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Club Origami, Dance Umbrella 2021
Photo by Summer Dean‘Club Origami’

The best shows to see at this year’s Dance Umbrella

London’s most vital dance festival is back IRL

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

The mind-expanding Dance Umbrella festival was forced to go digital last year, but for 2021 it’s back IRL (plus a few digi bits). Dance Umbrella is London’s boldest, brightest, most accessible festival of dance. Here are five of the best shows you can see this year.

A visually stunning masterwork from a modern dance giant 

What is it? Greek choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou’s ‘Transverse Orientation’ is one of the most anticipated European shows of this year and indeed last (when it was due to open the prestigious Avignon Festival).

Why go? Papaioannou started his life as a visual artist, and his stock-in-trade as a choreographer are head-spinningly trippy tableaux. ‘Transverse Orientation’ opened to raves in Lyon this summer, with critics swooning over its intense and disconcerting barrage of images which include a man reclining nude on a rampaging bull, a Venus-like female figure slowly appearing to give birth and a slowly appearing on-stage lake. It’s the sort of toweringly avant-garde eurocore that London has seen barely any of since the pandemic and Brexit put the brakes on. This, friends, is the hard stuff.

Sadler’s Wells. Oct 21-23. £15-£45.

An origami-based craft ’n’ dance show for the under-fives

What is it? Takeshi Matsumoto’s ‘Club Origami’ – which will tour London arts centres during Dance Umbrella – starts as a crafts sesh and transforms into an energetic, accessible work of family-friendly dance.

Why go? Dance Umbrella is one of the rare London dance events to consistently offer work aimed specifically at younger children, and ‘Club Origami’ seems likely to press all the right buttons, hooking kids in by asking them to try their hands at origami, then wowing them with fun, energetic close-up dance.

Stanley Arts, Oct 8. The Albany, Oct 9. The Place, Oct 10. Watermans Arts Centre, Oct 17. Artsdepot, Oct 24. Prices vary.

A football match with no ball

What is it? The main event in the free, outdoor DU@BellSquareLDN bill in Hounslow, Ahilan Ratnamohan’s ‘Extra Time’ features six dancers in football kit playing a game, sans actual football.

Why go? It’s a fascinating exploration of the beauty in the beautiful game. These aren’t just prancing ballet dancers doing pas de deux in an away strip. The choreography is all based on the movements of real footballers. If you believe football is an art, here’s a show that agrees with you.

Bell Square, Hounslow. Oct 9. Free.

A hip hop coming-of-age story

What is it? Hip hop choreographer and performer Dani Harris-Walters’s ‘Happy Father’s Day’ is a humorous coming-of-age story (as in, it’s literally about puberty) told via the medium of dance, rap and amusing sketches.

Why go? Paired in a double bill with Kesha Raithatha’s intense ‘Traces’, ‘Happy Father’s Day’ offers a slick, playful, fun side to the festival, and a highlight to DU’s weekend takeover of Watermans, part of its commitment to bringing world-class dance to London’s outer boroughs.

Watermans Arts Centre. Oct 16. £10.

A digital Umbrella

What is it? Despite live performance being a thing again, there are several exclusive online offerings at the festival this year. You can watch them without leaving the house by buying a Digital Pass.

Why go? Prosaically, you may simply not feel ready to return to a theatre yet, or have some other reason for not being able to make it down to see Dance Umbrella in the flesh. But the Dance Umbrella Digital Pass is absolutely not about the same shows, but on your laptop. It’s a completely different programme that ranges from exciting original commissions, like the artful dance-offs of Jade Hackett’s ‘London Battle’, to a rare chance to see Dimitris Papaioannou’s acclaimed earlier show ‘Nowhere’.

Online. Dates vary (but most shows available Oct 8-24). Pay what you can (£5-£30).

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