British Dance Edition, The Overview

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Article19

If British Dance Edition 2008 in Liverpool is only ever remembered for one thing it will be for showcasing the strength of dance making on this chilly, windswept island of ours. That may seem obvious, it’s what the festival is for after all, but BDE08 illustrated that dance is at its very best when movement is at the core of a piece of work. When combined with good music and tremendous dancers, you just can’t lose.

20 Live performances featuring 33 dance companies, including Wired Aerial Theatre, Hofesh Shechter, Shobana Jeyasingh, Colin Pool, Retina, Jonathan Lunn and Scottish Dance Theatre, as well as numerous other events, gatherings and a trade fair were all shoehorned into 4 days by Merseyside Dance Initiative between January 30th and February 2nd.

Each day lasted more than 12 hours and although no tickets were on sale to the public for most of the shows the 500 “delegates” (dance promoters from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world) had to be herded from one venue to the next with hardly a pause for breath during each of the shows.

Article19 filmed 12 of the performances and not once did the start time run over by more than 10 minutes. If you think moving a large group of children from one place to another is hard try getting 500 grown ups, many of whom have an overinflated sense of their own self importance, to stop jabbering and get into their seats.

The whole festival is essentially about showcasing a large amount of new and existing work to promoters in the hope that national and international touring can be secured. Whether or not this actually happens will be hard to quantify for another 6 months or so but most of the promoters did stick it out until the very end and all of the shows were well attended.

Most encouraging was the scene at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, a truly enormous venue, that played host to the two showcase triple bill performances. The first one on Thursday 31st January had an audience of over 1,500 people. Yes, 500 of them were there by default but 1,000 of them were not and it’s a fabulous sight to see that many people paying to see live contemporary dance. The second triple bill was as well attended.

Members of the paying public reacted with enthusiasm to each of the works on show. Hofesh Shechter takes the prize for getting the loudest round of applause for his work ‘Uprising’ which you can see a section of right here on Article19.

Fair Trade

If your company didn’t manage to make it into the festival proper there was always the trade fair to mix and mingle with the powers that be in the hope of selling your work. After the last BDE debacle in 2006 with “speed dating”, sanity returned with a more traditional set-up in the truly stunning St George’s Hall in the centre of Liverpool, a venue of biblical proportions. You could wander around the various stalls chatting to the company folks in attendance and helping yourself to their free stuff.

Best freebie on offer came from All Play who lured unwary delegates to their table with free Drumstick® lollipops. Most innovative publicity award goes to Vincent Dance Theatre who were handing out USB drives with their company publicity material on board and when you’re finished with it you have a fully functional USB drive, simple, brilliant!

In The City

Liverpool as a city is often portrayed rather negatively in the UK media thanks to their obsession with covering violent crime. In reality Liverpool is a very modern city with cranes all over the place (for building work, not the birds) and plenty to see and do. If you go looking for trouble then you’ll find it, but that’s true of any city, anywhere in the world.

It’s fair to say that no British city in the middle of winter is ever going to be mistaken for the South of France in July. Liverpool is cold and windy just like everywhere else in the UK in January.

To make up for the cold BDE brought most of the city’s best venues into play. The Liverpool Empire is, as mentioned, a truly spectacular theatre. Most of the time it’s full of musicals but it works fantastically well as a dance venue. Filling all of those seats would be hard, week in week out, but it’s nice to know it’s possible. The other venues, from the Liverpool Playhouse to the Paul McCartney Auditorium and the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, were ideally suited to dance performances.

Venue of the festival has to go to the small concert hall within the St George’s Hall, the performance location for Ballet Lorent’s ‘Designer Body’. Here in TheLab™ we have no idea how to write about architecture but the large oval room with a gigantic, central chandelier, ornate statues and gold leaf aplenty certainly puts today’s ultra modern, chrome and glass, industrial-estate like theatres in their place.

Bad Video

The only real low point of the festival was Arts Council England’s video presentation. They had cobbled together some interviews with dance makers extolling the virtues of the funding monolith and how important they were to the dance profession.

If you wanted to see how strong dance is in this country then you may want to, you know, watch some live dance performances at a large scale dance festival, call us crazy if you like!

A badly made video that looks like it cost £5 to make is not going to do the job. It’s a shame because Janet Archer, the new Director of National Dance Strategy at ACE, was there to announce an 11% increase for dance funding in England. They should have made that announcement and left the video in London.

Four BDE’s and Counting

BDE 08 is the fourth BDE this writer has experienced and each one is getting better and better. That this particular festival was organised by the relatively small Merseyside Dance Initiative and executed, as far as we could tell, without any major problems, is a testament to their hard work and skill. Ultimately, dance was the winner with some fantastic work on show and they only represented a small proportion of the companies presently creating in the UK.

2008 is off to a great start!

Article19 would like to thank the staff of Merseyside Dance Initiative, in particular Ruth Adkins, for all their help in securing filming access. We would also like to thank the staff of the Liverpool Empire, LIPA, LCC and Liverpool Playhouse for their assistance.

[ BDE Super Feature on Article19 ]

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