Among the many delights that a weekend at Wilderness festival has to offer – music, light shows, outdoor swimming, copious amounts of glitter and, my new personal favourite, sock wrestling – the festival also plays host to a substantial line-up of dance.
Friday saw performances from London’s leading dance venue Sadler’s Wells, Sam Amos of TrashDollys Dance Company, artists of Breakin’ Convention, a mass dance challenge, and Swing Patrol.
TrashDollys Dance Company’s synthesis of dance and theatre creates exciting and highly physical performances. Seeing them listed in the programme I figured their athletic style could prove a good start to the dance line up at Wilderness. It turned out that only one dancer from the company would be performing – a somewhat different experience to the one I was expecting but not a disappointment. Company founder Sam Amos’ solo performance combined elements of break dance with flowing contemporary movement and provided a chilled opening to the festival.
However, with the mass dance challenge on its way the relaxed vibe was not to last long. It seems that Wilderness festival goers are a dance-loving group. Led by dance artists Sian Myers and Fenella Ryan, The Atrium stage was soon filled with a crowd ready to have a go at any move the sequin clad duo could throw at them. Another workshop on Saturday, this time by Rambert Dance Company, also proved hugely popular. From young children in tutu skirts to adults of all ages (and costumes – Saturday was the time to shine, with ‘mirror ball’ as the fancy dress theme of the day) one of Rambert’s animateurs led an eager group through a lively warm up before they tackled some moves from Rambert’s samba-inspired Un Linha Curva. Even Saturday’s indecisive weather – a confusing mixture of torrential downpours and glorious sunshine – couldn’t dampen the enthusiastic spirit on-stage.
Friday afternoon saw a return to the swing era courtesy of Swing Patrol and Shirt Tale Stompers who gave festival goers the chance to grab a partner and try this fun and energetic dance style, before artists of Breakin’ Convention brought us back to the present with their improvised hip-hop show. At times understated, at others upbeat and lively, their performance made the most of the combined skills of its artists. Musicians, rappers and beatboxers provided the soundtrack for the dancers who took it in turns to showcase their individual styles of movement. Their shared skills led to some impressive moments of improvisation as they played off the changing rhythms and influences of the music. Low-key and light-hearted, it might not have been a show to catch the eye of a passer-by but it drew an attentive crowd.
In a large, open space without an eye-catching set or lighting, it’s difficult to attract – and retain – attention. It’s probably the greatest challenge for dance at Wilderness, particularly if the performance involves just a few dancers. Yet Company Wayne McGregor proved that dance can still thrive in a festival setting. The company dancers performed excerpts from McGregor’s works Entity and Far. In typical McGregor style these excerpts were defined by intricate and highly technical choreography, executed with sharpness and clarity by the dancers. At nearly an hour long, it seemed a lengthy programme for a festival stage but the company’s virtuosic lines and articulate bodies entranced a large audience and, as the performance drew to a close, they were met with a standing ovation.
In fact, Saturday proved a strong day for dance with Company Wayne McGregor, Rambert’s highly popular workshop and a late evening performance by C12 Dance Theatre.
For C12 Dance Theatre it was their second year performing Sacrifice at Wilderness – a piece commissioned by the festival in 2016. Performed at Wilderness’ intimate theatre space, The Playhouse, Sacrifice is a piece about sisterhood and family, betrayal and magic. ‘The biggest draw of bringing work to Wilderness is being part of a collective of live art and introducing dance to audiences that wouldn’t necessarily book tickets outside of the festival’ explained Artistic Director, Adam Towndrow when I spoke to him.
As a company that regularly creates work for outdoor settings, C12 Dance Theatre are no strangers to performing in more unusual venues. For Towndrow, there’s both challenge and opportunity in bringing the company’s work to Wilderness. ‘The programme at the festival is jam packed so you can hear what is going on outside of the theatre – distraction is everywhere. However, it’s an opportunity to create work that captures and engages audiences. The audience are brutally honest and if they don’t like it, they leave; but if they stay, the applause at every performance is vocal and generous.’
At Wilderness, it’s not just the theatre spaces where dance can be found. For the more adventurous, the woodlands of Cornbury Park offered audiences the chance to connect with their inner animal in a series of workshops presented by Artful Badger. Through movement, Artful Badger encourage immersion in nature, self-expression and even dancing naked – if you feel so inclined. Elsewhere around the site there was the chance to learn the Haka or join a Barn Dance. And of course many danced the night away at The Club House, down in The Valley or in front of The Carousel.
Finally, Sunday saw Uchenna Dance draw the festival’s dance line-up to a close with The Head-Wrap Diaries. This comedic and witty work led by three female characters explores Afro-hair, beauty, womanhood and culture, in a work to empower all women.
Amongst a festival filled with attractions and jam-packed with things to see and do, it’s wonderful that dance can hold its own. It seemed that many welcomed the chance to watch a variety of dance styles and it was fantastic to see festival goers of all ages take part in the workshops on offer. Who knows, perhaps Wilderness 2018 will attract even more dance to the festival stage…
Wilderness was on over the weekend of 3 – 6 August 2017. Click here for more details.