5 Questions to Emma Gladstone, Head of Dance Umbrella, about this years digital festival and more

Emma Gladstone.<br />© Hugo Glendinning. (Click image for larger version)
Emma Gladstone.
© Hugo Glendinning. (Click image for larger version)

Dance Umbrella’s digital festival runs from 23-27 November 2020

5 Questions to Emma Gladstone – Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance Umbrella

Q: Dance Umbrella is going all digital this year – what have been your guiding principles in bringing such a different festival to the world?

A: Over the summer ideas began to emerge for running a different kind of festival, led by several principles.  We were focussed on creating a fully digital festival, one that would be Covid-proof; to invent frames specifically for a digital format for our audiences, rather than show old films of performances that were not made for camera; to focus on the international nature of what we do; and – this year at least – to make it all free;

Flyer image for <I>Continental Breakfast</I>.<br />© 2020. (Click image for larger version)
Flyer image for Continental Breakfast.
© 2020. (Click image for larger version)

What are the main highlights of this year’s festival?

In terms of new ideas Continental Breakfast at 9am each morning is shaping up well, with artists from five different continents talking with a guest of their choice.  There are such interesting cultural differences in how they talk, think and create. Also the return of the SystemsLab Debate curated by Anthea Lewis of Blulilli Projects should be worth catching.  Last year’s excellent panel are reuniting to assess how things are now for women of colour in the arts, given the truly extraordinary year of 2020.

After 7 years of running Dance Umbrella you are standing down and passing the baton on – what have been your highlights? And what was the biggest surprise in doing the job?

The highlights have always been those moments of what I call lift off, when you can feel the audience being transported out of the everyday and in to a different world. I can never quite explain how you feel that happening – sometimes it is the level of concentration in the theatre, sometimes the silence before the applause –  but it is something strangely tangible, if invisible.

Flyer for <I>Friday Night Dance Party X Let’s Have a Kiki</I>.<br />© Rowan Briscoe. (Click image for larger version)
Flyer for Friday Night Dance Party X Let’s Have a Kiki.
© Rowan Briscoe. (Click image for larger version)

As you look across the UK dance scene what do you think we do incredibly well and what can we learn from elsewhere?

In Dance we collaborate well in this country, both across the UK and internationally.  There are also some excellent networks, that are open to sharing and learning, and a huge passion for reaching out to take dance into new directions in terms of audiences, locations and participants. One of the things I think we can learn from elsewhere, however, is lobbying, especially when one compares dance to the music or theatre sector.  Much to be done to get over old preconceptions of what dance can be, I think.

What next for you after Dance Umbrella and what’s your biggest dance wish?

Various plans bubbling under, but really the first thing I am going to do when I leave in February is take a break.  After dancing for 20 years and programming for 23 years, it feels like a good time to breathe a bit differently.

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