From January 15-19, Bristol Old Vic hosts a series of contemporary dance performances curated by Bristol-based Impermanence Dance Theatre. The company are bringing the likes of Laila Diallo, Tom Marshman and Jean Abreu to Bristol in a celebration of contemporary dance at its most adventurous. Here, Impermanence’s Josh Ben-Tovim tells us about the festival, bringing joy and colour into modern dance… and why dance in Bristol needs a shot in the arm.
So, Josh: tell us about Impermanence Presents… and why you’ve paired up with Bristol Old Vic.
Since starting out as a dance company, we’ve always looked for different ways to get our work out there; putting on our own gigs and events, often in unusual settings. We’ve regularly presented the work of makers alongside our own, to support them, and help develop a scene for dance more broadly speaking,
Impermanence Presents… feels like quite a natural development of that process. We’re so excited that the Old Vic are now supporting us to make it happen, they’re a big beautiful theatre with a great audience, and it’s brilliant they’re keen to get more dance in the building.
Is there a theme running through the festival?
Because we’re making our own work all the time, we’ve invited people whose work inspires and interests us. We don’t have a set programming criteria, it feels much more fluid than that, but I think audiences will be able to feel a coherence through the programme, everyone we’ve invited has an urgency and seriousness about what they make, whilst maintaining a sense of joy, humour and colour.
So, which companies/artists should we be looking out for during the week?
I couldn’t possibly single out any one show! I’m so excited to see them all! People should just glance at the programme and see what jumps out, and then go with their instinct.
Do you think Bristol has a healthy dance scene at the moment?
I would unfortunately have to say ‘no’, There are so many people in the city doing lots of great stuff, teachers running classes, youth companies working hard, choreographers doing their thing, as well as lots of institutions who do their best to support dance. But in comparison to every other city in the UK, Bristol is woefully lacking in infrastructure to support this ecology.
People are making it happen because they love dance and believe in the benefits of it to health, culture, the arts, education and wellbeing… but they are having to swim upstream, and it’s exhausting.
Where could dance in Bristol be in five years’ time?
In five years Bristol could have a totally thriving scene, a big festival, lots of regular programmes, loads of artists making their work, new training schemes, dance in every school, GPs prescribing dance classes, and people from all backgrounds, ages and abilities taking part and feeding in.
To make that happen, we need a dance centre of international scale and quality to raise the ambition and support for everyone involved in the sector. Somewhere for professional dancers to train, rehearse and perform, and for everyone else to find out whats going on and participate in a wide range of activities. I think it’s a massive opportunity, and we should look to the Labour Party’s Alternative Models of Ownership report to think about how a big venture could really feel owned by the people of Bristol and the dance community here.
What’s the best way into watching dance for an interested newbie?
Well, that’s an easy one… come to anything in our programme! We’ve always made work that’s emotionally driven and conceptually rich, whilst also entertaining and enjoyable for audiences. Contemporary dance can often feel a tad joyless, and we’ve always tried to separate ourselves from that. We’ve worked to ensure that all of the work we’ve booked in will be accessible and interesting for anyone. You can hold me to that!
How did Impermanence begin?
Roseanna Anderson and I met whilst training at the Rambert school, and the year after we graduated we ended up having a baby! We had to figure out a way to keep on dancing and performing, so we started inviting everyone we knew to make work and perform it in whatever way we could. In the last eight years we’ve worked with well over a hundred people, often in a collaborative non-hierarchical way. It’s been such an adventure and, thankfully, it seems to be continuing!
How did you become involved in dance?
I started break dancing when I was 14 in Sheffield, bored at school and desperate to do something stimulating and physical… I had some really inspiring teachers, it was a route out of the classroom and into the world.
What’s coming up for Impermanence in the next year?
We’re performing a new piece on the main stage of Bristol Old Vic on April 25: an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s first play, BAAL, written in 1918. It’s a dark and intense text about a character who consumes everything around them in search of greatness and then comes to a sticky end. It feels pertinent in our time of ecological crisis and political populism: we’re hoping to provide some catharsis to all that!
We’re also showing our first feature length film at Bristol Cathedral on January 24. It’s called The Ballet of the Nations and it’s based on a pacifist satire of WW1 written in 1915, where Satan & Ballet Master Death bring together an orchestra of the human passions!
After that we’ll be touring in the summer and then we’ll start a couple of new projects in the autumn, one for film and one for the stage. We’re looking at the incredible surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, and also at the Vorticists, an avant-garde group of British artists in the early twentieth century who had links with the Ballet Russes and an amazing underground cabaret scene in London at the time.
Impermanence Presents… Bristol Old Vic, Jan 15-19. For more info, visit bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on