The EvilImp™Whose Work Is It Anyway?

Published on Sunday, 13 October, 2013 | Comments

contemporary dance is an art form on the fringes, dance makers can't afford to be precious about their work, especially when it's paid for by the public.

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The Long Con

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

The Apprentice

Wednesday, 21 August, 2013

For the most recent Coda Dance Festival in Oslo Ballet de Lorraine from Nancy in France brought a new work from Norwegian dance maker Ingun Bjørnsgaard.

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Long time followers of Article19 will know that one of the things that makes us unique are the video features we run as often as possible. Here in TheLab™ we don't just use promo videos from dance companies and re-publish them. We go out and film the work ourselves, do the interviews, do the editing and then publish.

It is, as far as Article19 is concerned, vitally important that there is impartial, comprehensive coverage of publicly funded dance works, free from the constraints of company marketing departments.

In many ways Article19 acts as a public record, albeit of the works we have the resources to cover, that anybody can access at any time. Our archive is not subject to the whims of changing leadership at dance companies or the arbitrary imposition of restrictions that some dance makers wish to impose on the work they create.

Also, once we publish something it stays published.

If you take a look around the websites of many dance companies the visual, online record of their works, available to the public, free of charge, makes for a grim browsing experience.

Apart from a few promotional videos (our disdain for most of those is well known) there is not a great deal to see. A small minority of companies do better than others and some have far more resources than others but, whatever way you look at it, the ability of the general public to see what dance companies are doing and what they have done in the past is severely constrained.

The situation is made all the more strange because this is, after all, the performing arts. Work is made with the specific intention of showing it to other people, it's kinda the whole point.

The Public Access Argument

We keep mentioning "the public" because, apart from the United States, most of the contemporary dance work created on planet earth is almost entirely funded by public money. Remember, governments don't have any money, it's the public's money, governments are just the ones who spend it.

So what does this have to do with anything?

It has to do with the fact that we are encountering too many choreographers and dance companies trying to keep their work off the internet and they are doing so without any explanation or coherent rationale.

Take a look at the websites of Random, Akram Khan, Rambert, DV8 and others and see just how much of the work they have produced, paid for with millions of pounds of public money, that you can see. You will be lucky if you can find even the shortest of badly filmed clips.

We are aware that Rambert does have some work on TheSpace website but those pieces are so badly filmed it's actually worse than not having them there at all. There is also no telling how much money has changed hands to actually put them there.

30 years from now, when most of these companies will be little more than a memory, what will exist for future generations should they wish to study the history of dance from this particular era? If things continue as they are then, for many companies and choreographers, there will be nothing to see.

Even if the videos exist we have little doubt that some administrative body or other will relish the task of keeping access to them as limited as possible.

Perspective

From Article19's perspective the majority of dance makers and choreographers are happy to be filmed and let us put out reasonable amounts of video of their work.

We like to think of them as the open-source dance makers! Article19 can only hope that the balance does not shift towards the "you shall not" group who are more akin to Apple and their over zealous walled garden approach.

Getting video of dance "out there" can only help the ongoing struggle to get this art form noticed a little more. One thing we know for sure, it's not going to hurt the profession to get more work online.

It shouldn't need to be stated that contemporary dance is not the most popular art form in the world and a self-serving, irrational, protectionist attitude towards dance works isn't going to help change that.

What we would like to see is new rules for ACE funding (and public funding for dance across Europe) that requires dance works to be published, online, in full no more than 5 years after they have been made if they are no longer touring. 10 years if they are still touring.

This would also require that dance companies properly document their works so future generations are not left with little more than some shaky rehearsal footage or the terrors of the "promo" as illustrated by the video embedded below for Hofesh Shechter [Company]'s new work 'Sun'.

Allow us to reiterate. These works belong to the general public (and no, we are not talking about copyright here) because they foot the bill for them to be made. Allowing general access to substantive clips is the very least that the dance profession can do to show their appreciation for that financial largesse.

If Article19 covers the work then, say it slowly and deliberately, it doesn't even cost the companies any money.

Allowing unfettered access to "dead" works is simply the right thing to do for the sake of the historical record of dance and to shore up the arguments for continued public financial support of the profession to keep on making new works.

Dance can ill-afford the selfish preening of the few, especially in these difficult financial times and the seemingly never ending times of relative obscurity for dance.

  • HamishMacPherson

    I'm not sure if you're saying that (a) ACE should demand that all artists allocate some of their budget to filming their work irrespective of that artist's practice or working methods or (b) something similar to the British Library's project documenting Experimental Theatre or Live Art?

    The former seems pretty-heavy handed no?

  • For the performing arts, insisting that a budget includes enough resource to have it properly recorded would not be a bad idea. Also, if it was a pre-requisite then ACE couldn't punish applicants for having it in there.

  • HamishMacPherson

    I do think this is a good provocation. I think this *could* make sense for companies that decide, for whatever reason, that a video record is a meaningful part of their work.

