Dance Umbrella 2019, a festival celebrating 21st Century choreography, takes over London’s dance venues from 8 – 27 October. The annual Dance Umbrella festival (also known as DU Fest) brings international dance makers to London for a series of shows and discussions. Their aim is “to entice audiences, nurture artists, innovate practice, and stimulate interest in the power of the body in motion,” as published on their About Us page. In this interview Dance Umbrella Artistic Director & Chief Executive, Emma Gladstone, shares her insight into Dance Umbrella 2019 and last year’s festival.

Photo credit: Philippe Pache

Emma Gladstone – Dance Umbrella Chief Executive Interview

Hello Emma. Thanks very much for taking the time discuss the programme for Dance Umbrella 2019 with Dance Dispatches – and congratulations on last year’s incredible line up for the Dance Umbrella’s 40th anniversary.

Let’s reminisce on that occasion for just a moment. What are your most proud achievements from DU Fest 2018 – whether it was commissioning a specific piece or placing a show at a certain venue, etc.?

Last year was a real milestone for us, and there are many things that stay with me. But to choose just a couple, we finally got to present the Greek artist Dimitris Papaioannou on a big stage, where the show sold out, and [went on to receive] an Olivier Award nomination. And secondly the final Saturday, when Sacha Milavic Davies’ work with 200 London women finished its London tour at Somerset House, followed by a party with all the many people from on, off and behind the stage, who have managed to keep DU going for all these years. Quite a night.

Photo credit: Arno Paul

Last year’s festival was incredibly rewarding! And it seems that the good times carried on, as you recently won a 2019 Tonic Award ‘for shaping the landscape of modern and contemporary dance in the UK’, shared with Val Bourne CBE and Betsy Gregory (two previous Artistic Directors at Dance Umbrella). Congratulations!

Did the nomination come as a surprise? And what did winning this award mean to you?

The [Tonic Award] nomination came as a huge surprise.  What I loved about the Award is its acknowledgement of the past, and all those who have helped to make Dance Umbrella what it is today. Contemporary dance is still quite a young art form here in the UK, and pioneers, such as DU Founder Val Bourne CBE, are key figures who not only helped respond to the artists who first created the scene but really helped define it. 

Dance Umbrella Festival 2019

It’s great that the 2019 Tonic Award recognised the three of you and the history of the Dance Umbrella festival.  

This year you brought on Julia Glawe as Executive Director. (As a former Wisconsinite, I love that she’s previously served as Executive Director of Milwaukee Ballet.)

Which specific skills or expertise convinced you that she would be a good fit for London’s Dance Umbrella festival?

Julia has such extensive understanding of the international dance scene that it was clear she would fit in right away, but her time running the Dance department at IMG means she also has a huge amount of experience of contractual and governance issues which also made her the right woman for the job.  We are lucky to have her with us.

Photo credit: Valérie Frossard

You have a wonderful team, spreading international dance at venues all across London.

I believe that London Dance Umbrella first came to Croydon in 2017 – with Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl’s unique Origami piece, which unfolds on top of a moving shipping container. Now, Dance Umbrella 2019 is coming to Croydon in 18 – 19 October with the ‘DU: Fairfield Takeover’ at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, featuring Hocus Pocus (Philippe Saire), Here and Now (Mythili Prakash) and REDD (Boy Blue).

What is the draw of Croydon as a performance area for Dance Umbrella?

Since I took over in 2013 I have been working to use the city as widely as we can, and take performance to locations where people live, as well as work.  Croydon is part of that drive. There is a lot going on there artistically, especially in music, and it’s been an enjoyable process working with supportive partners over the last few years to increase the profile and engagement with Dance. Paula Murray at the Council, Neil Chandler at Fairfield Halls, and Anousha Subramanyam of Beeja Dance in particular have helped us dream up the Fairfield Takeover weekend.

And I’m excited as its new model for us, not only because of the mix of shows and events, but because [our work with Croydon] is grounded in an 18-month programme of workshops, intensives, and commissions with artists based there. It’s new territory.  

– Emma Gladstone, Dance Umbrella Artistic Director & Chief Executive
Dancer: Mythili Prakash
Photo credit: Teresa Elwes

Many Londoners will agree with your classification of Croydon as ‘new territory’! Maybe in the future, more arts aficionados will recall Croydon as their old stomping grounds.

Running the festival will be full-on from beginning to end, but can you tell us which show(s) you definitely plan on watching – and why?

Actually I will, as usual, be watching everything… It’s impossible to understand how things are received unless you are there to witness things live, so it’s a 17 nights ‘out on the trot’ affair for me!

It’s hard to pick any individual shows, like being asked your favourite child, but I suppose the programmes we have put together specially will be ones we will be watching closely. This includes Fairfield Takeover in Croydon, and the triple bill at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House. 

See our reviews of Here and Now by Mythili Prakash and REDD by Boy Blue, two shows presented by the Dance Umbrella’s takeover of Fairfield Halls.

Photo credit: Laurent Philippe

Wow, DU Fest must pass by in an exciting whirlwind if you’re out watching the shows every evening!

This year – in addition to live dance performances – there are three DU: Sunday Shorts sessions at Barbican Cinema, each curated by a professional in the field of dance.

Do you feel that community building around screen dance differs from community building around live art performance?

Usually it is quite a different audience, I find, that is interested in dance on film. However the choreography of editing and framing has many similarities to choreographing live; and I think as each of the three programmes of shorts are curated by artists, I hope it will bring in a crowd who are curious about how movement and meaning are realised on screen. There will be some of the makers there, so also the chance to hear more about their process of creation.

Thanks very much for your insight into Dance Umbrella 2019, Emma. We wish you and your team a very successful festival season!

For the latest Dance Umbrella news, please see their website for more information:

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