News: A world capital for dance

Friday 6 January 2012

Shobana Jeyasingh's 'Counterpoint' for Somerset House Courtyard, Big Dance 2010

The eyes of the world will be on London this Olympic year. As dance venues across the capital prepare to present British Dance Edition, the showcase of the best of UK produced dance (2 – 5 February), Sarah Crompton, Arts Editor in Chief of the Daily Telegraph, looks at some of the reasons which make London an extraordinarily creative place for dance right now…

It was Christopher Wheeldon who started me thinking. Last year, he was making Alice in Wonderland at the Royal Opera House, when Wayne McGregor was simultaneously working on a new work. That meant that two of the best balletic choreographers in the world were working in the same building.

“For me now London is, without question, the dance capital of the world,” he said.

There are other cities with that claim: certainly in the 1960s, New York would have been the pre-eminent capital, but now it trades more on past glories and established stars than on current creativity. Paris is a vibrant dance city, full of artists making quirky new work; Brussels has been hugely influential. Budapest and Tokyo both also have lively, intelligent, interested dance scenes.

But when you come to think about it, London really does take some beating. Wayne McGregor is just as emphatic as Wheeldon in his belief that London is – without doubt – the place to be. “It is ambitious for dance,” he says. “It is no coincidence that so many talented, productive and inspiring choreographers and dance artists live in London where support for dance is incredible.”

Certainly as a dance writer, I am always amazed by the way in which any dance work – however outlandish – is capable of finding an audience. It might be a small audience, but it will be supportive and interested. It might be an ethnic audience, since one of the qualities that everyone who comes to London recognises is that its role as a global city means that there are many different nationalities living here – each with their own dance tastes.

This globalism is part of the reason there is such a rich variety of dance on display in London, but it also feeds into another quality of the capital’s dance scene: its ever changing multi-culturalism which both alters the kind of work being made here and allows many choreographers and dancers to feel entirely at home.

As Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells says: “Alongside all the talented indigenous choreographers – people like Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan and Wayne – people from all over the world, like Hofesh Shechter, Frauke Requardt and Luca Silvestrini, are drawn to London despite it being a very expensive place to live and work. They make it their base because there is such a lot going on – there’s a of network of support and there are good facilities for class and rehearsals and so on.

“But there is also a sort of openness. People can find a platform for whichever approach they take to dance. One sort of aesthetic does not rule.”

It was exactly that diversity that Shobana Jeyasingh responded to when she first began her career 25 years ago. “I just found London incredibly exciting. It was as if the volume had been turned up on my world.” She still finds the same sustenance in what she describes as “a really remarkable city”.

But she is also keen to point out how important she thinks Britain’s state funding of the arts has been to the creation of a culture where dance has had a chance to thrive. “People moan about the amounts given, but the fact that there is a belief in the essential goodness of the arts and that it is worth publicly funding them means that there is a validation of the value of the arts – and of dance – for their own sake. That is part of the buzz that there is in London about dance.”

Jeyasingh says this even though her long-established company suffered a 27 per cent cut in Arts Council funding this year, and she has some concerns that there is now less space for younger artists to try new things and make mistakes; nevertheless organisations such as The Place continue, in her view, to nurture young talent and subsidy supports their efforts.

Wayne McGregor agrees: “I know we have had a deathly year with the cuts in funding, and we must be protective about the cuts that affect the smaller, more experimental companies and dancers, but all things considered support for dance financially in London is huge, continuing and envied throughout the world. You don’t see that scale of intervention in many other world cities.

“But isn’t it also exciting that dance can work commercially? Look at Matthew Bourne or Kate Prince, look at Javier de Frutos working with the Pet Shop Boys or me with Radiohead. There’s a blurring of boundaries going on which means that choreographers are working in plays, opera, art galleries, commercials, in pop videos and in films. In science and with scientists. So many worlds are colliding and dance artists are being asked to participate across disciplines.

“London has always been considered the world’s melting pot and now here dance can touch and coexist with so many other aspects of living.”

This is a quality of the current London dance scene which Siobhan Davies also cherishes. She loves the way that, in her South London studio and beyond, dance makers are now asking questions about the way their discipline interacts with the world around it, how it touches politics, science, economics, philosophy.

It is a long way from dance as the kind of entertainment you might find at the Peacock Theatre, for instance, but in that difference lies part of the health of the capital’s dance ecology. “It is a very exciting time to be working here,” she says. “It is tremendously difficult to be an independent dance artist, but there is a plethora of them working here and there seems to be a collective energy which is pushing them onward.”

The idea that the energy Christopher Wheeldon first remarked upon in the very balletic setting of the Royal Opera House rushes through the city to venues such as Laban [now Trinity Laban], the Place, Sadler’s Wells, and far far beyond, inspiring dance makers and audiences with a sense of both purpose and creativity is part of the quality of London as a dance capital. And it makes it a fitting host city for this year’s British Dance Edition – a celebration of all that is best in dance.

British Dance Edition runs at venues across London from 2 – 5 February. There are a limited number of delegate places, with programmers and promoters given priority – but several performances are open to the public, including:
a triple bill from Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, Candoco Dance Company, Hofesh Shechter Company at Sadler’s Wells
and Richard Alston Dance Company and National Dance Company Wales at Southbank Centre

Full details:
www.britishdanceedition.com

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