Since its inception in 1986, Union Dance has been one of Britain's most acclaimed and innovative contemporary dance companies. Its eclectic blend of contemporary dance, martial arts and urban street moves has made the company a major draw on the international dance circuit. Young audiences clamber to see the company's latest work while many of the world's leading contemporary choreographers are eager to create new pieces for their constantly expanding repertoire. As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, its South African-born artistic director, Corinne Bourgaard, talks about the inspiration behind her work.
"When I created Union Dance in 1986 there was nothing around which combined the dynamics of street dance and martial arts with a solid contemporary dance training. Dance was still seen at that time as very much a white European art form and I know as a dancer I found this quite alienating, so when I created Union Dance I wanted very much a company where people like me would feel at home. I also wanted to create a company which I felt would have some connection to my cultural heritage. When we first started doing this, people were very surprised by our work. But now, I have lost track of the number of companies who have imitated our style. It makes me proud to think we were first to do this."
Corinne Bourgaard was born in apartheid South Africa and, being what would then have been classified as "Cape Coloured", her parents took the painful decision to leave the country. "I think my parents felt that there would be more opportunities for me out of the country and of course they were right," Bourgaard now says. "I don't think the reality of South Africa actually hit me until I returned not long after Nelson Mandela was released. I was shocked at the level of bigotry that I found there. I will never forget what happened when we enquired about buying a house. We were told in no uncertain terms that we couldn't because we were the wrong colour.
"I have been back since and have seen how much the country has changed, and there are some of the most beautiful places I have seen anywhere in the world, but childhood experiences leave a pretty big impression on you."
Bourgaard has not only been surprised at the racial problems that she has encountered in her visits to her native land but also in the bureaucratic hassles that she has encountered in Britain when she tried to arrange tours for Union Dance in South Africa.