Dance Umbrella’s Artistic Director Emma Gladstone tells us what’s hot at London’s largest dance festival

Rocio Molina Fallen from Heaven. Credit: djfrat

Dance Umbrella is London’s international dance festival, celebrating 21st century choreography across the capital.

Emma Gladstone, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella, has today announced this year’s exciting programme:

‘I’m delighted to be bringing such an extraordinary roster of international artists to London for this year’s festival.  It’s a pleasure to announce the return of Rocío Molina, Charlotte Spencer and Lisbeth Gruwez, whilst also welcoming some of the most exciting dance visionaries to the festival for the first time. Dance Umbrella is venturing further afield than ever before, working with eight new venues and I’m proud to announce our first Dance Umbrella Lecture; the series is launched by the brilliant Liz Lerman. 

Let Me Change My Name, Choreographed by and featuring Eun-Me Ahn. Credit: Eunji Park
Let Me Change My Name, Choreographed by and featuring Eun-Me Ahn. Credit: Eunji Park

Catch a soloist walking on air as metal folds around her, or watch how three masterful choreographers respond to Beethoven’s Grande Fugue op. 133. Dive into a digital world of colour for kids, witness radical flamenco and marvel at a multitude of fluorescent Koreans. See one of London’s forgotten urban spaces from a fresh perspective, then head to Rich Mix and Shoreditch Town Hall for two specially curated takeovers. Dance Umbrella continues to bring the best of contemporary choreography to the capital for festival 2017.’

Check out the full festival line up and book your tickets!

We ask Emma how she curates this incredible dance festival, her dance discoveries, what’s she most proud of in this year’s line up and how this choreographic festival supports female dance creators:

As Artistic Director how do you curate such a diverse and huge dance programme and how do you select the companies for Dance Umbrella?

I see nearly 200 shows a year, and have a set of things I am looking for.  Sometimes, as the programme firms up, there are specific styles or work for particular ages that I seek out, but in general I am keen to find work that I believe will move an audience, in all the different ways that word can be understood ie sometimes emotionally, sometimes kinetically, sometimes intellectually. Its also important to me to work with creators who understand the importance of what helps us find audiences who will appreciate their work, which means image, film footage, and text that you don’t need to be a dance buff to understand.

This year’s programme ranges from outdoor performances, Japanese inspired dance, flamenco, a takeover of Battersea Power Station plus more, is there a theme to this year’s Dance Umbrella?

I am not so convinced by the use of themes in a festival context, I prefer to be led by the work the artists make, than create an overarching theme and fit performances into it. There is certainly a mix of work, in terms of styles, locations, cultures, so maybe that could be seen as a common thread – a kind of unifying disunity.

Dance Umbrella has introduced some of today’s leading choreographers, who are the new discoveries in this year’s programme?

Eun-Me Ahn (Korea) has been making work for a while actually, but never been with her company to the UK before, and I am very excited to see how her work is received.

Julie Cunningham (UK) creates using text, poetry, and a formal technical style which somehow manages to be both refreshing and questioning at the same time. 

And I have to mention Freddie Opoku-Addaie, who has come to join us as a Guest Programmer for the next couple of years, and has invited some international artists new to DU into the mix for his mega Out of the System programme.

What are you most proud of in this year’s Dance Umbrella?

Most obvious thing to say but really it is the quality and invention of the choreography that’s heading our way.

Apart from that I am really interested in how to get dance out to new audiences, including those interested in modern art and creativity that might not yet know so much about it. 

So going to the National Theatre this year with the DU Lecture, and partnering with the Big Draw for one of our free outdoor shows, is something I am happy to be doing for the first time.

Dance Umbrella is one of the UK’s largest and most successful dance festivals, with hundreds of dancers and numerous dance companies. What’s your vision for the future of Dance Umbrella?

My ambition is for us to be able to support research and commission more work, both nationally and internationally, as well as tour more widely across the city.  I am keen to ensure we take work out to where people live and not expect them to come into the middle of town always.

There is much essential discussion about the challenges facing female choreographers, how is Dance Umbrella supporting female artists and creators?

This year, as previous years, there are a majority of female choreographers in the programme.  So that’s certainly one way I am committed to in terms of changing the status quo. 

But there are numerous other ways behind the scenes, such as mentoring, giving feedback, and making introductions, as well as up front such as running the debate we did last year at the Mayor’s Office, and being on panels.  It all helps keeping the debate move forward.  

Its an incredibly important issue, and a complex one, that needs to be kept high on people’s agendas in performance generally.

As an artistic director and CEO and female dance artist, what advice would you give to other artists aspiring to lead dance organisations?

I would say two things: 1) You have a swathe of totally relevant skills to take into whatever area you choose 2) Trust yourself.

See the full line up for Dance Umbrella 2017, book your tickets now for the most exciting dance festival of the year!