British Dance Edition 2008
30th January to 2nd February, 2008, Liverpool
BDE, the dance platform for UK companies, is held every two years, with the National Dance Agencies around the country taking it in turn to act as host. The 2008 event took place in Liverpool, currently European City of Culture, with an impressive line-up of venues, including the magnificent 2000 seater Empire and modern arts centres, such as Unity Theatre. Over three and a half days, 500 professionals saw thirty four companies together with “rough and ready” showings of work in progress, and a range of other events. Director, Karen Gallagher, co-coordinator, Ruth Adkins and their team of helpers performed an organisational miracle, and persuaded a range of sponsors to feed and water the delegates; congratulations to all those involved in making BDE 08 a great success.
Most of the audience are bookers from the UK and Continental Europe, but it's also a chance for a critic to catch up on the latest trends and hot artists, although the unrelenting succession of performances can result in a “danced-out” state, resulting in the risk of good performances failing to make the impact they should. As a result, I will focus here on those which made a positive impression and acknowledge that any relative failures may be laid at the door of the observer rather than the artists. Sadly, the festival programme gives only brief production information, so names of individual dancers and designers are in short supply.
This year, the Jasmin Vardimon Company celebrates its 10th anniversary and “Justitia” continues the run of recent successes based on social themes. This physical dance theatre work takes the justice system as its source, with the court hearing of a murder case and a series of alternative scenarios in the style of the Kurosawa film, “Rashomon”. The circular, revolving set with three rooms provides an exciting visual base for the extraordinary skill of Vardimon's actor/dancers as they tumble over and around furniture and literally climb the wall. The complex narrative told in movement and text is always riveting, and even the final “confession” leaves us wondering whether we have really established the truth. Dance theatre is rapidly moving centre-stage on the UK scene and Vardimon continues to be a leading proponent.
“Uprising” by Hofesh Schechter brought an astonishing energy to enliven the final evening's audience, as seven terrific dancers, including the choreographer, raced around the huge stage of the Empire theatre. By turns witty, scary and manic with occasional moments of introspection, this essay on male bonding and group tensions shows that Schechter, a finalist in the 2004 Place Prize, is making already making a significant impression on the UK dance scene.
For sheer dance quality and intelligence, “Hands Free” by Two Dancers (Anna Williams and Rachel Krische) was exemplary. Taking it in turns to explore a diagonal line against an enclosed black backdrop, their movement was always intriguing and realised with precision. Amidst the often hectic world of current contemporary dance, “Hands Free” brought a welcome calm.
New Art Club's Tom Roden and Pete Shenton are favorites around Europe for their humour and innovation. Their new show, “The Visible Men”, develops the simple idea of jump cuts created by the audience closing and opening their eyes on command. Relationships with objects and people take unexpected turns and the laws of physics are thrown out the window. Apart from a couple of stop-motion scenes that ran too long, this was delicious fun.
African dance, with its grounded aesthetic, has much in common with contemporary, so it's no surprise when fusions of the two work so well. “Ritual of Entrapment” was my first experience of Francis Angol of Movement Angol, but I hope it won't be my last. His solo on the theme of dress codes defining identity took an interesting idea, but perhaps did not differentiate sufficiently between the different characters, as he peeled off layer after layer to describe a city slicker, a skin-head and other characters. However, the dynamic and fluid dance quality that Angol brought to the work was more than enough to keep me very happy.
For sheer beauty, “Small Boats”, by Russell Maliphant and film-maker Isaac Julien, gets my vote. Behind the front projection of a film of colourful, old fishing boats, Maliphant's dancers weave in elegant patterns with the solos and duets particularly strong. We are well past the honeymoon period for multi-media, but when it works as well as this, it's clear that exciting new possibilities are still there to be explored.
“Self Assembly”, a two-hander from the Jonathan Lunn Dance Company, takes the frustrations we have all faced with flat-pack instructions, but in the context of a new relationship. With anatomical euphemisms never far from the scene, this provides great fun and the sharp choreography and attention to detail from the dancers is always pleasing, although more changes of pace might make “Self-Assembly” even stronger.
Overall, I saw many enjoyable performances with high performance standards. Ballet rarely features at BDE, but the other genres of dance were generally well covered, except for South Asian dance. I don't know whether this was due to a lack of applicants or selection decisions, but given that this is one of the glories of the current UK dance scene, I hope that this can be remedied in any future events.
With bonus features including seminars, films and excellent opportunities for networking, BDE 2008 continued the success of previous festivals. I'm told that there is doubt about the continuation of this series from 2010 onwards, but I understand that a more thorough evaluation is to be carried out for the 2008 event than for previous ones, and I hope this convinces the funding bodies of its value; long live British Dance Edition.