Urban Moves Dance Festival: Moving freely

Kevin Bourke
Photo of two dancers bent forwards in the same position

This free, outdoor dance festival unfolds in Manchester’s open spaces for one day only. Don’t miss it.

Urban Moves is about movement – in more ways than one. When Dance Manchester and Manchester International Arts founded Manchester’s very first free, outdoor international dance festival, they were forerunners in what is now a national trend: professional contemporary dance performances breaking out of theatre and taking to the street. Now, this year’s Urban Moves – the fifth event since 2005, held from 12pm-6pm on Saturday 6 September – is still free, still funky and still inspiring. No less than 15 professional dance companies, mainly from across Spain, France and the UK, are involved in performing their dazzling moves in Piccadilly Gardens and Cathedral Gardens.

“The festival has always been about taking professional, contemporary dance to audiences who might not necessarily go to see dance otherwise – they might not even be a traditional arts audiences at all,” says Dance Manchester’s Director Deb Ashby. “But it’s in the city centre and it’s free, which obviously encourages people to take a chance on performances that they might not necessarily be familiar with.” The line-up is tried and tested before being presented, too, which helps lower the sense of risk.

This year’s Urban Moves is still free, still funky and still inspiring

“Every year we try to program a mixture of international, national and regional professional dance companies after seeing them live and thinking how they would work in the context of Manchester,” Ashby explains. “It’s a mixture of work that is responding to the architecture and the cityscape, along with work that it is possible to present in, for example, a paved area in Piccadilly Gardens or Cathedral Gardens. I find myself going around and taking a lot of photos of pieces of ground, so I can ask companies whether they’re suitable,” she laughs.

The majority of the companies will be performing at least twice in their allotted location, so it’s theoretically possible to see pretty much everything if you’re a dance aficionado. The organizers have tried “to pick a range of pieces that have a little bit more to them than just technique, that have a breadth of content,” says Ashby. “Some of them are purely going for the comic whereas some are more about contemporary dance addressing relationships and human nature.”

Given that performances have been specifically designed for the outdoors, the weather shouldn’t be a problem either. “To take it inside would change the whole focus away from people accessing these performances in these particular spaces when they wouldn’t normally do so,” Ashby argues. “Also, the nature of these performances themselves would change if they were on a conventional stage.”

The programme is both rich and varied. Over at Cathedral Gardens, Company Chameleon’s performance will explore how we display our strength and manage vulnerability, while HURyCAN examine what our fantasies look like when we live them out… Over in Piccadilly Gardens, Tangled Dance Company will perform Once Upon a Twisted Tale, entwining fragments of stories from childhood, where 2 Faced Dance Company look at two long-term friends’ extraordinary experiences and eccentric behaviour in Two Old Men.

“We’re ultimately looking for dance pieces that we think are of a high standard and would be interesting to an audience,” says Ashby. “But we’ve always said that we are an international festival, so this is a unique, one-day only opportunity to see work from around the world alongside some of our home-grown dance. It’s a snapshot of contemporary dance from across the world,” she concludes. Sounds like a pretty inspiring picture, to us.

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