INTERVIEW | Pawlet Brookes, Let's Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018.

Between 29 April - 12 May the Let's Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 will celebrate eight years of collating innovative dance from around the world to the city of Leicester. The 2018 festival focuses on Ancestral Voices: Dance Dialogues. The programme involves discussion, performances, workshops, masterclasses, and films. The festival also reflects upon the rich traditions of dance from the African and African Caribbean diaspora and celebrates the pioneers behind groundbreaking dance internationally. The artists involved in LDIF18 come from Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Senegal, Trinidad, UK, and Zimbabwe. 

Ahead of the festival, I caught up with the festival's Artistic Director, Pawlet Brookes about this year's fantastic line-up and the history of the festival. 



So Let’s Dance International Frontiers is back for its eighth year, can you tell us a little bit about its foundations and what it showcases?
Let’s Dance International Frontiers, as the name might suggest, is international in its perspective, and we ensure that is reflected in our work by showcasing artists from around the world and bringing diversity to the forefront in dance. We launch each year on International Dance Day, 29 April and then runs for ten days throughout May.

The idea for the festival grew out of a trip I took with my daughter to see a dance performance in a nearby city, and I thought “we could do this in Leicester” because many years ago Leicester used to have a dance festival. It grew from there, and over the last few years, the festival has developed into its present form with documentary films, workshops and masterclasses, our annual conference, and performances ranging from emerging artists to international acclaimed dance companies.

The festival reflects on traditions of dance from the African and African diaspora, what made you focus on that area of dance primarily in your work?
Although our programming isn’t exclusive, our work does have a certain focus on dance from the African and African Caribbean diaspora. This has really grown out of a need to increase diverse programming in the mainstream. For example, there are amazing companies such as PHILADANCO, who featured in LDIF last year, who have been around for forty years, and are essentially a major training ground for African American dancers, who go on to dance with companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Before last year, PHILADANCO had never performed in the UK before.

Germaine Acogny, who will be our headline performance for LDIF18, is a trailblazer in contemporary
African dance but hasn’t performed in the UK for many years. Many African and African Caribbean practitioners are still not being recognised in the mainstream, despite making huge contributions to the international dance ecology, and we are trying to change that and also preserve that legacy. This year’s theme Ancestral Voices: Dance Dialogues is about reflecting upon the rich traditions of dance from the African and African Caribbean diaspora, celebrating pioneers from Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Senegal, Trinidad, Zimbabwe, and also celebrating that presence in the UK. Many of the artists involved are exploring and honouring their own heritage and traditions while simultaneously making that exploration contemporary; they’re also codifying techniques to pass onto the next generation. For instance, Antoinette Stines is the creator of Antech, a Caribbean dance technique that encompasses traditions such as Kumina and drills down on technique not dissimilar to ballet. Namron is one of the founders of London Contemporary Dance, and has been instrumental in the development of contemporary dance in the UK, and we need to recognise and celebrate this.

The work is from all over the globe, how do you select those artists and their work to bring to your festival? How long is that process?
We seek out artists who are trailblazers, those who are shaping the international dance ecology and we like to build up a relationship with the artists we work with, providing a mix of new and old faces, but we always programme within the theme and the performances all link in some way, and the festival itself has developed a force of its own, which we are only just starting to realise. Germaine Acogny, for example, approached us about her interest in being a part of the festival, and we jumped at the chance to have her as she is such a tour de force. Nora Chipaumire, featured as part of the panel at last year’s conference and we just clicked with our shared goals. 

On the other hand, Signatures, our platform for emerging artists is an open call and it’s a great opportunity to find new talent and be able to support that talent.The process of building the programme can take two or three years (sometimes longer). Working with artists from all over the world requires a fair amount of logistical planning! We work within a narrow programming window in April and May, so we have to begin programming in advance to ensure artist availability. Although some elements of the programme come together slightly quicker, with the selection for Signatures taking place about seven months before the festival.


This festival is fantastic for the city of Leicester, is it important for you to showcase it in this city? Have you ever thought of having it elsewhere?
Let’s Dance International Frontiers’ spiritual home is Leicester. The programme reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the city, and although we might do the odd performance or event outside of Leicester, that feeds into the wider programme. In terms of hosting it in other places… we will have to see what the future holds. 

What is one must-see work at the festival this year for you? Why?
That is a very difficult question! I’m looking forward to seeing everything. If I have to just choose one, I think I have to say Germaine Acogny’s performance Somewhere at the Beginning. If you are looking to see an artist who has contributed so much to the international dance ecology, and still continues to teach and perform at seventy-three years old, finding a dialogue between live art, dance, and theatre. Her work has such gravitas and offers up an opportunity to question current issues, but not without humour.

Signatures is part of the LDIF and is in partnership with Dance4, what excites you about this
partnership and being able to create a platform for people?
Supporting and nurturing emerging artists is an integral part of LDIF, and now we are in the eighth year of the festival we are starting to see some of the artists we have worked with start to do really well. I think it's really important to keep that relationship. We have increasing numbers of applications every year from around the world, which are all reviewed by a selection panel from Serendipity and Dance4 in Nottingham. Artists are then picked to participate, and supported in developing a new piece of work for the festival.

Do you have a story of somebody who has used the Signatures platform and gone on to being a successful choreographer or dance artist?
Many of the artists featured in Signatures have gone on to do amazing things, and we are fortunate to be part of many of their journeys, especially if they are selected to develop their work for Autograph (the next ‘step up’ from Signatures). Cameron McKinney, who featured as part of the Signatures platform in 2015, is now an emerging choreographer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, and we just hosted the UK debut of his full company Kizuna Dance. It has been fantastic to see him grow and gain recognition. Other former Signatures artists include Avat├óra Ayuso, who has done much to increase equal opportunities for women in the dance sector; Jamaal Burkmar, who was awarded the New Adventures Choreographer Award in 2015 and Sara Dos Santos, who has been raising awareness of human trafficking in Brazil.

Empowering the next generation is something that is really important; we can't be gatekeepers, we have to open up opportunities for the next generation to take over.

To finish off, why do you think people should come and see some work at the LDIF and what can they expect?
Whether you are an avid dance viewer, or whether you have never seen any dance before, everyone is
welcome. This year we are working to make the performances as accessible as possible with two
performances; Urban Jazz Dance Company and Autograph having British Sign Language and American
Sign Language interpretation, which is a first for us.

Audiences can expect to see high quality, high energy performances. If you are looking to have fun, come and see Nora Chipaumire’s 100% POP, which embraces 80s music scene with an homage to Grace Jones. If you are interested in hearing the personal story of one of the UK’s contemporary dance trailblazers, come and see Biography: An Evening with Namron. Want to support the next generation of dancers and choreographers? Come along to Signatures and Autograph. Passionate about inclusive dance practice? Check out Urban Jazz Dance Company. Like though-provoking performances? Then Germaine Acongy’s Somewhere at the Beginning is for you!

We love being able to meet so many audiences from across Leicester, Leicestershire, and this has grown
to expand to a national and international reach, and are always thrilled to see new and familiar faces. There are some audience members who have been to the festival every year since it started. LDIF is about bringing artists and audiences together, and that is important to us.


You do not want to miss the fantastic LDIF taking place within Leicester between 29 April - 12 May. You can find out more about the LDIF programme by visiting their website here

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