Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th July 2014
Henham Park, Suffolk.
Gallery of pictures of all 7 companies performing at Latitude 2014 – by Lise Smith
Festival season is here, and it’s time to swap shoes for wellies, suits for shorts and normal sleeping patterns for extended periods of skanking in a field. This weekend saw the 9th edition of Latitude in Suffolk – the long weekend that prides itself on being “more than just a music festival” and boasts a 400-page programme stuffed with comedy, cabaret and literary events to back up the claim. Where Glastonbury is a 900-acre behemoth, Latitude is an arts-led boutique festival that attracts happy campers of all ages to its pleasantly green and clean site in the East of England.
There are music headliners, of course – this year including The Black Keys, Damon Albarn and Lily Allen as a late substitution for an indisposed Two Door Cinema Club – but away from the main arenas, Latitude is the kind of festival where you’re as likely to find a secret disco in the forest during the early hours, or stumble across a guy singing about libraries in a glade.
For the past seven years, the festival’s organisers have been collaborating with Sadler’s Wells to curate a dance programme on the strikingly beautiful Waterfront Stage at the heart of the festival site. Previous years have seen performances by BalletBoyz, Zoo Nation and BalletLORENT This year’s programme was no less eclectic, featuring classical performances from English National Ballet and Sonia Sabri Company, contemporary work from Wayne McGregor Random Dance, massed performances by Ballet Revolucion and National Youth Dance Company, and duets from James Cousins Company and Candoco.
With its prime location on a main pathway between the camping areas and the rest of the site, the Waterfront Stage often attracts passer-by who stop to watch what’s happening on the stage. What was interesting to note this year was the number of people who clearly arrived at the stage in time for the opening performances each day and sat themselves down in a spot with a good view for the entire programme. Each artist started with an audience of several hundred – fans of the companies presented, or just of dance in general – but most ended up with four-figure audiences by the end of the show.
Perhaps the most successful at accruing viewers were Ballet Revolucion, who had crowds ten-deep on three sides of the stage for their sunny Havana-meets-Broadway performance. In truth, the company dancers don’t have the greatest classical technique ever seen on a stage, and the eight-count sets churned out to a punter-friendly musical mix of salsa beats and Rihanna hits grew wearingly predictable after a while, but none of this seemed to bother an enthusiastic audience that was, if anything, even bigger for the second showing on Saturday morning.
Earlier on the Friday, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance had shown an extract from Atomos, the 2013 work which is usually presented with a dazzling digital set. Here in the open air, with natural light and no video visuals to hide behind, the movement material is far more exposed than it is in the theatre. Random’s dancers, physically superb as ever, rose to the challenge of the new setting with a vibrant performance. Something about McGregor’s dense, kinetically-charged choreography failed to connect with the lunchtime audience, however, and the final applause was polite rather than raucous.
Saturday’s programme was led by Birmingham-based Sonia Sabri. Solo work Ekalya showcases Sabri’s own classical Kathak technique, with quicksilver footwork and undulating arm gestures. When in full flow, Sabri is a captivating and joyful performer who can draw an audience in with just a flick of a little finger. A shame, then, that the dance is interspersed with pauses in the action for Sabri to duck behind a microphone and explain the rhythmic cycles underpinning the piece, which reduces the energy of the performance and led to some confusion in the audience (Sabri’s instruction to everyone to clap on beats 1,5 and 13 of the cycle went over quite a few heads in my section of the audience). Ekalya is certainly strongest when Sabri is showing, not telling.
New Adventures Choreographic Award winner James Cousins finished the action on Saturday with There We Have Been, a duet for Aaron Vickers and Lisa Welham. Inspired by the novel Norwegian Wood, the piece is formed of a single, sustained sequence in which Welham is carried by Vickers, winding herself around his body without once touching the floor. It’s a neat enough conceit for a duet, capably performed by both performers; there is something a little unsettling about watching Welham’s body manipulated by Vickers for twenty minutes, and the mood seems to veer between tender and troubled without clarifying context. I’d like to see the companion piece which usually tours with this one to see how the idea develops.
Sunday’s performances kicked off after lunch with two shorter pieces from English National Ballet making a return to the outdoors following a very well-received performance of Akram Khan’s Dust at Glastonbury in June. ENB’s Latitude programme brought together James Streeter’s In Loving Memory, a trio looking at love and loss in the First World War created for ENB Choreographics earlier this year, and an outdoor remount of Van Le Ngoc’s Four Seasons. The latter showcased newly-promoted Junor Souza, recently the winner of ENB’s Emerging Dancer 2014, partnering Erina Takahashi in the “Winter” movement.
“It’s a very different atmosphere to the theatre,” says Takahashi, “but the crowds are great and that gives you a great energy. You have all sorts of people, as well, not necessarily people who follow ballet.” Souza agrees: “It’s my first time I did a festival – I really enjoyed it it’s completely different! It’s the chemistry of different people that we have here.”
Although the companies performing on the Waterfront Stage were able to avoid the biggest potential outdoor pitfall as the rain stayed away all weekend, the stage still brings its own special challenges. Audiences surround the stage on three sides, which means adjusting the spacing and orientation of pieces originally made for proscenium arch theatres; and although the Waterfront itself is slightly removed from the music arena, the nature of an open-air festival means there’s often sound leak from the other stages. This isn’t often a problem, but James Cousins’ usually silent entrance found itself re-set to a loud burst of Booker T and the MGs on Saturday.
Early arrivals at the stage who come and find a seat near the front will be rewarded with a better view of the action than you would normally get from the stalls, and a gentle slope on each side of the waterway means that there are good views from all around the stage. Latitude audiences are generally polite, so it’s possible for younger audience members (of which there are many) to squeeze to the front, and several young people certainly encountered their first taste of live ballet and contemporary dance that way this weekend.
The final pair of performances went to Candoco with new duet Two for C, choreographed by Javier De Frutos specifically for outdoor performance. The duet, stamped with De Frutos’ trademark quirk, has been touring street theatre festivals across Europe this summer and translated well to the Latitude waterfront. Dancers Rick Rodgers and Adam Gain portray a couple in crisis with physical conviction, both trying to occupy the same chair when another, identical chair is available mere feet away. It’s a fun duet about a recognisable relationship situation, and made for one of the dance highlights of the weekend.
As the skies began to darken overhead, the final dance performance of the weekend went to the NYDC second years with a punchy restaging of Akram Khan’s Vertical Road. The bright sunshine that had bathed Henham Park for much of the weekend began to give way to a gloom that rather suits Khan’s intense, threatening work. Like Random’s Atomos on Friday, Vertical Road was presented here without its usual technical accoutrements – no cyclorama, no sidelights, no silhouettes.
The exposed staging, with all dancers constantly in view of the audience, worked extremely well, and if anything I preferred the Latitude performance to the version staged at Sadler’s this year. The young dancers performed with boldness and commitment, menacing faces searing into the audience. The standing ovation that greeted NYDC’s final bows demonstrates that dance doesn’t have to be feelgood and fun to succeed in the outdoors: Khan’s penetrating postmodern piece received one of the most rapturous responses of the weekend.
Dance-lovers who wanted to get involved themselves were well-served by the DanceEast tent which ran morning yoga sessions and dance workshops in a variety of styles over the whole weekend. And, of course, there were the disco tents and DJs in the forest bringing out everyone’s inner dancer late into the night. Overall, this year’s Latitude provided plenty for dance fans to see and do – and if that were ever to lose its appeal, there’s always the other 350 pages of the programme to investigate!