Interview Dance Umbrella’s Artistic Director, Emma Gladstone: “I’m really thrilled that we are working with a whole mix of international and diverse artists. We really hope you enjoy what we’ve cooked up!”

Emma Gladstone

Emma Gladstone

Dance Umbrella is London’s international dance festival, celebrating 21st century choreography across the capital. Emma Gladstone is the artistic director of Dance Umbrella. Over its long history Dance Umbrella has been undeniably influential in opening the eyes of art-makers to a very different kind of way to make and present work.

We are talking on the phone ahead of the 2017 season announcement, Gladstone is seeking quiet from a noisy toddler ahead of an important meeting at The Barbican, London. Certainly, there is plenty on her plate “I would say it is a mixture of exhaustion and anticipation,” she adds, quickly. “I get very excited about launching our festival season. It’s a massive time of the year and afterwards I can just about breathe a sigh of relief. One of the things I’m trying to do is keep it really tight; everything we are doing is outlined on the back of the brochure.”

Gladstone’s aim is to make a Dance Umbrella for everyone. “I think there is a huge audience interested in live art, physical theatre and dance. There’s a huge potential audience that don’t get what we are doing yet, but I’m trying to change their minds,” she says. “It’s important to remember that Dance for the mass audiences since 1930 has been mostly classical ballet. I think there is a big crossover of people who are curious – they think they won’t like it and I want to persuade them otherwise. We programme some evocative and resonant work that can transport you intellectually, emotionally and physically.


Rocío Molina

Rocío Molina. Click on the image to book your tickets for Fallen From Heaven

Since many creative companies can’t endure without subsidy and/or big commissions, their identities swing according to the work they’re permitted to make. Many find themselves pushed towards children’s theatre. Gladstone is instinctively inclusive, and fundamentally aware of the bigger picture when it comes to programming work for a live art festival. “I started programming the festival very selfishly as a young mum in 2000, when I was working at The Place,” she says. “It’s such a physical art form and lots of young people attend classes so for me it made sense to integrate pieces for them into Dance Umbrella. It’s like having Rocío Molina returning with Fallen From Heaven (Caída del Cielo). She ended up getting an Olivier nomination [for Bosque Ardora in 2015] as soon as she was taken out that ‘flamenco box’ and her work was seen for what it is more widely. I’m really keen on that.”

Dance Umbrella 2017

Dance Umbrella 2017. Click on the image to book your tickets.

It is by all accounts worth looking at what value we place on the work Dance Umbrella showcases. But what is she most proud of in this year’s line up? “I would say I’m most proud of Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl’s spectacular outdoor performance Origami, on a 40ft shipping container at Battersea Power Station that will be going on a little tour of the Thames and around London,” she says. “I’ve been working with developers for the first time, so it’s been quite a long process getting access and permission from those sites down the river. It’s impressive but it’s got something very peaceful about it. We are also going to sunny Croydon; I’m so keen on us getting out of the centre and the big houses. There’s a real pleasure in the mobility of running a festival outside of a venue.”

The emphasis of her programming is on increasing diversity, on gender equality and co-production, making the audience base as wide as it can possibly be. “We’re doing these two very special festival-within-a-festival events; one at Rich Mix and one at Shoreditch Town Hall,” she says excitedly. “Guest Programmer Freddie Opoku-Addaie is creating a festival-within-a-festival with two live bands from all over Asia, Europe and South America. I’m really thrilled that we are working with a whole mix of international and diverse artists. We really hope you enjoy what we’ve cooked up!”

Dance Umbrella 2017 will take place across London from 11 – 28 October 2017.