• The List
  • 8 May 2007

Leading the dance

Injuries, money worries, audience numbers - it’s not easy running a dance company. Yet, as Kelly Apter discovers, the Scottish dance scene is alive, kicking and hungry for success

David Hughes Dance Company

David Hughes knows a thing or two about pain. As one of the most interesting dancers of his generation, Hughes has performed with the UK’s finest companies, from Rambert to DV8. But with his 40th birthday on the horizon, Hughes is the first to admit his body hurts much of the time. Not that a bit of pain will stop him. Twenty years into his career, Hughes is as driven as ever, committed to making his company as successful as possible. Even if he’s not sure how to brand it.

‘I try not to use the word contemporary because it frightens a lot of people away,’ says Hughes. ‘But I’m still trying to find a word to describe what I do. I just want the name David Hughes to be synonymous with a good, entertaining show.’

Hughes’ current company features ex-Scottish Dance Theatre members Errol White and Davina Givan, and breakdancer Matt Foster among others. All three have been getting a taste of the Hughes pain. ‘The rehearsal period for our new show was full-on,’ explains Hughes. ‘Matt hurt his knee, Errol put his back out and Davina split her chin open and was rushed to hospital. It was that physical - and painful.’

The woman responsible for such perilous movement is Tanja Liedtke, ex-Australian Dance Theatre, a company known for its body-slamming style. The punishing rehearsals for Liedtke’s new work, Imploded: Une Reverie Romantique, took Hughes down memory lane. ‘That was how I worked in the 80s,’ he laughs. ‘The dance till you drop mentality, take lots of pain killers and just get on with it. But Tanya was inspiring and passionate. It’s a dynamic piece.’

The night will also feature Rafael Bonachela’s [4:Freeze-Frame], and a new duet by Hughes entitled Matt’s Lost His Groove. Working with a dancer more used to head spins than pirouettes has proved an interesting challenge. ‘I didn’t want it to turn into one of those programmes where Matt the breakdancer becomes a ballet dancer in three sessions,’ says Hughes. ‘I wanted to make sure that he is what he is. And I’d like to think the end result is something slightly different, a light-hearted look at movement.’

Despite his vast experience as a much admired performer, Hughes’ company was only formed in 2005, but he’s keen to show just what Scottish dancers are capable of. ‘We really want to challenge ourselves, to do something different,’ he says. ‘There’s a real variety of companies here in Scotland who can match anything in Europe.’

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 11 & Sat 12 May; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 15 & Wed 16 May.

The Curve Foundation Dance Company

From a drug rehab centre in Muirhouse to one of Scotland’s largest theatres, The Curve Foundation (CF) has come a long way. While the company’s performance spaces may have changed, the gritty determination of this ambitious company remains the same. For nine years, artistic director Ross Cooper has battled against inadequate funding, producing consistently strong work on a shoestring budget.

While the company’s financial situation has altered little during that time, the decision to perform at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre signals a huge shift in CF’s profile. ‘Going to the King’s has been a big step,’ admits Cooper. ‘But artistically I feel we’re ready. The works we’re performing were all made for major theatres throughout the world, and I felt it was important to show the work in the right way here in Scotland.’

As usual, Cooper has matched local talent with performers drawn from further afield - in this instance ex-dancers with NDT and Lyon Opera Ballet. Dancer loyalty at Curve is fiercely strong, and drawing technically strong dancers into the fold has never been a problem for Cooper. What does he attribute that to?

‘If you get the work, the talent wants to come and dance it,’ he says. ‘We’ve tried not to let ourselves be thrown by the lack of money - even though our entire funding barely stretches to Scottish Ballet’s pointe shoe budget. The audiences respond to our work and so do the theatres. So even though we haven’t had the response we’d like from funders, the choreographers we’ve been working with have vindicated the company in many ways.’

Alongside pieces by Rui Lopes Graca, Henri Oguike and Ana Lujan Sanchez, Curve will be presenting William Forsythe’s Duo - a real feather in Cooper’s cap. Widely regarded as one of the world’s most important choreographers, Forsythe is extremely choosy about who performs his works. As is Merce Cunningham, whose work appeared in Curve’s last season. Getting the nod of approval from such esteemed choreographers is testament to Cooper and his dancers.

