Feature: An alternative guide to dance in London
Dance in London is dominated by a few major venues, but there are plenty of places off the beaten track where you can find unknown artists, underground scenes, quirky performance spaces and buzzing dancefloors – says Lyndsey Winship,Time Out’s Dance Editor.
Where to go when you think you’ve seen all the dance that London has to offer ? If you’re tired of the proscenium arch, galleries are a good place to start, with art/dance collaborations absolutely hitting the zeitgeist. For a week at the end of February, English National Ballet will be doing daily class, and much more, in amongst Tate Britain’s Picasso exhibition – something the artist who collaborated with the Ballets Russes would no doubt approve of. There’s a more contemporary cross-genre project over at The Print Room , Notting Hill, as four choreographers, including Hubert Essakow and James Cousins, create dance pieces to be performed in an installation by sculptor Laurence Kavanagh. Considering we’ve had a wave of these kind of projects recently – last year we saw Will Tuckett at the Whitechapel Gallery, Michael Clark at Tate Modern , Siobhan Davies at Bargehouse and Richard Alston’s dancers expertly dodging exhibits at the Saatchi Gallery – you can expect more dance/art projects to be announced as the year goes on.
You could argue that nothing’s really ‘underground’ any more, when everybody uses public communication networks and the ‘next big thing’ spreads like digital wildfire, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of experimental work bubbling under the more mainstream scene. Chisenhale Dance Space is at the heart of that, as it has been since it opened in 1980, founded by pioneers of ‘new dance’ the X6 collective. It has always been on the fringes of London dance culture, offering a space for artists to experiment. And having laid low for a while, the place underwent a renaissance recently under the direction of live artist Bryony Kimmings and a clan of committed volunteers (Kimmings has now moved on but we’re hoping they’ll keep up her good work). It’s home to debate- and cake-fuelled coffee mornings, edgy (occasionally x-rated) performance and festivals of work that lie between dance, live art and conceptual who-knows-what.
Other places to see new work, often before it’s even finished, are scratch nights and sharings like Free to Fall at Rich Mix and Greenwich Dance’s Low-Tech Saturdays. And if you keep your ear to the ground (and your smartphone connected to Twitter/Facebook) you can find some weird and wonderful one-offs. I’ve seen girls dance on tables in Dalston while the audience were fed a three-course dinner, and watched wild-eyed dancers jamming with riffing musicians in a room above a pool hall. I’m not saying it’s all great art, but it’s exciting, it’s vital and it’s happening (in both the literal and the ’60s sense of the word).
Half of the fun of seeking out new work is that you never quite know what you’re going to get, and that’s never more true than with improvisation. London does have a low-key improv scene, although it takes a bit of finding, seeing as the planning of those nights often seems to be appropriately improvisatory. Stranger Than Fiction (usually at Siobhan Davies Studios ) and Moonwax (at the Islington Chinese Association ) are two improv-based nights that bring together artists from different disciplines, from free jazz to film, as well as dance. Dancer Seke Chimutengwende is one performer to look out for.
It’s not all contemporary dance though. One unlikely underground scene that’s well worth checking out is the London Tap Jam, led by the city’s hoofer supreme Junior Laniyan. The night draws a faithful crowd to Ronnie’s Bar (above Ronnie Scott’s) every month. We’re talking improvised rhythm tap here – rather than 42nd Street sequins and jazz hands – getting to the real percussive roots of the form, dancing with a live jazz trio. There’s always a great atmosphere, whether you’re joining in or not. More foot stamping goes on at the Peña Flamenca de Londres , bringing the spirit of Andalucia to a back alley by Tottenham Court Road tube (monthly Sundays, Nueva Costa Dorada). As well as showcasing local talent, the club jets in guests from Spain for some genuinely authentic gypsy duende.
The profile of street dance has rocketed in recent years, thanks, in part, to TV exposure, and there are more places than ever to see b-boys battling. The monthly SAS’12: The Battles (at ULU ) is one, where dancers compete in a different style each time, from waacking to vogueing to krumping. Or you can catch the next Diversity/Flawless/Plague at big money battle The Jump Off , at Fabric , where dance crews, singers, MCs, producers and comedians all compete (separately) for prizes of up to £10,000. Be warned though, they also run a swimwear model contest – it’s possible feminism hasn’t reached The Jump Off event yet.
On the less macho side of street dance, house dancers head to annual dance-off Juste Debout (25 Feb at the Camden Centre ) and also the House Dance UK competition (19 Feb, Madame JoJo’s ). For a less competitive vibe but a high quotient of serious dancers (we’re talking about people who even warm up before they hit the floor), a couple of Sunday night clubs are well worth checking out: the funk/disco/jazz/hip hop of Free Your Soul (Sundays at Madame JoJo’s) and the housier Inner Rhythm in Shoreditch (Sundays at East Village), plus the Afro-infused Tribe (monthly, Brixton Clubhouse).
You can find pretty much every dance style you can think of somewhere in London, from Angolan kizomba (a kind of Afro-tango) to American blues and Breton folk. The swing dance scene is booming, with dances ranging from ’20s Charleston to ’50s jive, and there are enough nights going on each week to give you permanent blisters. For the stunning venue alone, make the journey to the Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, a den of red velvet glamour.
Dance might only be a small arts scene compared with theatre or live music, but honestly, there’s more out there than you think!