British Dance Edition brings world to Scotland

Akram Khan heads up the BDE lineup. Picture: Contributed
Akram Khan heads up the BDE lineup. Picture: Contributed
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DANCE can often be seen as the poor relation of the arts world. But when programmers from across the globe converge in Edinburgh this weekend, with over £25 millon burning a hole in their pockets, it will be anything but.

Held biennially, British Dance Edition (BDE) is the largest event in the UK dance industry calendar. If you’re a dance artist, it’s the place to be seen and, hopefully, have your work picked up for a UK or international tour. If you’re a producer or programmer, it’s the place to find your dance talent for the coming year. And if you’re a funder, it’s the place to see who you might like to spend your money on. For the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to see some really great dance.

Started in 1998, BDE has been hosted by a variety of English cities over the years, but is coming to Scotland for the first time ever in 2014. Morag Deyes, artistic director of Dance Base in Edinburgh, was part of the team that pitched for BDE five years ago.

“It feels like a bit of a coup,” says Deyes. “We’re very excited that it’s coming north of the border, and that Scotland is being recognised by the wider UK dance community as a place that can host something like this.”

Over the next four days, BDE will welcome just under 400 delegates from 37 different countries. Not only is it the first time the event has been held outside of England, but it’s also BDE’s first experience of splitting itself over two cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Deyes and her team of co-curators had the unenviable task of whittling over 200 interested dance companies down to 27 who will perform a complete piece at BDE, 11 who will show an informal studio work, and 40 who will take part in a ‘trade fair’.

“It was tricky,” admits Deyes, “and our decisions were based on a number of factors. Is the work under-represented – does that artist get seen enough? Is this artist iconic to British dance, or new and emerging and has a voice that’s never been heard before? And sometimes it was about practicalities – a piece not being ready, dancers not being available, an inside story that we knew about such as a recurring injury. Lots of information affected our choices.”

One of the biggest decisions Deyes and her team had to make, was which companies to open up to the public. The works needed to be large-scale enough to fill the King’s Theatre stage – and popular enough to fill the auditorium.

Suffice to say, they did well. On the first night of BDE, one of Britain’s most exciting and revered choreographers, Akram Khan, will bring his Stravinsky-inspired work iTMOi (in The Mind of igor). Khan’s background in Indian Kathak, to which he then added a contemporary dance training, has produced some stunning results over the past 15 years. And although Khan himself doesn’t dance in iTMOi, his company of dancers have taken on his unique style.

“It goes without saying that Akram Khan is a great artist,” says Deyes. “And this project was particularly close to his heart in terms of the relationship he had with Stravinsky’s music. A lot of the BDE delegates are likely to have seen iTMOi before, but we wanted there to be a big, celebratory audience engagement going on as well.”

The following night, members of the public can have their expectations blown out of the water by a diverse double-bill from Scottish Dance Theatre and London-based Avant Garde Dance.

“Scottish Dance Theatre’s Winter, Again is such a fantastic, quirky piece, and I think it shows off the company really well,” says Deyes. “And then to flip it over and have something really rootsy and funky from the east end of London, with Avant Garde’s The Black Album, we think it’s a really powerful double-bill. It’s unexpected – right from the start of Winter, Again, which has got quite a few surprises in it, to the end of The Black Album, you’re not going to know what’s coming next.”

Bringing BDE to a close, is dance artist Tim Casson, who will create a short, bespoke work inspired by what he has seen over the preceding three days. He’ll share a double-bill with Hofesh Shechter Company’s new work, Sun.

Like Khan, Shechter is a leading light in British contemporary dance, known for his highly theatrical work and visceral (self-composed) scores.

“Hofesh’s work has huge power and he’s just broken the mould completely,” says Deyes. “Usually a choreographer needs to be around for a couple of decades for their work to seep through into the psyche of young dancers – but Hofesh went from nought to 60 in about 30 seconds.”

The British Dance Edition is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, from 30 January until 2 February