‘You don’t get pieces from Forsythe and Cunningham without a lot of investigation,’ explains Cooper. ‘But it proves the high level the company is at, that these choreographers want their work shown on these dancers. I think we have a tendency in Scotland to go “we’re Scottish, so it must be crap”, but the fact that Forsythe and Cunningham are giving us their work says that, actually, no we’re not.’

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 18 & Sat 19 May.

Breakin’ Convention

For the past four years, it’s been the centre of the hip hop dance world. Now, Breakin’ Convention is busting out of London and going on the road. Performing at nine venues across the UK, the show gives international artists and local acts a chance to come together under one roof.

For three days each May, London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre is overrun with breakdancers, graffiti artists and DJs - something Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre is keen to emulate. Hosted by hip hop dance theatre guru Jonzi D, the job of finding Breakin’ Convention’s local talent has fallen to Edinburgh-based breakdancer Tony Mills.

‘One of Jonzi’s prerequisites was that the local acts had to be of a certain level,’ explains Mills. ‘So I’ve been ensuring that people are trying to be creative with hip hop. That the work they’re producing is not superficial showing-off, as breakdance usually is, that it has some integrity. You can’t just do a headspin for the sake of it, there has to be a deeper thought behind it.’

Mills has recruited acts from throughout Scotland, including Dundee’s Showcase The Street, Glasgow’s Indie B Jewels and Flying Jalapenos, Edinburgh’s Psychostarz and Rhythm Inc and Livingston’s Free2Flow. All the groups will get a ten minute slot on the main stage, before giving way to three giants of the hip hop dance scene - Electric Boogaloos from the US, Brazilian Frank Ejara and France’s Frank II Louise.

Having travelled down to the main Breakin’ Convention show in London each year, Mills is excited to have the event on home turf. ‘It’s excellent that Breakin’ Convention is touring around,’ he says. ‘Hip hop dance is creative, it’s diverse and it’s expressive, and I think it’s really good that young up-and-coming dancers are getting a chance to perform on such a massive scale.’

The organisers want to create a relaxed atmosphere at the venue, with foyer action throughout the evening. ‘The doors open at 6pm but the main show doesn’t start until 7.30pm,’ says Mills. ‘So we’re hoping to get lots of people milling about and creating a good vibe. The Festival Theatre has got that big glass front, so it will be great for people walking past to see it’s all quite hectic in there.’

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Fri 11 & Sat 12 May.

Company Chordelia

With show titles like Blood, Sweat and Shopping, Saturday Night Divas and Cinderella Pilot Error!, it’s safe to say Kally Lloyd Jones doesn’t take dance too seriously. Formed by Lloyd Jones in 2002, Company Chordelia has become known for its humour and accessibility, especially among audiences new to dance.

‘I think some people can be a little bit scared of abstract dance,’ says Lloyd Jones. ‘They think it’s a language that they don’t have access to. So I hope that my work helps draw people in, because it’s theatrical and might be slightly less frightening. But it’s important that all different sorts of dance are supported, because that’s what creates a healthy environment for any artform.’

Lloyd Jones has strayed into unfamiliar territory for her new work, The Red Shoes, leaving behind more obvious humour in search of something deeper. Inspired by the Moira Shearer film and fairytale of the same name, Lloyd Jones has created a solo show featuring three female characters who refuse to conform. Teaming up with choreographer Michael Popper (last seen creating humorous work with Scottish Dance Theatre) Lloyd Jones explores some of the horrifying aspects of the fairytale, in which a young girl has her feet chopped off.

‘One of the things I’ve not liked about my work in the past is perhaps the easiness of it,’ admits Lloyd Jones. ‘And I was ready to step towards a darker side. I’m really interested in how comedy works alongside the more difficult stuff, and I think this show requires a bit more from the audience. Sometimes they’ll feel discomfort, but then that turns into something funny.’

As one of the few women running dance companies in Scotland, Lloyd Jones has had her fair share of highs and lows. But, much like everyone else working in the Scottish dance scene, she’s optimistic about the future.

‘Dance has been the poor cousin for such a long time, and I think slowly it’s being recognised that there’s no logical reason for that,’ she says. ‘Because if we don’t invest in our own people, there’s not going to be growth of either artists or audiences.’

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 23 & Thu 24 May; Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Sat 2 Jun.

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