TAKING dance off the stage and into different environments including the great outdoors is the focus of a festival that celebrates dance in a variety of forms.
Dance Umbrella is a collection of 10 shows in 13 boroughs across the capital which is being staged in 19 different venues in a two week season this month.
Among the highlights are a show especially for babies aged from birth to 18 months at the Albany in Deptford, Walking Stories in four London parks including Greenwich and Brockwell Park, classes at Rambert on the South Bank and workshops at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street.
International artists will mingle with home grown talent to provide a cross section of inspiration, content and styles.
It’s the 37th year the festival has run and for its artistic director Emma Gladstone it’s a chance to bring dance to people who might not otherwise have access to it or even think it’s for them.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “We are offering a range of work, a real mix, which I think is really important because we want as many people as possible to come along and see what’s out there.
“Part of what we do is to look at where else we can make dance work that is not in theatres. Sadlers Wells is hugely successful and lovely but it’s liberating to see where else we can take it.
“So we are presenting work in venues of all shapes and sizes, both big theatres and in smaller arts centres such as the Albany and also in local parks where the audience becomes the choreographer.
“I really feel part of my job is to be showing people that it’s inclusive and invite them to come and see something different. It’s not taught widely in schools so that makes my job more important.
“Not everyone will like everything we are putting on but there should be something for everyone.”
To prove the point the festival kicks off with folk dance on the roof of a car park followed by a range of performances, workshops and events including a DJ set and culminates in an audio stroll that takes the audience away from the every day chaos of life with an mp3 player and a set of headphones.
It will also be contemporary in nature, so rather than ballet or other classical forms, expect hip hop, Indian dance and an African and European mix amongst the genres on offer.
“I’m more interested in exploration rather than confirmation so it’s much more of a contemporary festival,” explains Emma.
“I’m asking audiences to come and explore what artists do. Our audiences tend to be quite exploratory and are pretty open minded whereas classical audiences know what they are going to see.
“I like the idea of flexibility and dance commentating on this modern world. For example we have a series of audio walking tours which take place in parks where the audience will become their own choreographer as they go off and explore the park.
“Although there will be about 20 people in each group, it’s also going to be a private experience because everyone will be wearing their own headphones.
“It's an hour long piece and everyone says it changes how they look at the place they are in and that it’s very reflective.
"You get a chance to look again at what are familiar surroundings and see something different. It shifts your mind which I think is a lovely thing.”
Elsewhere there is a weekend of classes, short performances and talks at the Unicorn Theatre. Over the two days DU: Unplugged will be led by Lisbeth Gruwez and Depak Kurki Shivaswamy. Before each performance there will be a choice of workshops to take part in followed each afternoon by international companies sharing selected elements of their work and talking about why and how they create their choreography.
One of Emma’s highlights will be the 16 Singers London Orbital Tour at the Albany. It is a show aimed at babies up to the age of 18 months and their carers and will feature singing, dancing, sculpture and improvised sound.
“I have been programming for children and young people for 10 years,” says Emma. “I always wanted to include them in our festivals as they are fascinating.
“This show could be very strong and deep and seeing young children move when they hear music is pretty special.
“What’s great is that parents might not go to the big dance houses but might go to see something at a friendly local venue that they know. I also love the idea that the kids might take their parents to something and introduce them to dance that way.
“It’s a very exciting and vibrant time in dance,” she adds. “There’s so much going on and the quality is consistently brilliant.
“So I hope people, whether they have seen a dance performance before or not, will take a look at the programme and come and see something and be wowed.”
Dance Umbrella takes place at venues across London. Visit www.danceumbrella.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7257 9384 for full listings.