the first account of the successes and struggles which lie behind its pioneering role in this country.

The man whose vision made it possible was Robin Howard, whose life became centred on his passion for new forms of dance, inspired in the 1950s and 60s by visits from the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Benefitting from first-hand interviews with many of LCDS’s leaders, teachers and students over the years, this account is enlivened by a personal and direct quality. Sir Robert Cohan, now 94 and the founding artistic director of both the School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, describes the financial sacrifices made by Howard as he invested his own money into the enterprise, selling his collections, from veteran cars to Shakespeare folios, along with family interests, in order to keep his vision alive.

The School began in 1966 down a back alley near London’s Oxford Street with one studio and one lecture room-cum-library-cum rehearsal space. It was there that the first students, including such dance luminaries as Sir Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies and Namron took their first steps in contemporary dance.

London Contemporary Dance School. Photo by Camilla Greenwell
London Contemporary Dance School. Photo by Camilla Greenwell

From the beginning, Howard’s intention was to place as much emphasis on creativity as on technique, and the flow of choreographers began to emerge in the shape of Alston, Davies, Anthony van Laast and Kim Brandstrup and has continued up to the present day with choreographers emerging in the different fields of musical theatre, opera, and dance companies from international organisations to tightly focussed dance groups.

Those who followed the founding trinity of Howard, Cohan and executive administrator Janet ‘Mop’ Eager, describe the changes that have taken place: the loosening of the ties with the Graham technique, the creation of the BA and MA dance degrees, the bonding with other arts organisations to help with ever-present funding challenges, the change from the teacher-led to the student-centred curriculum. The changes and developments are traced by successive principals, faculty members and students, with the School remaining at the centre of the Contemporary Dance Trust, the umbrella organisation which integrates teaching, performance and creativity under its current Chief Executive Clare Connor.

Clare Connor says: “As The Place celebrates its fiftieth year, this timely publication honours the vision of those that came before us, as we continue to champion new ideas, embrace risk and create exciting dance opportunities for everyone.”