You dancin’? ‘Cos Urban Moves are askin’.

Neil McQuillian

Neil McQuillian limbers up for this weekend’s contemporary dance festival as Urban Moves brings its third edition to Manchester

From breakdance and ballet to capoeira and hip hop, via the ‘60s, the circus and a mechanical digger, this weekend’s Urban Moves contemporary dance festival sees performers exploring the form’s every angle. They’ll also be getting around Manchester city centre (and Bury, on Friday): the entire festival takes place outdoors with much of the work choreographed to make use of the surroundings.

Urban Moves is the first dance-specific festival the city has hosted, and it aims to build the profile and support for dance as a vibrant art form in Manchester. This is the third edition of the festival (previously held in 2005 and 2008), and, according to Deb Ashby of Dance Initiative Greater Manchester, their approach is all about getting contemporary dance out of the theatre and into full view of the public, introducing it to people who wouldn’t normally buy tickets for a dance performance.

At a practical level, Urban Moves has helped Northwest dance performers and choreographers earn a living from their art. Several of the eighteen or so companies that will perform at this year’s festival are formed of local talent. One, Company Chameleon, Ashby describes as ‘up-and-coming stars of the contemporary dance scene. They performed at British Dance Edition and were perceived by many to be one of the best in that programme.’ Then there is Resonance, whose piece is set in Piccadilly Station and involves characters from the 1940s who find themselves in contemporary Manchester.

Though the festival’s heart is undoubtedly in Manchester, it has a broadly international flavour, with companies and performers hailing from several European countries. One company will be visiting as part of an exchange, Ashby explains: ‘We’re part of an international network of festivals that present dance outdoors and in unusual spaces. We’re sending a piece we commissioned from Company Chameleon out to Danse en Ville, our partner festival in Belgium, and taking one from them.’

Other highlights from this year’s festival include France’s Antipodes in a performance that wends its way through Castlefield, telling a story using the walls – but whether they can compete with the shapes thrown when man meets mechanical digger (Beau Geste’s Transports Exceptionnels) remains to be seen.

Feel like dancing? The general public can take part in this year’s festival, but you’ll have to get on yer bike: Get in touch through the festival website today (Friday) if you fancy taking part in an 80-strong bicycle ballet, inspired by the film choreography of Busby Berkeley. Just keep your eyes peeled for stray mechanical diggers.

Urban Moves 2010 International Dance Festival, Manchester City Centre & Bury. Friday 23 – Sunday 25 July. Free. Images (top to bottom): Axial Dance; Bicycle Ballet, copyright Karen Poley, both courtesy Urban Moves.

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