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Put on your wellies and dance

Ballet Boyz performing on the Waterfront Stage at last year's Latitude Festival. Photo: Danny North
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If you haven’t already booked your summer festival tickets for this year, I’m going to throw it out there – don’t just go for the music. There is so much more on offer, from poetry to cabaret and all that’s in between (ie many kooky and genre-defying performance activities). And DANCE! Glorious dance. Not of the ‘beep-beep-hands-in-the-air-a-wave-your-glo-sticks-and-get-down-to-the-beat’ variety.

The English National Ballet are making their first appearance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this year, on the same stage that will see Metallica, Kasabian, Arcade Fire, Lily Allen, Ed Sheeran and Dolly Parton perform, for example. How cool is ballet?

[pullquote name=”Tania Harrison, Latitude”]We work with new and up and coming bands, why not up and coming dancers?[/pullquote]

Latitude is home to the largest programme of dance on the festiscene. Boasting ten arts arenas, Henham Park in Southwold becomes home in July (17-20) to some of the biggest names on the music, arts and culture scene. Alongside headliners The Black Keys, Damon Albarn, Haim, Royksopp and a McBillion other music acts, Sadler’s Wells presents a weekend of different kinds of dance on a splendidly picturesque Waterfront Stage, constructed atop Lake Repton.

Acting as an artistic fly trap to festival revellers passing by along woodland walks or over the bridge to the main stages, the dance line-up entices in the regular culture vultures already aware of the artsy vibe as well as the most unusual suspects, who might never have thought to drop in on a dance show.

Arts curator at Latitude, Tania Harrison has spoken about one of the most moving moments for her at the festival, saying:

My favourite ever moment was after Mumford & Sons had performed in 2010. Their fans suddenly gathered in a big group near the waterfront. I was worried something was wrong until I realised they had stopped to watch the Sadler’s Wells’ ballet dancers I had booked, performing Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. I was so moved that I broke down in tears. They were utterly transfixed. That crossover audience of people discovering new things is what I’ve always wanted to achieve. Things should blow your mind like that. That’s what the festival experience is all about.

She still wells up about it now, passionate as she is about her work for the festival, and in particular, being a huge fan of dance. Explaining why it is such an important part of Latitude, Tania told me: “It’s one of my favourite art forms and it’s very akin to music. Dance is inspiring and rousing, so it’s perfect for a festival audience. It’s proven to be particularly inspiring and exciting over the years.”

It’s a different process to programming a usual dance line-up that we might expect to see in a traditional auditorium, with practical factors tied into the choices made of who and what to show, when. Time of day and the physical set up are particularly important as the stage is open on three sides so there is little to no lighting in the daytime, and the barn in which the dancers rehearse and warm up in is across the other side of a huge field.

But this is something that the dancers relish, Katy Arnander, director of artistic programme at Sadler’s Wells tells me:

The companies and artists really enjoy the freedom when they’re not working within the confines of a traditional proscenium arch, they don’t have the same challenges of wooing a theatrical audience as they sit there in the dark. There’s a different buzz and energy to the work. It’s a truer representation of the art form that comes across.

One of the highlights of the Waterfront Stage this year is Ballet Revolucion who are flying in from Cuba as part of their 2014 European tour. Mashing up classical, contemporary and hip-hop, they dance to music from Latin-American rhythms to Beyonce tracks. Tania comments: “Ballet Revolucion will be a great uplifting performance so will be great for the evening as a stand alone show as well as in the day time.” Then there’s the West End production of Dirty Dancing with a new, specially choreographed dance highlights sequence, which Tania says is “A big emotional uplift and there’s a considerable amount of singing, so it’s perfect for early evening on Saturday, when you’re having a cocktail or glass of wine and getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, getting caught up in the romance of it all.”

Other dance performances include the English National Ballet, National Youth Dance Company who will perform a piece by Akram Khan, and two mixed bills from emerging dance talents, called New Perspectives. The first includes Queen of contemporary Kathak, Sonia Sabri and the other is James Cousins, winner of New Adventures Choreographer Award and hotly tipped as one to watch – both of whom I have seen perform and can highly recommend. For these newer dance makers, Katy tells me, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get their work seen by a varied crowd on an unusual platform: “It’s a very fluid audience so it’s a wonderful opportunity for the artists to show their work to a different audience.”

Then there’s the UK’s leading dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, Candoco who will be presenting Javier De Frutos’ Two for C, a piece inspired by Tennessee Williams’ play Camino Real and Wayne McGregor’s new full-length work Atomos. McGregor will also be holding Mind And Movement workshops on the Dance East Stage in Pandora’s Playground, based on work with neuroscientists around the connection between mind and body. And tapping into this year’s theme of Secrets and Lies, Tania is putting on some historical dancing, looking at Royal secrets in the Georgian era.

Tania clearly feels very passionately about dance, and about bringing it to the masses:

For a lot of people dance is a sort of hallowed art form and something we cant afford to see, which is why Sadler’s Wells programs for all demographics. It’s lovely to be able to swirl across a different stage, to learn from something literary, be part of a deep and political conversation, then walk back to your tent and see Sonia Sabri or some Georgian dancing.

It’s important for her to bring companies from all over the UK (and further afield, in the case of Ballet Revolucion), so that people don’t think of the dance element as London-centric. She says: “It’s interesting for people to realise that incredible work is being produced all over the country and that we’re bringing fantastic companies from different areas and regions to a national platform.”

She places equal emphasis on the youth groups as on the professional companies, saying: “We work with new and up and coming bands, why not up and coming dancers? The Beatle’s wrote all their best songs when they were 21-22. It’s always important to keep in mind new and upcoming artists.”

So backpacks at the ready folks, just don’t forget to pack your Vango Deluxe along with your glo-sticks.

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