My day at Cohan Collective, an incomparable space for collaboration, ingenuity and growth

Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.

Guest article by Katie Hagan 

Keeping art fresh, relevant and dynamic is a challenge almost all artists face at some stage in their careers.

Whether you are a Da Vinci, a Graham or a Pollock, artists must always seek new, often unexpected ways to be inspired; moving to untrodden territories for self-development, progression and evolution.

Often artists just need a space and a place to get their creativity flowing. Enter the Cohan Collective stage right.

The Cohan Collective unites artists from the dance and music worlds, giving artists the space to create work over a two-week residency (29 July – 10 August).

Supported by Yorke Dance Project, Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Arts Council England, the collective is in its third year, and is led by the forefather of contemporary dance Robert Cohan CBE and his long-term collaborator the inimitable Eleanor Alberga.

Situated in the leafy, sunny south-west coast of England at Pavilion Dance South West in Bournemouth, the Cohan Collective is an engaging, inspiring and secure space to unleash innovative artistic potential.

Mentored by renowned choreographers Kim Brandstrup and Kate Flatt and decorated composer Kenneth Hesketh, the artists are also blessed with Cohan and Alberga’s insight, providing indispensable advice and guidance throughout the fortnight.

Brought together by Yorke Dance Project with its Artistic Director Yolande Yorke-Edgell and Associate Director Stephen Pelton, there is a genuine sense of support and care which is crucial for emerging artists.

Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.
Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.

The Cohan Collective allows its carefully selected artists (four composers, four choreographers, four musicians and 12 dancers) to develop their artistic practice through cross-collaborative processes, with tasks designed to filter creative energy into a particular focus.

This year there is a greater sense of collaboration simply because it is a residency hosted outside of London. No one is dashing off to catch a train to an evening job or rushing to a physio session ten miles away; everything is shared and accessible in the residency’s time and space.

I was very fortunate enough to be invited to observe the Cohan Collective in action during its open day on 1st August.

This open day is a new addition to the residency this year, providing local dancers, choreographers, musicians and teachers the chance to witness all of the artists at work.

From morning warm-up to afternoon rehearsals, visitors follow the artists’ journeys, watching creativity unfold right before their very eyes.

Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.
Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.

The day began with the setting of a one-day task for the artists to work on throughout the day. A combination of tasks are set throughout the residency; on the day that I visited, the task was designed to make the artists more objective and less involved with their work, which is an important part of developing individual artistic identity.

After the setting of the task, Yolande held a dance class to get the dancers into their bodies and their surroundings, setting the tone of the day’s events.

Whilst this task was set, composers only had a short amount of time to experiment with the music that would accompany the movement used for the task. Kenneth Hesketh noted:

‘This is a challenge for the musicians to feed into the dance. Whilst all artists were chosen for their interest and suitability to the course, each day they still start as blank canvases. Throughout the week they will grow and start to add colour. These tasks are true examples of artistic synchronisation and exchange rather than working in isolation.’

Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.
Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.

I then had the freedom to move around the studio spaces, moving from room-to-room to see the variations between the groups.

It was fascinating to see the different ways choreographers and composers have interpreted the task; what might have seemed like a time restrictive task transformed itself into limitless possibility.

Some artists turned to electronic devices to make music; others used instruments including the piano strings or a xylophone. Some choreographers and composers worked more closely than others.

Some chose to follow a narrative, others were more abstract. It all depended on the collaborative intention – a method of creating art which is completely individual to the Cohan Collective.  

Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.
Cohan Collective. Photo by Pari Naderi.

Speaking on the Cohan Collective, choreographer Anna Watkins outlined:

‘I wanted that guidance, to be given a space where I could make work and be challenged. I needed a space to look at myself objectively as an artist during the process of making work instead of retrospectively. With these tasks it is unlike any other way I have worked before. We are working with new people and having to work with music instantly and building a piece with and around it, where music is developed alongside the dance to create a single language.’  

At the end of the day artists shared their work, with Cohan and Alberga providing insight and constructive feedback.

This process enabled the artists to prepare themselves for the forthcoming days which included a two-day task and a three-day task. Here, the artists build upon their artistic practice day-by-day, creating original work in a concentrated, focused and collaborative environment.

The process is truly one of a kind, as artists can develop as individuals within a collective. They share, they create and they grow in this rich union between music and dance.  

My day at the Cohan Collective was only a fraction of the two-week residency and only a glimpse into the artist’s future narratives. There is far more to be said about the Cohan Collective particularly as an incomparable space for collaboration, ingenuity and growth.