Add These Must-See Contemporary Dance Shows To Your Diary

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DU17 Lisbeth Gruwez 1 Credit Luc Depreitere
Lisbeth GruwezPhotography by Luc Depreitere

London’s calendar is teeming with performance this autumn. Here are ten of its best offerings, selected by artistic directors in the know

Little rivals the vivid excitement of a night at the dance – as you’ll know, if ever you’ve slipped into something special for a show at Sadler’s Wells and people-watched out on Rosebery Avenue during the interval. The spectacle of what everyone is wearing is nearly always as giddy-making as what the dancers can do with their bodies, and even if you don’t fully understand dance, it’s hard to resist being drawn in by the sheer emotion of it. It's liberating even, to know you can swim in the spectacle without speaking the language.

If you’re eager to swim, this autumn is full of spectacular dance performances to explore. With the expertise of Eva Martinez, Emma Gladstone and Isabella Maidment – artistic programmer at Sadler’s Wells and artistic directors at Dance Umbrella and Tate respectively – we’ve chosen the dates you shouldn’t miss.

1. Lisbeth Gruwez, Julie Cunningham and others, Shoreditch Takeover at Shoreditch Town Hall: October 26 – 28, 2017

A record player and a stack of Bob Dylan on vinyl set the stage for Lisbeth Gruwez Dances Bob Dylan. A precise and minimal work from Lisbeth Gruwez, it captures that fleeting moment at the end of the night when there’s one person left on the dancefloor, still lost in music. “She’s like the Patti Smith of the dance world,” says Emma Gladstone, artistic director of London dance festival Dance Umbrella, which kicks off in October. The same night, Julie Cunningham – who’s danced with Merce Cunningham (no relation) and Michael Clark – performs a bespoke piece, set to text about ambiguity and sexual orientation.

2. Geumhyung Jeong, 7ways at Tate Modern: October 2 – 8, 2017

South Korean artist and choreographer Geumhyung Jeong performs her UK debut of 7ways twice in Tate Modern’s Tanks, as part of a week-long presentation of her work to coincide with Frieze. “It’s an extraordinarily surreal, beautifully unsettling ‘duet’ with everyday objects,” says Isabella Maidment, assistant curator of performance at Tate Modern. Ranging from industrial vacuum cleaners to mannequins, objects become the partner in a piece that moves from intense to the bizarre. An installation of Jeong’s new work is also on view for free, alongside live demonstrations each day.

3. Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues at Sadler’s Wells: October 19 – 20, 2017

“I’m looking forward to Lyon Opera Ballet’s Trois Grandes Fugues, as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella festival,” says Maidment, who is otherwise currently consumed with work on Tate’s upcoming retrospective of Joan Jonas, the pioneering American performance artist, which opens in the spring. This is inked firmly in the diary, though, with three pieces by “three phenomenal women choreographers: Lucinda Childs, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Maguy Marin.” Each performance is set to the same score, Beethoven’s notoriously challenging Grosse Fuge op. 133.

4. Hetain Patel, The Jump, and Don’t Look At The Finger at Manchester Art Gallery: September 30 – February 4, 2017

Hetain Patel, who is a New Wave Associate at Sadler’s Wells, has been described in the press as an “accidental dancer,” which is perhaps to say ‘a dancer we don’t see a lot’, i.e., British, Asian, and Northern. In The Jump and Don’t Look At The Finger – two new films on show in Manchester – Patel explores his ongoing fascination with humorously re-staging archetypal Hollywood action scenes within domestic settings.

5. Vera Tussing, The Palm of Your Hand #2 at Kaaitheater, Brussels: November 17 – 18, 2017

Vera Tussing is known for creating unexpected encounters between performer and audience, and the young Brussels-based choreographer and dancer is Isabella Maidment’s one-to-watch tip: “I’m excited to see how her work develops,” she says. In The Palm of Your Hand #2, Tussing has transformed one of her existing pieces into a dance of meaningful touch. Created to be accessible to the blind and visually impaired, it coaxes the senses as performers and audience keep a constant communication rooted in implicit understanding. The Palm of Your Hand #2 will also be performed at The Place, London, on October 21, 2017.

6. Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods & Münchner Kammerspiele, Until Our Hearts Stop at Sadler’s Wells: November 15, 2017

“It’s almost a crime that London dance lovers haven’t had the chance to encounter the beauty of Meg Stuart’s world,” says Eva Martinez, artistic programmer at Sadler’s Wells. It’s been Martinez’ career-long ambition to make that happen: “Her work is about how to be together, which is so important right now.” In London for only one night, Until Our Hearts Stop is unruly, vulnerable and full of life.

7. Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain: until January 21, 2018

A hot water bottle or jelly-like blocks of resin may not be the foundations of a conventional dance piece, but Emma Gladstone urges us to think differently about Tate Britain’s current Rachel Whiteread retrospective. “Dance works with space after all, and her sculptures show a curiosity about how we notice, or don’t notice the space around things in our daily lives. She plays with what’s not there, and succeeds in being simultaneously witty and profound. Quite a feat.”

8. Company Wayne McGregor, Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells: October 4 – 7, 2017

In new work Autobiography the multi-award winning Wayne McGregor explores how the lives we lead leave marks on a cellular level. Here, the sequencing of his own genome is the starting point for a series of portraits which reflect on self, life, writing and the ambiguity of memory. With a score from electronic artist Jlin and costumes by Aitor Throup, this world premiere follows McGregor’s recent work with Gareth Pugh, and the much-lauded +/- Human in collaboration with art collective Random International and Warp Records, staged at Roundhouse this summer.

9. Michael Clark Company, to a simple, rock 'n' roll... song at Barbican: October 18 – 28, 2017

Michael Clark, once the enfant terrible of dance, brings an arresting triptych which veers from gentle and refined to full-pelt anthemic joy, just so. This Olivier Award-nominated piece, which premiered at Barbican last year, unfurls with Erik Satie’s piano, building through Patti Smith’s Horses to triumphant David Bowie. Charles Atlas’s lighting design envelopes it all with the bright yolk of a sunset, and the cool opening of a dawn.

10. Maud Le Pladec & Okwui Okpokwasili, Hunted at Sadler’s Wells: November 17 – 18, 2017

How many words must the sisterhood reappropriate before the work can be done? Recently it’s been ‘nasty woman’, ‘slut’, and in solo work Hunted French choreographer Maud Le Pladec and multi-disciplinary artist Okwui Okpokwasili turn their attention to ‘witch’, that centuries-old label for disobedient women. “It deals with race and the deep injustices made to women over the years in a powerful way,” says Eva Martinez. “And Maud’s a music nerd. Her choreography taught me to listen differently to music, almost by making me seeing it.” Performer Dorothee Munyaneza is one to watch, says Emma Gladstone. Indeed, all three are: Okwui Okpokwasili’s work Poor People’s TV Room was also the talk of the New York downtown dance scene this year.