|In The Beginning||
In October 1978, Dance Umbrella presented its first festival, primarily as a
showcase for the British companies and choreographers to have emerged over the past five to ten years. It was modelled on Dance Umbrella in New York, then an annual event in the city.
That first London festival was planned as a relatively modest, British affair, to feature just 12 companies and 4 soloists. Quite late in the day, we discovered, by chance, that the ICA was planning a week of four American soloists, selected by Jan Murray, at exactly the same time as we had scheduled our two weeks at the newly opened Riverside Studios. Pragmatically, it was decided to make a virtue out of necessity and combine the two events under the one Umbrella, now billed as an international festival. The Americans - Sara Rudner, then a soloist with Twyla Tharp, Douglas Dunn, ex-Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Remy Charlip and Brooke Myers - provided a welcome change from what might have been a relentlessly British diet.
|The Early Years||
The first festival was sufficiently successful to warrant another in 1980 and, from then on, it became established as an annual date in London's dance
calendar. The first two events were organised under the aegis of Greater
London Arts, where Festival Director Val Bourne was the Dance Officer. After
the second festival, it was suggested that Dance Umbrella cut loose and set up as an independent organisation.|
So, in 1980, Dance Umbrella opened its own office in Soho and, at the same
time, launched a Management Service, which offered administrative support over the next eight years to a number of British companies and soloists.
The Festival grew steadily over the next few years, making a quantum jump in 1984 when, for the first time, Sadler's Wells, with its 1500 seats, was added to a growing list of Festival venues. In addition to the originals, Riverside and the ICA, these had included the Bloomsbury, Shaw and Almeida Theatres, as well as the Whitechapel and Tate Galleries. In 1989, the South Bank Centre, with the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, came on board and has been a regular venue ever since.
Recently, we have tried to add a new festival venue whenever possible, hence Canary Wharf, with Trisha Brown, Siobhan Davies and others in 1991, Brixton Academy with The Featherstonehaughs in 1994, Greenwich Dance Agency with Streb/Ringside in 1995 and the Natural History Museum with Genesis Canyon, a specially commissioned piece from Stephan Koplowitz, in 1996.
Overseas artists and companies we have presented over the years include: Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Bill T Jones, David Gordon, Mark Morris, Stephen Petronio, Urban Bush Women, Steve Paxton, Dana Reitz, Elizabeth Streb, Doug Elkins, Doug Varone, Eiko & Koma, La La La, Jose Navas, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jean Claude Gallotta, Dominique Baguoet, L'Esquisse, Daniel Larrieu, Herve Robbe, Angelin Preljocaj, Philippe Decoufle, Carlotta Ikeda, Saburo Teshigawara, Santiago Sempere, Lanonima Imperial and Mal Pelo. The long list of British artists is headed by Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, DV8, Michael Clark, Rosemary Butcher, Laurie Booth, Yolande Snaith, Second Stride, Shobana Jeyasingh, Adventures in Motion Pictures, Javier De Frutos and V-Tol.
In 1988, it was decided to wind down the management service. Most of the artist clients had graduated to independent management, whilst, at the same time, we had been invited to set up regional dance festivals, first in Leicester and then in Newcastle. This was a new challenge for Dance Umbrella and we knew from the outset that each festival would need to be tailored to its respective city and that it would not be possible to recreate the London festival in Leicester and Newcastle.
Leicester has a large Indian community, so in addition to Merce Cunningham, Stephen Petronio and Rosas, we made sure that Indian classical and folk companies were represented, not to mention a big Bhangra night. Newcastle has a strong indigenous dance culture, rooted in clog and Irish step dancing. To reflect this a Percussive Feet strand was developed in the festival, which featured Northumberland clog, Irish step and tap dance alongside Flamenco, Kathak and African dance. Another year Yoshiko Chuma from New York was commissioned to choreograph a piece for the Swing Bridge across the Tyne River - an event which attracted 50,000 people to the Newcastle Quayside.
In 1995, Dance Umbrella was invited to design a festival for Woking, to celebrate the town's centenary. The first Woking Dance Umbrella was a great success with the Mark Morris Dance Group opening its British tour and Roc in Lichen performing in the 27 metre high atrium of the Peacocks Shopping Centre. The second festival in 1997 included Philippe Decoufle's Decodex, ODC/San Francisco making its European debut, the David Dorfman Company from New York and a community dance project involving 160 local people.
|On the Road||
From the beginning, Dance Umbrella festival artists have undertaken some regional engagements but, since 1991, we have organised British tours on a regular basis. Companies toured include: Wim Vandekeybus, Blok & Steel, Stephen Petronio Company [twice], Urban Bush Women [twice], the Doug Elkins Dance Company, Streb/Ringside, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Trisha Brown Company.
In June of this year, Dance Umbrella co-produced with English National Opera Mark Morris' L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the London Coliseum. Dance Umbrella 97 is almost upon us and the Stephen Petronio Company will undertake a four week regional tour in October/November. In 1998 Dance Umbrella will celebrate its 20th birthday and plans are afoot for a festival including many of the artists with whom we have worked over the years. The next Woking Dance Umbrella takes place in Spring 1999 and in the Autumn of 1999 we hope to present another large-scale tour by the Mark Morris Dance Group.
The first 20 years of Dance Umbrella have challenged tastes and perceptions of dance, the next twenty promise to be just as exhilarating.