Interview: Betsy Gregory, Dance Umbrella [BDE 2012]

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Betsy Gregory. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Betsy Gregory is Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella, Britain’s largest international festival of new dance. The festival, established in 1978, invites and commissions work by choreographers and companies from around the world and offers a platform to emerging artists through its Brief Encounters strand. A former Associate Director of The Place, Betsy joined Dance Umbrella at the end of 1997, and succeeded Val Bourne as Artistic Director in 2007.

“When the idea of London hosting British Dance Edition 2012 was born, it was actually a partnership between the venues for obvious reasons. However, when the partners started planning they realised that what should be coming out of BDE is a strategic partnership for dance development in London, and so they invited Dance Umbrella to be part of the consortium. Our role has been to be one of the programming voices but also, in a way, to be the non-aligned voice, that is not being aligned to a venue.

“Certainly over the time I’ve been with Dance Umbrella the dance landscape has changed – largely, I think it’s fair to say, because of all the pioneering work that Val [Bourne] did over many years. What we’re really focusing on now is what a festival can do that a venue can’t as easily – we’ve introduced strands of high quality free and outdoor performances, and very high level participatory work with artists such as* Rosemary Lee, Stephen Petronio* and Royston Maldoom . We take dance to unusual spaces and venues where it doesn’t normally go – and we make a point of creating a context around the work, building a story around the programme to expand the audience’s understanding and take them on a journey.

“We are extremely privileged in London because we see everything. I think London must be the world’s crossroads for dance – I dare say not even in New York is there such a range of international work passing through. We see not only the most established companies from around the world, but also a fantastic range of international artists at all stages of their careers, from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, from everywhere. It’s a marvellous thing for audiences and it’s also a really stimulating thing for artists, to have that such a diversity of work at their fingertips in order to feed their own practice.

“On a very simple but important level, the difference between the UK and the US is that we still have government funding of the arts in this country; it’s a terrible thing that it’s been reduced on the scale that it has, but we still have it. What I have observed in New York over the last 10 – 15 years, where there is almost a complete lack of statutory funding, is that there is less time for artists to work and therefore there’s not as much inspirational work coming from there as there could be. I fear that’s what’s going to happen here.

“I’m really excited about going to see the David Hockney exhibition [The Royal Academy] , I must say. I also recommend the Sir John Soane Museum , an amazing, small museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was an 18th century architect who built the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a lot of other buildings. He had three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which he knocked together. This museum is his house and also his collection of antiquities – it’s very eccentric and very wonderful. When I have visitors I always send them there. Look it up, it’s good!”

Interview: Lise Smith

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