Derry Festival of Dance & Movement

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company welcome audiences to their multipurpose HQ in Derry

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company tend to go about their work differently. They don’t always plan things. They don’t always have an idea of where they want to go or what they want to achieve when they get there. That is the case at least with their performance work, wherein spontaneity is key.

Away from the stage, however, there is the sense of a clear vision evident in the company's second Echo Echo Festival of Dance & Movement, which runs from November 6 – 15 at their Magazine Street home on Derry~Londonderry's ancient walls.

Last year’s event was a no-brainer, given that it was the city’s year as the first UK City of Culture. There was no such certainty about a second event, except in the minds of the company members, who envisage an annual festival of dance and movement as a permanent fixture on Derry – and Northern Ireland’s – cultural calendar.

It hasn’t been easy to set up this second festival, however. 'Finding the funding has been difficult,' confirms company manager, Ailbe Beirne. 'There are fewer resources and more competition for them, and the resources for legacy have been less than anticipated.

'It’s been an achievement to make the festival happen. It’s only the Legacy Fund and new funding from the London-based Foyle Foundation that have made it possible. Now we want the public to embrace the festival to make it sustainable in the long term.'

Attendance was impressive last year, with audience figures averaging out at around 70% capacity. This year the company is anticipating bigger audiences still. 'What people can get here is a unique experience,' argues Beirne. 'They are so close to the performance that all the subtle moments can be seen.'

Steve Batts is the company’s artistic director. 'I was really happy with last year’s festival, on all levels,' he says. 'We created a real interest, and we saw an integration of local artists within a bigger world of dance and performance. We created a colleague environment, where locally-based artists made connections internationally.'

Connections is a word that crops up again and again when talking with the people behind Echo Echo. They are what the company is trying to make, in their practice and performance, and in their relationships with artists and audiences. Their base in Magazine Street is vital to making those connections.

They moved there in 2013, so, in a way, it is no longer their new home. Now it is simply their home, where they feel settled and easy and comfortable, and able to make everything about it their own. The building has two adaptable studios rather than one large auditorium, which allows them to create the kind of experiences they want audiences to have.

'The small spaces give us flexibility,' explains Batts. 'This festival will see artists performing more often than is the norm, and the small spaces give an intimacy. It’ll be about people in a small space, getting a real depth of experience from that intimacy.'

The programme for the 2014 festival features a mixture of performances, classes, talks and live music, spread throughout all ten days, from morning to late night. As with last year, it will see a clutch of internationally-acclaimed artists and award-winning pieces working alongside performers based in Derry.

The visiting artists are old friends. 'We didn’t just go shopping for whoever was available,' adds Batts. 'It was easy coming up with people to ask. We had a clear idea of artists we wanted to invite.

'These people are long-term collaborators. Like us, they have a deeply creative motivation and a real commitment to the art form. And they’re warm-hearted about what they do, so they’ll help us create a generous, welcoming atmosphere.'

That is very much what Echo Echo are trying to achieve at Magazine Street, and not just with the festival. 'This is our home building,' says Beirne.  'We are inviting people into our own space, and we curate the atmosphere from the moment people enter the building. We control the entire experience.'

The visiting artists include Alba Lorca, Alessandro Sollima, Maria Papathanasiou, Argyro Tsampazi, Sara Campinoti, Tanzfuchs, and Do-Theatre. They will be working alongside performers from closer to home, such as Sorcha Shanahan, Oona Doherty, ZoNa Dance Co, and Claire Bonnie, as well as the Echo Echo Ensemble itself.

The varied times of the performances and talks – the earliest performances take place at 11am – give the audience choice and flexibility.  Echo Echo are committed to being family-friendly and strive to suit the needs and lifestyles of their audiences. In keeping with the intimacy of the performances, they want to meet their audiences and exchange ideas and opinions. They want people to stick around and have a cup of tea.

Although the nature of the performances will differ, the artists have much in common.  According to Batts: 'There will be a wide range of styles, textures and tones. But all the artists have that desire to connect. And all the work will emerge from an experimental, exploratory process.

'The artists and performers in the festival all start with the material and build to an outcome. They don’t start with an outcome in mind. They’ll be arriving at places they can’t predict.'

Live performance, with real presence, and real human connection, is what the festival is all about. 'The essential core thing is the richness of the live, humanising experience,' says Batts. 'We want the performers and the audience to feel essentially connected.'

It had always been Echo Echo’s intention for the festival to be an annual event. They want their dance work to be consumed and discussed, for their performances to be part of a cultural development process. They want to invite, to bring and instil passion in the city, and for audience and performers alike to create a yearly festival of friends focussed on dance.

Echo Echo Festival of Dance & Movement runs in Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company, Derry~Londonderry from November 6 – 15.