Back live, onstage and in person: Let’s Dance International Frontiers 2022

David Mead looks ahead to the 2022 edition of the annual festival in Leicester, which opens on April 29, with Pawlet Brookes, CEO and Artistic Director of presenters Serendipity.

Pawlet Brookes, who was awarded an MBE for services to the arts and cultural diversity in New Year Honours
Photo Stuart Hollis

“To be honest, it’s really exciting,” admits Pawlet Brookes. “It’s frantic but it’s a nice energy. It’s great to be dealing with live musicians, composers, different choreographers, different spaces and getting everything ready for the launch. It’s mind-blowing trying to get all the different component parts to work.”

After two years ‘off’, Let’s Dance International Frontiers is back in person. As always, it will make full use of the many and varied spaces Leicester has to offer, not only the Curve and other theatres, but the Guildhall, Museum & Art Gallery and more. Even the street. Looking back over the past two years, Brookes says, “What’s been interesting is people taking ownership of space. We’ve always looked at different spaces and places but, over the last two years people started to have more ownership of space. Just think of our 30 Seconds of Freedom film, where there were things like someone dancing on a highway with nothing there because everything was locked down. We thought it was really important to continue that vibe and look at how people explore, look at and work in different spaces.”

Hence this year’s theme, ‘In Situ: Responding to Space, Place, People and Time’, which Brookes explains “reflects how dance inhabits different spaces and particularly how dance practitioners have continued to be incredibly innovative in the face of challenging restrictions. The theme also recognises the embodiment of knowledge in dance from the African and African Caribbean Diaspora.”

Diversity is front and centre of the programme. This year’s ‘headline’ company is New York-based Ballet Hispánico, presently celebrating its 50th anniversary, which closes the festival on the Curve’s main stage on May 6-7. The mixed bill spans Latinx cultures and features Tiburones by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, which addresses the discrimination and stereotypes placed upon Latinx culture; Con Brazos Abiertos, Michelle Manzanales’ fun but frank look at a life caught between Mexican and Texan cultures, and that features an eclectic score that runs from Julio Iglesias to rock en Español; and 18+1 by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, a quirky, playful work to the rhythms of Pérez Prado’s mambo music.

Eduardo Vilaro
Photo Rachel Neville

The company’s Artistic Director, Eduardo Vilaro will also be giving a masterclass and the closing keynote at the festival’s conference and participating in a ‘Conversation and Cocktails’ session as part of Dance Dialogues. Brookes admits to being immensely proud that the LDIF22 shows will mark Ballet Hispánico’s debut on an English stage.

Brookes explains that she had wanted to bring the company over since seeing and meeting them at the Joyce Theater a few years ago. “They are beautiful dancers. Their work is fabulous. They play with ballet and contemporary dance, and fuse it with other forms. I can see where it relates to the Caribbean; and if you look at a lot of the dancers in the company, if you read their history and what has influenced them, it seems to join up the dots around diaspora. If you think of the Afro-Caribbean, you can see the connections. We’ve showcased a lot of work coming out of Africa and the Caribbean, but we’ve not necessarily gone in between. What we are doing is trying to join up the dots around diaspora.”

She adds that it’s also good and right to put something out there that might not be so well known in the UK, even if a company or choreographer is established or well-known elsewhere. “It is important to open up what people have access to.”

For a separate feature on Ballet Hispánico, click here.

As always, LDIF opens on International Dance Day, April 29, when two site-specific works will be presented at Leicester’s Museum and Art Gallery. With choreography by Monique Jonas to a new score for string quartet by Philip Herbert, Siren Calls: To an Illusive Journey honours the Windrush generation and reflects on their experiences; while Artincidence’s Annabelle Guérédrat and Henri Tauliaut will present a new version of their Nus Descendant L’Escalier, seen through an Afro-punk lens.

Annabel Guérédrat and Henri Tauliaut of Artincidence will present a new interpretation of Nus Descendant L’Escalier
Photo Artincidence

A second interpretation of Siren Calls: To an Illusive Journey by artistic director Thomas Prestø forms part of Norwegian company Tabanka Dance Ensemble’s triple bill at the Sue Townsend Theatre.

At Leicester’s historic Guildhall, Yinka Esi Graves and Maya Taylor bring to life two collaborative solo works first shared online as part of LDIF 2020 and 2021. Brookes explains that Graves’ The Disappearing Act is a sort of immersive exhibition in terms of how people will see her new films, with Taylor’s Shape|Shifter live in the room next door. While Brookes feels really privileged that people stuck with LDIF throughout the pandemic, she says it’s great to have them back in person, coming into the spaces and now able to see the works at their fullest.

Tabanka Dance Ensemble, who will perform at LDIF 2022
Photo Rob Sloetry Covell

Dance in the City will take place daily from 29 April to 8 May on the streets of the city, with performances filmed and available to view online.

Rising dance talent takes to the stage at the Curve with Signatures, the platform for emerging talent, Black British Dance Platform, a collaboration between Serendipity and Dance4 that aims to support and nurture dance artists from the African and African Caribbean diaspora based in England. Brookes explains that they have consolidated their partnership even more, investing more in the artists, giving them more studio time and having an independent mentor work alongside the artists to support them in their development.

The theme for Let’s Dance International Frontiers 2022 is
‘In Situ: Responding to Space, Place, People and Time.’
Dance can be anywhere: on a stage, in a studio, on screen, in the streets.
Pictured: Ashley Mayeux in Paris
Photo MelikaDez

Besides onstage performances, LDIF22 also has workshops, talks, a conference, networking opportunities, and online events for dance fans and delegates who can’t attend in person. The latter includes JOMBA!, a film showcase on a theme of Border Crossings presented in partnership with leading South African dance festival of the same name, and which talks about some of the socio-political issues that are relevant to these young people and that they are having to deal with that – and how they are managing to deal with that through dance. Brookes feels it is really important to show how and what people around the world are creating, what dance practitioners are thinking, what issues they are facing, and how they are tackling them.

Dance Dialogues is a series of conversations, inviting contributors to share their expertise on a broad range of topics including decolonising dance practice, the mental wellbeing of black male dancers through to black presence in ballet. On the latter, Brookes says, “There are still conversations that too many people don’t want to have: wrong colour tights, wrong colour pancake. We stick to the technical issues but avoid the real painful issues that some artists might have to go through just to perform.”

Brookes says she is particularly proud to have John Hunte from Barbados as one of the speakers at the conference. Barbados was always known as Little England, and he will address what that means culturally for artists and their work, also looking at the possible impact on the arts of the political changes that have been in the news recently.

It’s impossible to disagree with Brookes when she says, “This year is wonderful in that we are not just going to sit in front of a screen. We are going to theatres, we are meeting and interacting with people. Dance on film is great but you do see things differently live than you do through the camera. I am so happy to go back to live and that shared feeling. It’s just magical. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Let’s Dance International Frontiers runs from April 29 to May 8, 2022 at venues across Leicester. Visit for full details of what’s on and booking links.