Prof. Christopher Bannerman, Head of ResCen
Welcome to the ResCen: Dance Umbrella at 40 and beyond website which first emerged from a partnership between Dance Umbrella (DU) and ResCen, Middlesex University in the context of the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the festival in 2018. It was a privilege and a delight to be involved in the historic 40th anniversary Dance Umbrella Festival, to interview the current and former directors, and to capture some of the events, artists’ processes and reflections at that significant moment. The material presented here consists of documentation shared between the DU and ResCen websites which is designed to open windows to the creative journeys of commissioned artists, as well as offering a broader frame and further perspectives through interviews with people related to Dance Umbrella.
These, alongside the documenting of talks, lectures and events that were part of the 2018 festival are intended to capture some of the range of DU’s activities and to offer insights into the festival and its role in a larger dance/arts ecology. As we add to the site, another aim becomes evident as links to other sites stop working; attention moves on, things disappear, other developments come to the fore as is so often the case in contemporary dance. And so this website also aims to provide a record after other websites and/or archives are no longer available.
The interviews with the three directors who have led Dance Umbrella over the past 40 years feature Val Bourne the founder (1978–2006), Betsy Gregory (2007–2013) and now Emma Gladstone (from 2014). As Betsy remarks in her interview, it is remarkable that over the forty years there have only been three directors, all women and all former dancers – and in my view, all visionaries with the added, enviable ability to get things done. Now, in 2021, the fifth director has been appointed, Freddie Opoku-Addaie, the guest curator of DU’s Out of the System programme 2016–18 and he continues the tradition of dance artists becoming leaders, even as he breaks the women-only tradition of previous directors.
And now we add the ‘beyond’ to that 40th anniversary festival in 2018 and include ResCen’s ArtsCross Producers Forum in Beijing in 2019 which Emma Gladstone attended, and DU’s 2020 Studio Sessions hosted at Middlesex University. These reflect some aspects of the often-hidden background to performances and public events; the parts of the dance ecology which are shared only between professional arts sector colleagues but are critical to what is eventually made available to public audiences. This is a central concern of ResCen’s – making visible the ecologies and contexts which enable, form and inform the work of creative artists and the range of arts professionals who are intrinsic to producing performance work and who then ensure its mobility, so that it is seen by local and/or inter/national audiences.
Dance Umbrella has always played a key catalytic role in that international, interconnected and dynamic network stemming from its breadth of vision, not only in compelling performance works that extend the art form, but also from events focused on participation, discussion and professional development. This rich offering extends into many of ResCen’s areas of interest, allowing glimpses into creative processes, artistic curation and the practices of those involved in producing and presenting dance, the ‘cultural operators’ woven into a matrix of relationships that make up the landscape of the arts and cultural sectors. In these pages we hope to reveal some of this weave of relationships to demonstrate the ways that DU engages arts sector colleagues, artists, audiences, participants and society more broadly.
The effectiveness and resilience of the networks that thread through and link the dance ecologies are impressive and, as noted above, it was a particular pleasure to be active in this domain in 2019 when ResCen co-presented the ArtsCross Producers Forum in Beijing. Working with Beijing Dance Academy, ResCen enabled the presence of, and presentations by Emma Gladstone, CEO/Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella; Eva Martinez, Artistic Programmer & Artist Development Sadler’s Wells; Laura Rolinson, Project Producer Complicité; Paul Russ, CEO/Artistic Director, Dance4; alongside Chinese and East Asian colleagues.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, ResCen was also able to host the DU 2020 Studio Sessions that are always a feature of the festival, but which are attended by arts professionals and hidden from public view. These are available from the Talks & Events tab above. Of course, the pandemic conditions meant that the event was mostly online, but we were able to gather artists, in a covid-secure manner, in the Grove Dance Theatre at MU’s Hendon Campus and connect artists to a large, international group of producers and presenters. Interviews were an intrinsic part of the Studio Sessions led by guest curator, Seeta Patel and these have been supplemented with follow-up interviews with the artists and with Seeta herself.
DU’s 40th festival and the events since then celebrate its past achievements and reaffirm its role as a key channel for dialogue and exchange. Its back catalogue mirrors the development of contemporary dance as the remarkable growth of this eclectic, constantly evolving form is both reflected in, and was led, by DU. This proves the aphorism that ‘life begins at forty’ as the 40th festival and those that followed embodied the vitality and excitement that has been its hallmark as it continues to lead and challenge the art sector and the public. Ideas are fizzing and swirling — in, about, around and through the choreography, the curation, the discussions, the performances, the participation events: of course, it’s Dance Umbrella.
Emma Gladstone, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella, September 2018
We work with artists who are explorers, people who test out the choreographic unknown. They need courage to do their work, to invent vocabularies and investigate new worlds without knowing where they are going; they also need time and space to test out their ideas. My excitement about this new Dance Umbrella / ResCen partnership with Professor Chris Bannerman is because together I know we can provide those artists with some of the time and space they need.
The benefit of the partnership takes various guises, but one of them is the flexibility of what we can offer. ResCen has academic rigour with researchers, alongside studio space and digital resources, whilst we at Dance Umbrella have evolving relationships with a range of contemporary artists, producing knowledge, and professional programming opportunities. We both offer feedback and advice alongside the practical and financial support, meaning the combined impact for the artists we invite in to work with is considerable.
In running an annual dance festival, two of my core goals are helping artists make the best work they can, and connecting audiences to that work at venues across the city. Unless we invest in the artists neither the audience or the art form will grow. They are the α alpha and Ω omega of every art form, and I believe through this special partnership we can provide some artistic compost for the seeds of their creative ideas to flourish.