the burning question…

In the face of Michael Gove’s initiative to replace GCSEs with the new EBacc,  the Bacc for the Future campaign is organising a petition which now has increasing support among the arts community and institutions:
“The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) threatens the very future of creative subjects – like Music, Art, Design & Technology, Drama and Dance.  By missing them off its list of core areas children must study, the Government is undermining their place at the heart of learning.
Your voice is vital to help change this.  Without them, our children will be denied the balanced education they need to grow and thrive. Without them, the skills that drive our creative economy will be lost.” (more…)

Last Saturday 13th October I went with much curiosity and anticipation to the newly formed Female Choreographers’ Collective (FCC) platform performance “We Face Forward” at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden.  Formed by two enterprising choreographers Holly Noble and Jane Coulston, the FCC is asking questions about the persistent invisibility of the work of women choreographers, rarely commissioned or programmed by established mixed repertoire companies, and lacking the media profile of their fashionable male counterparts.  Ask yourself how many current male choreographers of national standing you can name – and then name female choreographers of similar status.  Harder, isn’t it? (more…)

Experienced improviser and composer Malcolm Atkins shares his recent practice working with dancers, and raises intriguing questions about the relationship between dance and music…

Improvised music for improvised dance

As part of my practice of accompanying dance I regularly improvise for Café Reason Butoh Dance Theatre Classes. These improvisations which are solo responses to exercises and pieces developed in class, have evolved over the years I have been doing this. I was asked to record some by the class organisers and have started doing this and making them available as free downloads on a bandcamp site I set up in my name.

I have made them freely available so that anyone attending the class can develop their ideas between classes by being reminded of what they were working on but also to demonstrate that spontaneous musical improvisation in support of dance can create a very particular musical atmosphere which is often determined by the style of dance and the way the dancer stimulates and responds to a dynamically created musical accompaniment. (more…)

After a summer of invisible dance here in Oxford (see The summer of big and small) autumn arrived with some unexpected riches.  Good things in small packages were a couple of classy programmes of dance at the Burton Taylor Studio; the mesmerising Aakash Odedra in Rising, and the very likeable Yorke Dance Project. Before that Candoco at the Playhouse were inspiring and exemplary in performance of a richly varied triple bill of works by Javier de Frutos, Wendy Houston and Trisha Brown, whose Set and Reset was reset specially for the company, marking its 20th birthday.

But I was saddened and puzzled by the small audiences for these high quality and thoroughly enjoyable live dance shows. (more…)

Now on general release, Joe Wright’s film version of Tolstoy’s tragic novel Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law, and with screenplay by Tom Stoppard, has divided opinions for its stylised use of a theatre setting.  Extensive use of dance and movement has been choreographed by highly respected contemporary choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.  Please post your thoughts and comments here as to what you think of this treatment, its strengths or weaknesses…

On this weekend and into next week at the Odeon George Street…

Yet again a British politician opens his mouth in an unguarded moment and the reality of his ignorance and prejudice about dance is revealed.  This time it is David Cameron who opens his mouth and metaphorically puts his foot in it (I am sure he is neither fit nor flexible enough to do this for real), disparaging the benefits of Indian dance classes in schools.  And this on the very day that Akademi, South Asian Dance UK, performs in Westminster Hall as part of the Arts in Parliament programme of events.  And barely 10 days after the Olympics’ opening ceremony seen by countless millions, where the atmospheric dance episode during “Abide with Me” was lead by one of the UK’s most respected dance artists, a practitioner of the Indian classical dance form Kathak, Akram Khan.  Mr. Cameron wins at least a double gold for tactlessness, succeeding at a stroke in insulting both the Asian community and the dance community.  Or should that be a triple gold, given that this particular day has also seen British teams emerging strongly in the finals of the more ‘artistic’ sports disciplines of synchronised swimming (commentators cooing over the beautiful choreography) and rhythmic gymnastics? (more…)

Oxford based musician and composer Malcolm Atkins has written a trenchant reflection on the need for performing arts spaces in Oxford.  For another artist/musician’s passionate view, read Jon Bowen‘s comment on my original piece.  Please add your responses, comments and observations, and contribute to this debate as it gets underway…

Malcolm writes:

The arts in Britain are in crisis but this in itself is not unusual. The Brits have often been suspicious of culture and steadfastly philistine and class based in their approach to the arts. More than anything this applies to the performing arts in Oxford. (more…)

Last year Oxford company Ballet in Small Spaces rehearsed, produced and opened its new show at the Castle, Wellingborough; a centrally situated municipal arts centre with a fully equipped flexible theatre capable of holding up to 500 people in conventional format or of showing work in the round, supported by a studio theatre rehearsal space, small dance studio and a full time professional technical and administrative team.  This April I was part of the company performing Dancing the Invisible at the Ivy Arts Centre, University of Surrey in Guildford, a similar flexible theatre space only recently converted from an old sports centre; here alongside the theatre a large dance studio where we rehearsed daily, other rehearsal rooms and production facilities, and a technical crew in which students from Guildford School of Acting could learn by working alongside seasoned professionals.

I revelled in these working conditions which on both occasions enabled focused professional work to be intensively developed, honed and presented at a high standard.  It is not currently possible to work like this in Oxford because Oxford lacks performing arts facilities like these.  (more…)

Last Sunday’s Observer magazine carried an article by dance critic Luke Jennings about young dancers at the Royal Ballet Lower and Upper Schools.  His contention is that the number of British born and trained dancers graduating from the Royal Ballet School into the Royal Ballet Company is diminishing annually. Of the talented and dedicated young dancers entering the School at 11 years old, the majority will be progressively assessed out, the number of places squeezed as they are increasingly joined by young dancers from overseas.  Of those British dancers who do succeed in winning a Royal Ballet contract few seem to make it to the top as principal dancers in starring roles.

Uncomfortable questions arise from these stark facts – about training methods and schooling, but also as to what companies are looking for in today’s international market.  What effect does such ruthless selection have on the cream of British ballet talent during and after the training process?  How important is it to develop a distinctive home-grown British style and dancers?  And ultimately what is the argument for taxpayer support if British children have such statistically slim chances of making it into the national companies?

To read Luke Jennings’ thought provoking article and some passionate discussion emerging from it:

This Christmas has been a surprisingly good one for dance on television.  I interrupted frantic Christmas preparations to take in a re-run of the Royal Ballet Nutcracker on December 23rd, only to discover that the Royal Ballet was again visible with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Christmas Day itself.  The day continued with Darcey Bussell Dances Hollywood, the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special and later a BalletBoyz documentary about their new young male ensemble.  Or you could have switched to Matthew Bourne’s Christmas on More4 – having only a few days previously been able to see the recent recording  of his Swan Lake on Sky Arts 2.  How wonderful to see dance prominently featured in festive programming – but can we now expect a famine after such a feast?  What were your highlights of the dance offered on television over the festive season, and why?

Check out Diarmaid O’Meara’s thoughtful appraisal of Darcey Bussell Dances Hollywood on his blog Dance Dialogue…

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