Interview: DanceLive artistic director Ian Abbott – 'Come see the world a little differently'

  • The List
  • 8 October 2015
Interview: DanceLive artistic director Ian Abbott –

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Aberdeen-based dance festival is bigger and better than ever – we find out how it feels to be double figures

Aberdeen's DanceLive festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – but for new artistic director, Ian Abbott, it's his first time in the DanceLive saddle. He tells us what's so special about Scotland's longest running contemporary dance festival, and talks us through some of this year's highlights.

It's DanceLive's 10th anniversary – in what ways do you feel the festival has grown over the past decade?
DanceLive started in 2006 under the stewardship of Ian Spink and featured six performances including Siobhan Davies Dance, Rosie Kay and Colette Sadler. Fast forward to 2010 and DanceLive's 5th birthday and there's a set of participatory activity from the likes of Scottish Dance Theatre, Janis Claxton, Scottish Ballet and Stillmotion as well workshops in burlesque and hip hop – this forms a third of the programme, ensuring that Aberdeen and the creative community have the chance to see and take part in nearly 40 events across six weeks.

It's now 2015 and the festival has expanded its reach even further into the city, with partnerships at new venues: The Anatomy Rooms, Suttie Arts Space, Newave Gallery who are all embracing work which is part of our Adventures in Authorship strand. This work enables audience and participants to have an influence over the outcome of the event they're taking part in and shape what ends up on stage.

What else is new for this year?
We’ll have a daily conversation with some of the UK's finest choreographic minds including Wendy Houstoun, Claire Cunningham and Roberta Jean. And, as it's our 10th birthday, the first 10 people to join us each day gets a free drink as well as all sorts of interesting conversation.

How do you feel DanceLive is part of the bigger picture – both in Aberdeen and beyond?
DanceLive is an original member of Aberdeen Festivals, which brings together nine major festivals from across the city to work collaboratively and promote the city as a destination for cultural tourism, and the cross pollination between festival attendees has meant there's a significant increase in visibility around the city. Our online presence and the #DanceLive15 on social media has grown and awareness across the city and the dance industry across the UK feels really healthy.

The line-up of professional companies at this year's festival is very impressive – including companies that it would be difficult to see in other parts of Scotland. How does your programming feed in to your overall ambition for the festival and its reputation?
DanceLive is a festival with an ever growing reputation and is the longest running contemporary dance festival in Scotland. It's important that the festival contains artists and activities that cannot be found in other places, to attract people from outside the city to Aberdeen and ensure that residents are proud of this significant cultural event that's taking place in the streets and communities where they live.

DanceLive15 is an invitation for people to engage with things that feel relevant and accessible to them. You might want to access artists that are inventing the future of dance like Wayne McGregor's Atomos on their first visit to Aberdeen, or work for families that is funny, interactive and inclusive which is all about farting and science like Moxie Brawl's Windibops. Or you might want an intimate one on one performance experience with Joe Wild that looks at the role of gender in a playful way.

Aberdeen is culturally rich city with a number of artistic communities and so Verity Standen's immersive sound bath HUG will appeal to the experimental music community of sonADA, University of Aberdeen and sound festival. We've also been careful with how we're describing the performances, so we can attract people who may not have engaged with dance before but might be interested to see a witty and tequila fused interpretation of the artist Frida Kahlo by Caroline Bowditch.

Citymoves own community groups Fusion (youth dance), Step Forward (integrated adult) and Quicksilver (over 50s) are also woven into the fabric of a professional performance with companies like Indepen-dance 4, Tamsyn Russell and Cultured Mongrel Dance Theatre.

It's important that to recognise that what these bodies who live in Aberdeen can do and that DanceLive15 is a place where performance and participation are celebrated equally.

The professional programme is only part of the story - can you say a bit about how engaging audiences and participants is also important for DanceLive?
Engaging audiences and participants is a fundamental part of DanceLive15 and central to the ethos of Citymoves Dance Agency. The major festival commission Choreospondance by Casson and Friends enables anyone from anywhere in the world (we've had letters from Australia, Croatia, France as well as all over the UK) to describe a dance that they would like to see happen in Aberdeen during the festival. We've had nearly 100 hand written letters sent to us in the post. Everything about the four short performances that will happen over the festival will be entirely crowd sourced from the content in the letters.

With Aberdeen FC riding high at the top of league, there were a lot of requests to have a performance at Pittodrie, so we've made that happen. On 14 October at 3pm, Choreospondance takes over the South Stand, overlooking the pitch at Aberdeen FC and you'll get to see four dancers creating work from the ideas that people have sent in.

We're also working in partnership with Robert Gordon University to present performances of Three's A Crowd by All or Nothing and there's a chance for people to learn to fly in a series of aerial dance workshops which have sold out already.

DanceLive15 is about offering people the opportunity to try something a little different and with #TheSoloFilter by Cultured Mongrel Dance Theatre, you have the opportunity to remake a five minute choreography with a single professional dancer and change it to anything you want. If you're a nurse, on the rigs or at school - you have the chance to change the soundtrack, how the dancer moves, if they speak or not and make the dance that you want to see. Come and take shelter under the canopy of DanceLive and see the world a little differently.

DanceLive begins Fri 9 Oct at various venues.


Annual festival celebrating – and exclusively devoted to – contemporary dance. The programme draws high-quality companies to the north-east of Scotland, emphasising new choreography and opportunities for participation.

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