Review of day two of the ADAD Bloom Festival, Leeds, 2011
By Francine Sheffield (ADAD Summer Intern and MA Performing Arts Administration student, New York University)
Excitement, fierce dancing and a lot of fun; these were the words which sprang up in mind when thinking about Bloom Festival, Leeds, prior to my attendance. As a first time participant and an intern with ADAD, this is what I was sure it was going to be. I have attended many festivals around the globe, both as a participant and a performer, and no matter what’s going on I always manage to have a good time, as I did at this festival.
Very excited about the day and fresh off the train from London, the director of ADAD, its chairperson, and I arrive at the new state of the art dance building, belonging to Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre. The largest dance space, in the UK, outside of London with seven dance studios, a 230-seat studio theatre, wardrobe facilities, meeting rooms, office space for both companies, and a health suite. Yes, this building has it going on! But something’s missing…oh yeah, people and that festival vibe. We’re told that the festival is taking place on the fourth floor. We arrive on the fourth floor to find a short film being shown in the lounge area. Well put together, this film chronicled the history of festival host, Phoenix Dance Theatre, and touched upon what the company is doing now and its plans for the future.
The first of the two adult dance workshops presented at the festival was a contemporary dance class lead by Phoenix Dance Theatre company member, Phil Sanger. This workshop was based on the Phoenix dance experience and encompassed a physical warm-up with repertory. It was an intimate session, with just seven people in attendance. We were taught an extract from a dance called Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, choreographed by Aletta Collins. The movement had a swing feel to it, as if to avoid being hit by a pendulum. It was reminiscent of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art form. Kudos to Mr Sanger for adding an African diaspora element to the class. We were then partnered up and were asked make up a phrase or two and add it to the combination. When it was all over, we stretched and thanked the teacher and his musician. I wanted more. The class time was only one hour and I felt like it could have gone on for another 30 minutes at least. Oh well, on to the next session.
The second workshop was a traditional Zulu Dance class taught by members of Africo Productions. Before the class began, the workshop dance teachers demonstrated the dance that was to be taught, to a large group of eager students. Fired up by this great demonstration, the workshop attendees were excited to start learning. In traditional Zulu dance, one must dance and sing at the same time. First we learned the movement of a warrior dance, which involved high leg kicks and hip swaying. We then moved on to learning some chants. We were told the chants have no real meaning and that their purpose is to motivate the warriors and to keep time. This class had a lot of energy and was what I expected from a dance festival devoted to the African diaspora. However, as with the first workshop, it was too short and felt a little rushed.
The next thing on the Bloom Festival, Leeds schedule was a networking event called ‘Coming Home’. It was an opportunity to collaborate, share skills and exchange ideas and contacts across multiple art forms. I wasn’t sure how this event would fit into this festival, but as I sat and listened to the panel of artists from across the various sectors, I realised that this was a must needed conversation to have at this particular festival. All of the panellists were from the Leeds area: actress, Tanya Vital; Gavin Mintus of BBC Yorkshire; Ashriel James, musician; De-Napoli Clarke, Artistic Director of RJC Dance; and Marsh Witter, ITV screen Yorkshire. They all agreed that there should be some sort of cultural hub for people of African heritage, to create and to have their work recognised. What I also got out of this networking event is that the city of Leeds does not want to be another London. They want their own cultural identity and to be known apart from London for their contributions to the arts in the UK.
The final event on the Bloom Festival, Leeds programme was an evening performance of contemporary and traditional African dance styles. The night open with Daliah Toure whose piece Nur Keine Wellen touched upon her dual European and African heritage. Africo Productions preformed a spirited traditional Zulu Dance. The presentation of traditional dance continued with Laduma performed Khula African Arts Company. And with Switch, Phoenix Dance Theatre dazzled with exceptional modern dance technique and vibrant costumes. The highlight of the evening for me was Frames From The Phoenix Mind - Album 3 based on Phoenix Dance Theatre’s original repertoire. Choreographed and performed by Phoenix Dance founder, David Hamilton, the inclusion of Frames on the performance bill was a fitting commemoration of Phoenix Dance Theatre’s thirtieth year. Clearly a modern/contemporary work, there is an element of African Diaspora movement intertwined in Frames which gives it flavour. A close second in the evening highlights was Vocab Dance with their performance of Word! The young company displayed a lot of energy in a piece which mixes choreography with dialogue and songs, and uses microphones and lighting as functional props in creative and innovative way.
Although there were some activities on the day that I didn’t catch, such as the children’s workshops, overall Bloom Festival, Leeds showcased well, the range of African diaspora dance practiced in the UK. My only criticism of Bloom Festival, Leeds, is that it didn’t feel like a festival at all. It needed more of a celebratory atmosphere so that it didn’t feel like attendees were there just to take class or see a performance. Something to think about for next time.