Dance's Big Guns at the Riflemaker
A debate on the future of dance, November 4 2011
IN THESE DAYS of financial and political turbulence with shrinkage of public subsidy of the arts (and of private purses) it is timely to think about how the dance world should respond and where it should be heading. The Arts Desk website has become one of the first ports of call for critical writing and reviews in the two years since it was set up as a light footed alternative to the websites of the print publications. One of its co-founders, the writer and dance critic Ismene Brown, chaired this debate on the current place and future of dance which was arranged in association with the proselytising organisation Dance UK.
The somewhat eccentric but very appealing venue was the Riflemaker gallery in Soho. 200 years old and not substantially changed since the early 1700s (admire the picturesque peeling paint and mind your head as you go down the stairs) it is a small modern art gallery, very small for an important event of this sort where some 50 people were crammed into the ground floor room.
The participants were Alistair Spalding (artistic director and chief executive of Sadler's Wells Theatre), Arlene Phillips OBE (Hot Gossip founder, West End choreographer, TV judge), Caroline Miller (director of Dance UK), Craig Hassall (MD of English National Ballet), Robert Noble (co-director of New Adventures and deputy managing director Cameron Mackintosh Ltd), Rosie Kay (choreographer and artistic director of Rosie Kay Dance Company), Tamara Rojo (Royal Ballet principal dancer) and Val Bourne (founder and artistic director for 28 years of Dance Umbrella). This was a very well chosen panel, representative of the main strands of dance culture (though Kate Prince of ZooNation had emailed to ask why hip hop was not represented!).
In view of the venue (it really was a rifle maker's shop) it would be easy to run away with military metaphors and puns about the panel taking potshots at the culture secretary for his ill-advised remarks about dance, or their exploding of myths about dance being a soft academic option, or their carefully targeted approach to the questions (no scattergun cannonades), and the expertise with which Ismene Brown marshalled her forces, but that would be too facile! The event was serious, thoughtful, informative, impassioned and at the same time full of good-humour.
It started with an "If you had one wishÉ" and the responses were:
Val Bourne - affordable access to dance events
Craig Hassall - better integration of dance into the general culture
Rosie Kay - abolish student tuition fees
Tamara Rojo - expansion of the work of the NIDMS (National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science)
Arlene Phillips - 10 minutes of dance to start every school day
Alastair Spalding - investment in affordable dance education
Robert Noble - dance to be elevated from its lowly position, especially in the commercial sector
Caroline Miller - a living wage for dancers
From there the topics covered were communicating the value of dance to the polity; the effects of abandoning public subsidy; the place of hip hop and the mixed ecology of the dance world; more adventurous work in the ballet world; should the Royal Ballet tour; the consequences of the regionalisation of Arts Council funding; is dance a soft educational option; should dance do an Occupy Westminster; and a lot more besides.
If this event had just been for an in-crowd of 50 it could rightly be seen and criticised as pure navel gazing. How fortunate now that the internet makes global distribution a mouse-click away. A full transcript and video of the debate is available on The Arts Desk website. It is well worth reading or watching. theartsdesk