the burning question…


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…
http://www.odeon.co.uk/fanatic/film_info/m13878/Anna_Karenina/

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:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/mar/25/will-they-make-royal-ballet

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…

Some of you may remember the talented Diarmaid O’Meara from the Ballet in Small Spaces performances in May and June this year; also from the BiSS Masterclass featuring him and Bethany Elliott with choreographer Susie Crow at the URC in March, where they previewed some extracts from new ballet Inside Out.  Diarmaid has since been dancing with National Ballet of Ireland in their new production of Scheherazade.  But he has also begun a new blog, Dance Dialogue, at http://dancedialogue.wordpress.com

Subtitled “Opinion, Debate, Review”, the blog has already hosted a stream of short thoughtful pieces from a dancer’s perspective on current issues in ballet – worth a read and response!

With ever decreasing space and opportunities for in-depth discussion of dance in print media, blogging and online magazines seem to offer a way forward for developing critical debate about dance.  Despite concerns about lack of traditional editorial control, and the possible disappearance of the informed dedicated critic with years of viewing experience, blogs can provide a space not only for aficionados but for artists such as Diarmaid to develop a voice and articulate a view.  What may be the effects for dance of losing the professional critic and gaining the blogger?  Check Dance Dialogue out – and please share other dance blogs you have found to be of interest…

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