    The companies you mention are all big commercial companies with mass appeal (relatively speaking) i.e. they are the ones that can make money by selling their videos. So they have a commercial incentive not to do as you suggest. But they could be encouraged, and probably free youtube clips wouldn't make much of a dent on theatre of DVD sales (I actually think that would probably help them).

    I imagine many other recipients of ACE funding don't have the budget to produce half decent footage to show. To ask for more funding to do this ends up being a balance between diversity in the arts and audience reach because it would mean less artists got funding.

    And lots of dance doesn't translate into video - in terms of the technical aspects but also the viewing context - which is why IMHO video lends itself to big showy athletic stuff (and why the majority of contemporary dance photography is so unimaginatively similar). Fine if you want to sell Lucozade but, again IMHO, detrimental to dance as an art.

    But there is also an artistic issue in that artists should have control over how audiences experience their work. We don't want engagement and access priorities to explicitly dictate the medium we work with.

    Or it could make sense if it is a documentation, aside from 'the main product" e.g. they have to all be loaded onto the SPACE! ;-) Of course there isn't a clear line between documentation and 'artistic product'.

  • DV8, Rambert, et-al are not commercial companies at all, they are publicly funded companies and as such (also mentioned in this piece) the work doesn't belong to them. The general public get very annoyed about paying for all of this stuff to happen and rightly ask "where is it?"

    Dance companies cannot tour far and wide enough so that everybody can see the work even if they could afford to buy tickets, which many cannot.

    We very much doubt that any significant money is being made by selling DVDs or digital copies of work.

    Irrespective of whether or not the creators think their work is suitable for recording it needs to be recorded for the public and historical record. Filming a dance work (no matter the size of the production) can be done easily for under £1000 per show (anybody who says otherwise can come and argue that position with us) a number that would not be overly taxing on an arts funding system that can afford millions for a new building for Rambert Dance Company (just one example).

    Choreographers need to start understanding the idea that subsidised creation is not the same as commercial creation. It's not all about making money.

  • Christopher Preece

    But film is an entirely different medium to live performance surely? The temporal and spatial dimensions to witnessing a live act of performance make a unique perspective for each audience member, each night. Not to mention audience engagement, the thrill of live music, dressing up, reading a programme... Can we say the work is represented fairly when we're watching youtube in our dressing gown? Not to mention the fact that this doesn't remunerate the artist one penny, and may mean a punter won't seek out a live performance that day. Also the public doesn't foot the bill, in reality the system is more akin to matched funding of ticket sales and other private revenue. Its impossible to get arts council money without watertight plans for the future, and rightly so. The government also subsidises banking, manufacturing, science, pharmaceuticals, non BBC broadcast, transport...

  • Kema

    "But film is an entirely different medium to live performance surely? The
    temporal and spatial dimensions to witnessing a live act of performance
    make a unique perspective for each audience member, each night"
    Yeah live and recorded is different, but having it on video to watch again is quite good.

    I've seen DV8, Mark Morris, LCDT, Henri Oguike, AMP, Shobna Jeyasingh, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunnngham and the Northern Ballet live at some point I also own video of those companies, like you said it is " a unique perspective for the audience" but being able to watch something you enjoyed again and again is a pleasure.

    I saw 2Faced Dance Company performing "Out of his Skin" in Manchester last night. It was an excellent piece of choreography and performance. Would I buy it on DVD/Blu-ray? Yes I would!! I wouldn't see the sweat or hear the footfalls and breathing but I could still enjoy it again and again. If Article19 hadn't had video of the company I wouldn't have known about them. Video is also the best form of marketing for a visual artform like ours.

    The first ballet I ever saw was the Northern Ballet -A Simple Man with Christopher Gable dancing in Manchester in the 80's. I have his performance on DVD to watch. Dance is like stage acting once the rep is finished we will never see it again.

    Imagine if we had no existing video of Baryshnikov, Michael Clark or Sylvie Guillem.

    We should be archiving all our dance work, can you imagine how sad it would be if the only remnants of past dance we had a was a few photographs and a review from the Guardian?

    In fact does anyone have a DVD of AMP's Swan Lake with David Hughes dancing the Swan that I saw in Manchester, I tell people that I saw him perform it but it's as if Adam Cooper was the only dancer to perform it in that first tour?

  • A few points. While the work is still alive then we are talking about the type of feature pieces we do, not full length works. Incidentally, some companies do make their work freely available to all online while they are still touring and not to their detriment.

    Second, you make the assumption that people are making money from touring.

    Thirdly, on the point of subsidy, your kidding right? The Royal Opera House may bleat about ACE funding being 30% of their revenue but that's the revenue that counts, absent that money the whole thing would fall apart, otherwise, why do ACE keep giving it to them and why do they take it. As for "future plans being watertight", that's little more than a fantasy sketched out in a business plan.

  • Kema

    Too right, I remember seeing Diction by Yolande Snaith I would love to see it again not a chance. Phoenix Dance Comany had some great work from the 90's I would love to see again; Buller/Shapiro and Smith. At least Siobhan Davies has made an effort, DV8 at least make film versions of their popular works, I think everything LCDT made is on video somewhere.

  • we think ThePlace video archive was shunted off to Laban somewhere.

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