Saturday, 15 November, 2003
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by Deborah Barnard
DanceUK recently published a document to encourage all aspects of the dance profession and the arts media to give dancers the respect they deserve by providing full credit for the part they play in this profession. All to often it seems dancers are regarded as mere tools for choreographers and dance companies to work with and here in the Lab could not agree more.
It is the view of this correspondent that the choreographers may sow the seeds for the work but the dancers make it grow and they are the ones on stage working their backsides off.
Here we print in full an article written by Deborah Barnard of Ludus Dance concerning the Name The Dancer campaign.
NAME THE DANCER
It could be argued that, contemporary British dance, does not command a large, loyal audience base. Over the years, there have been as many marketing initiatives to address the issue as there have been theories as to why this situation exists.
The profession itself discusses lack of leadership, lack of high-profile 'dance-champions' and lack of recognition for the form. Yet, many of us who actually work within the field would be hard pushed to name our top 10 contemporary dancers. There doesn't seem to be the same problem in relation to choreographers.
How can a profession which fundamentally relies on the performer to give life to the skills of the choreographer, fail to acknowledge (or recognise) its most critical asset - the dancer? Are we all responsible (including dancers) for promoting a choreographic centred form with less regard for the person responsible for the execution and virtuosity?
Of course, support, appreciation and acknowledgement for performers exists but it tends to be covert rather than public. There is a small, tell-tale clue - how many dance images can you find which actually name the dancer/s. We usually know who took the photograph, maybe which company the dancer represents but rarely, who they are! This tends to be the case throughout the whole use of dance imagery from photographs, posters, programmes, flyers to images in reports, the press, on websites etc.
How many schemes or awards do we know of which 'reward' or seek to develop the quality of execution? Reviewers tend to write more about the choreography than individual performers. 'In order of appearance' (written in programmes) seems to be a phrase of the past. In fact, a reviewer responded to the recent NTD email saying that she would really like to write more about the actual dancers but often doesn't know who they are and can't tell who's who by the programme.
Music has great singers, theatre has great actors, visual arts has great artists. These individuals attract media profile and public attention but, when did contemporary dance last have a dancer widely acknowledged as great? That's not to say that great contemporary dancers don't exist they do! Ballet does it better. I have a hunch that the general public appreciate virtuosity and will follow it. People like watching people and might be more likely to 'follow' a dance artist that they 'knew'.
Are we missing out on a significant opportunity?
Name the Dancer makes a simple point, but one with far reaching implications - not least in terms of a psychological shift for performers themselves. It might make sense again to actually aspire to be a great performer and recognised as such - at the moment, there seems to be little incentive (maybe this is why so many dancers wish to become choreographers?). If more overt value were placed on dancers this could influence the ability to negotiate better wage levels.
NTD is not a moan and it is not a competition between choreographer and performer - there is more than enough recognition for everyone. It is also not difficult to change the situation, starting with artists themselves and filtering outwards. If every artist were to state, contractually, that any images of themselves were to be credited, by the end of 2003, to see a named dance photograph could be the norm, in the same way as we expect to see the name of the photographer.
Dance UK is keen to progress the campaign and to follow up on the following suggestions;
To generate a simple, cost effective logo
To host a web page where people can download the logo and publicly sign up to NTD
The following aspirations have been generated in conjunction with Adam Holloway from Cheshire Dance & Nikki Tomlinson from Chisenhale Dance Space. NTD doesn't have to cost loads of money and neither does it need to create additional bureaucratic, rule-laden layers. Just a simple shift in practice and one which we can all influence easily.
Name The Dancer campaign (NTD) seeks to achieve greater public recognition of performing dance artists by;
If you would like more information about the Name the Dancer campaign then you can contact DanceUK through their website.