The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Val Bourne
Val Bourne
Dance Umbrella
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Presenter Interview
Founder Val Borne talks about   the Dance Umbrella festival  
Val Borne is the founder and Artistic Director of the Dance Umbrella festival that has been run in London for 27 years. Ms. Borne was in Japan recently to serve as a committee member of the Toyota Choreography Award, representing as one of the world-class presenters of international contemporary dance community. This interview took place during her visit in Tokyo..
(July 8, 2005 in Shibuya, Tokyo. Interviewer: Yoko Shioya, Director of Japan Society, New York)

The Dance Umbrella festival has continued for over a quarter of a century. Could we begin by looking back over its course until now?
When I was a junior officer at the Arts Council England I wrote a proposal to suggest that we should have a festival in London to showcase all British choreographers in small companies. Then I left the Council for working to join the Greater London Arts. Before my arrival, only one officer ran Dance & Drama Section at the Grater London. They decided that there was enough stuff happening to hire one more staff member, and they hired me. One day, the Arts Council England rung me up and said “OK we have agreed on your proposal. What will you do?”
So, can we do it? We had five months to make a festival. Such a short notice! (laughs). But that was a part of my job while I had other things to do. Still, I was not alone and we were able to organize the first festival in November 1978.

From the first time, was the festival called Dance Umbrella?
Yes, but we did not invent the name “Dance Umbrella.” It was from New York. There was a festival called “Dance Umbrella” run by TAG (Technical Assistance Group), which was working with Arts Services, a non-profit organization that represented people like Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and Douglas Dunn, and dance people as well. They worked together to organize a festival to showcase those artists. Somebody saw it in New York and thought that was a good idea, and that was why I took that name. So the name was not my idea.
Our Dance Umbrella was supposed to be one festival. It was a big success, much more successful than anybody had predicted. So we decided to do the second one. And it happened in 1980 because we spent about 15 months to prepare. And the third one happened in autumn of 1981.

The third one, you did independently, not with the Greater London Arts (Council).
After the second one, a Fine Arts officer at Greater London Arts realized that it had cost a lot of money, much more than they expected. Trans-Atlantic phone calls, no e-mails, no fax. Everything was by telephone. It was also expensive in the postage and mailings required. So they sort of kicked us out—and we became independent.

Wasn’t that a courageous decision? When even the government funding could not afford the expenses, why did you think you could do it independently?
When we were discussing with artists in NY, we found the Arts Services that provided a management service and represented several artists. And we also looked into another organization called Pentacle — which still exists in New York — as a different kind of model. We decided to go with the Arts Services model and created a service for British artists based on it. As for the money, Portugal’s Gulbenkian Foundation gave us to start that management services enabled us to be independent and financed the festival as well. So, for eight years we provided management services, representing four or five different (dance) companies and artists at any one time, while organizing the festival annually.

Was the Arts Services your main thing for those first eight years, mission-wise?
It was equal, really. The problem was that the management was so successful—or the artists became successful—that this aspect took more and more time, and the companies become bigger, they had more dates and more tours, and it meant more work. Anyway, by 1988, we decided we had done as much as we could with the management business. Some of our companies had become successful enough to have a fulltime manager of their own. With us they would have to share their business. So what we hoped was each one of them would grow to the point that they could function on their own, and that is what happened.

From the late 80s into the 90s you were organizing festivals in places other than London as well. Are you focusing primarily on London again in recent years?
Yes, but we also do touring productions. Since 1995 we have usually done one large-scale tour every year. We usually do these tours with American companies. This year we did with Mark Morris.

Why is this?
I don’t know. It is interesting because I am not doing it exclusively. It began with Mark Morris, Steven Petronio, Trisha Brown. Last year it was with Merce Cunningham. I think this year was the 4th tour with Mark. But we also did tours for Belgium’s Rosas and Israel’s Inbal Pinto and France’s Montalvo Hervieu. And now we are just beginning a program of small-scale tours next year. It is financed by a grant we received from some foundation for three years to do two tours every year for small companies. So Dance Umbrella will concentrate on our London festival and these tour programs.

We hear that for 2005 you received a grant from the French government and 10 French companies are coming...
Yes, this is the first case. Back in 1989, which was the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution’s Declaration of Human Rights, we did collaboration on French work which we call “Revolutionary Tactics,” which we did in conjunction with John Ashford of The Place Theater. He brought like five or six French companies in the spring and we brought five companies to our festival in the autumn.
But it wasn’t as big as this year’s one. This one is called “France Moves,” similar to the one that happened in New York four or five years ago. We will organize it as a sort of festival within our annual [Dance Umbrella] festival. There will be 10 companies, with two of the main productions being the Paris Opera Ballet—which will perform Le Parc with choreography by Angelin Preljocaj—and the Lyon Opera Ballet performing Tricodex with choreography by Philippe Decouflé. But the whole thing of “France Moves” kicks off with the debut of a Franco British collaboration—which brings together a duo of France’s Sylvie Guillem and British choreographer Russell Maliphant. In fact Russell has done a choreography work with Sylvie in the past for George Piper Dance Company commonly known as a Ballet Boyz. But Russell has never danced with Sylvie before. This festival will be the first time.
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