Music fans, I know you're grieving the lack of Glastonbury in 2012, but for all you field-loving, ruddily muddy campers, I pose this alternative: Latitude, surely the only festival for any discerning culture vulture. This year, London's premiere dance venue, Sadler's Wells returns with a stellar line up: Jonzi D, Cando Co, and excerpts from the fabulous collaboration between the Pet Shop Boys and the infant terrible of dance, Javier de Frutos, among others. The wonderful mind making such inspired decisions? Emms Gladstone: co-founder of Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures, long standing member of Lea Anderson's groundbreaking company the Cholmondeleys (pronounced Chumleys, dance novices) and programmer for Sadler's Wells and Latitude to name but an eclectic few of her accolades. We caught up with her to get all the inside knowledge of the Latitude line-up, and then some...
A festival atmosphere is obviously very different to that of a theatre, what are your hopes for the audience reaction to dance in this environment?
I'm always amazed at how positive they are, especially when we perform in the daytime. When we first started I argued hard that we should have a nighttime show as we needed lighting for atmosphere. The programmers at Latitude disagreed, but they were perfectly right- they really know their audience. The Lake stage, where Sadler's Wells will be performing, is really great on a weekend afternoon- if the music's good, and the setting is right, that's what reels people in. I suppose the best compliment you can have is when people don't move on. Some people come and hour or so before and set up chairs, but others will just see bits in passing. Its such a mix, and really thats part of what i like about taking our pieces there.
The last few years seem to have signaled a new era of collaboration, the type of collaboration that perhaps hasn't been as 'fashionable' since Diaghilev worked with Nijinski, Chanel, Stravinsky etc... There seems to have been a return to these high-profile, cross-artistic collaborations with projects like Wayne Macgregor and Julian Opie's Infra; Jean-Paul Gaultier and Angelin Preljocaj's Snow White; and now Javier de Frutos and the Pet Shop Boys. Do you see a positive effect in ticket sales when this type of collaboration occurs?
Yeah, there was a really high attendence of people who were coming to the theatre for the first time when we had the Pet Shop Boys on at Sadler's Wells, and I think that gives an indication that it appeals to people who might not see dance theatre otherwise. It is not a reason, in itself, to do it- the Pet Shop Boys approached us about the project, rather than us commissioning them...but I definitely think it creates some kind of awareness of the work we're doing in dance. The excerpt from the show that we are taking to Latitude has really great music, and of course The Pet Shop Boys have played successful shows there before, so there's a nice connection.
Does this kind of collaborative work make it easier to pitch contemporary dance to a festival crowd?
No, I don't think so. I find the the music is key in drumming up attention: I brought over a completely unknown Finnish duet last year, who were using a couple of John Lee Hooker tracks, and it went down really, really well. I 've put on things that I thought were over-ambitious or inaccessible, and been really impressed at how the audience has responded- they just ride with you. People just appreciate good work and the nice thing about Latitude is that you don't need those big names... Sadler's Wells carries enough weight to make people trust what we are doing.
The Cholmondeleys, who you danced with for eight years, and Featherstonehaughs were such a cornerstone of post-modern contemporary dance that when they disbanded, it really felt like the myth of arts fund cuts was becoming a brutal reality. If groundbreaking companies like Lea Anderson's can't survive, is there much hope for young burgeoning choreographers in the current economic climate?
I think there is, but it will be slower and it will be harder. On the other side of that equation, you have people like Matthew Bourne, who is having his 25th anniversary at Sadler's Wells, and Lloyd Newson who has just had a lengthy run at the national and is touring the world, so I don't think that that particular cut should be seen as an indication of malaise through the whole system. I think it is going to be harder and colder out there for artists, especially young artists, because a lot of regional venues are really struggling with arts cuts AND council cuts, which means that there are less venues to perform in- a performer can't even apply for grants if they don't have gigs!
You have programmed the Jerwood Studio at Sadler's Wells for many years now, which promotes new work in an experimental environment. When faced with an art form that is so difficult to quantify, rank or judge, is there a criteria you set to pick out the pieces you feel warrant exposure?
Yes, there are four main criteria I'm looking at: something articulate, brave, personal and distinctive. Then it's a case of seeing it in context- what is going to work, where and with whom. From the research program, we select about 75% to go on, and those are the pieces that we feel have the potential to encompass those elements, and through those elements, reach audiences and speak to people. I suppose that is just my private list of what I think makes interesting work, but it must have something special about it, something that provides a greater resonance. Sometimes it's Hip-hop, sometimes it's conceptual work and sometimes it's from a really 'dancey' work. The range of what we put on is really enriching, both for audiences and the art-form and I think that is why we have such good attendances here as we reach all different types of people.
This seems to be reflected in the eclectic triple bill you're taking to Latitude.
That's one of the really interesting things about the triple bill. I always really feel like it's a good chance to show some of the mixture of what we're doing: Wah Wah Girls on Saturday, Jonzi-D's piece which is quite political, text-based and funny, then Tricia Brown's piece for CandoCo which is pure movement- quite a wonderful piece of choreography. I've also just booked I fantastic piece I saw at Breakin' Convention by a group of 10 French dancers. It's just gorgeous, they've labelled the choreography house, but it's got popping and locking and free flow...all sorts! I'm delighted those guys are coming, and it's on Friday night at 6 o'clock- just the kind of thing that will make you skip out into your evening at Latitude- totally joyous.
As a woman at the forefront of new dance, who would you say are the choreographers keep an eye on over the next couple of years?
It's funny you should ask that because we were just talking about how there are simply many more men's than women's work on the big stages. There's a guy called Wilky Branson, whose based in Bristol, and he has done several pieces this year including a hip hop film called White Caps which has been shown in various dance film competitions. Wilkie's also done a piece for kids called Boing, about two brothers who can't get to sleep on Christmas Eve, it's a really lovely bit of work- it's hip hop moving forwards and it's really interesting to watch it develop as an art form.
Also look out for a flamenco dancer called Rocio Molena. She's doing some really interesting work in Spain, mixing her brand of classicism with more modern dance. I'm also really interested in a performance artist called Hetin Patel- he's doing some research on a smaller scale. It's with the body rather than big, moving choreography, but it's very intelligent, clever and inviting, which I find interesting in more conceptual work as it can tend to be quite alienating so it's great to have something that invites you in.
Latitude is At Henham Park in Southwold, Suffolk From 12th-15th July. Tickets available from http://latitudefestival.co.uk
More info on Sadler's Wells' impressive programme can be found at http://sadlerswells.com