Choreographers / Directors / Writers: Jade Hackett / Trajal Harrell / Vincenzo Lamagna / Graeme Miller / Kazuyo Morita / Danilo Moroni / Joanna Paraskevopoulou / Shyne Phiri / SU Pinwen / Abby Zbikowski
A fixture on the dance calendar since 1978, the Dance Umbrella Festival returns and has also added a digital programme of films incorporating contemporary, hip hop and performance art.
American choreographer Trajal Harrell’s interest in the Harlem Ballroom scene evolved into a featured work, O Medea. From Euripides’ Greek tragedy, Harrell works early modern dance into a piece that explores the aftermath of Medea butchering her children. The piece – expressive, furtive movements, grappling with trauma – explores women’s oppression and the compulsion to ‘perform’, to preserve a sense of safety. The dancing, taking in references from 1980’s New York to the origins of the story itself is graceful, lyrical and sensuous.
Another sizeable piece within the programme is Kingdom. Created by composer Vincenzo Lamagna and photographer, Danilo Moroni, this film is an intersection of image, contemporary dance and music. Beautifully shot in black and white, we move from a howling, post-apocalyptic landscape to abstract images of movement. The body is both visible and obscured. Playing off concepts of the ethereal and corporeal, Kingdom shifts into geometric, resolutely solid images of buildings: Grids, plates of glass. It is sculptural, but contemplative, suggesting that the physical world doesn’t necessarily lack a spiritual dimension. Kingdom’s abstractness is difficult but allows the viewer space to think.
In terms of scale, Dance Umbrella has everything covered. We have the grand ambition of O Medea and Kingdom sitting alongside shorter, but no less intense, performances from Jade Hackett’s powerfully nostalgic Let’s Dance in the City to SU Pinwen’s three-minute video, Girl’s Notes Film Work, which explores monumental subjects such as gender and feminism.
It is the range of the festival that also impresses. Disabled dance artists articulate immersive experiences through a project by Stopgap Dance Company, Dance Tapes, which combines speech and sound. Shyne Phiri and Kazuyo Morita build atmosphere, but also a multi-sensory celebration of movement and freedom. The accompanying transcripts, lovingly detailed, add to a performance concept that really embraces the digital element.
The collective experience is a sense that dance, as an art form, is really thriving. Some of these pieces are challenging, but other works operate within a more familiar framework, such as Joanna Paraskevopoulou’s All She Likes is Popping Bubble Wrap. It offers humour and charm, a perfect introduction to anyone new to performance art. Paraskevopoulou’s concept is simple. A split-screen exercise; Joanna is on the right hand of the screen, reacting to vintage film footage shown on the left-hand side. The result is playful and engaging: Paraskevopoulou adds sound and dimension to cult classics including Night of the Living Dead and Charade. Her camp, irreverent tone shows a side of performance art that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Accessibility is the word that crops up repeatedly when watching this digital programme. Dance Umbrella not only give us a snapshot of what’s happening right now, but it’s work from a myriad of perspectives. This is what the Dance Umbrella Festival finally reveals: art not just responding to the outside world, but actively searching for answers; dancing with purpose.
Available here until 31 October 2023