''Just in case you haven't noticed there is no debate, discussion or much of anything going on in dance right now. Discussion is happening, it has to be going on somewhere surely, but it must be happening behind closed doors because we can't find it.''
Article 19 Editorial Wed 6th January 2010
It saddens me greatly that people actually have to point out the lack of discussion and debate in our current dancers world but I would like to thank Neil for doing so in his editorial. His comments interestingly follow several conversations I have had this week about the lack of real dance writing in the UK not just in Scotland.
Undergraduates are marked badly or at worst failed for not justifying opinions and analysing artists and their practice in contextual studies. Earlier in our education, in English for example, you would be grilled by a tutor for simply providing a synopsis of a book when asked for a piece of reflective writing. Therefore why are so many so called dance writers today merely working as informants on the content of a work?
If I seek out a review of the Nutcracker danced by The Royal Ballet I do not need someone to tell me that (god forbid) it is a ballet... who knew??? Yet many so called reviews of the moment take it upon themselves to simply let you know exactly what you are going to see, occasionally which dancer shines the most and finally how loudly the audience clapped. Woo hoo, all I need now is to know what flavour of ice cream was served at the interval and I don't even need to see the piece!
Why can't writers actually offer a critique of the work? Tell me who the piece will reach; does it tackle any major issue; does it interact with the score; is the movement original; is the work innovative; why does a particular dancer move you; is it an artistic reflection or a piece of entertainment? Neither is wrong of course but on a dancers salary if something has been produced as a crowd pleaser and I feel the need to be challenged it is the reviewers' duty to warn me not to waste my hard earned cash.
It is not only work that needs debated obviously but people are even less eager to enter discussion on major issues for fear of annoying any of the people in positions of power as it may reduce their opportunities in the future. This is heavily frustrating as, as reflected by Neil, if you have a commitment to doing your job well and someone can point out an error of judgement there is nothing more attractive than someone who can swallow their pride and correct themselves. Furthermore, fewer of these powerful people may end up making massive cock ups of their jobs and having to blush their way through the bad press of being reprimanded if they open the door to a little analysis of their own affectivity.
Even in the educational community it would appear that we are all so thankful for having work at all that we will not open discussion into means of improving practice or developing more effective systems of doing things. I was recently discussing dance tutors fees with a respected professional in the Scottish scene who informed me that tuition rates haven't really risen since he was teaching in the 80's.... yet I'll bet your backside that everything else has! WHY is nobody addressing this?
In the teaching circuit, and I fear in the performance and administrative sectors also, that this is because there are so many others out there willing to stay quiet and happily slip into our old jobs should we offend the wrong person. Which artist is going to open themselves to an interview with a reviewer that has publically slated their work?
However, such attitudes are doing us a complete disservice in so many respects. Surely letting ourselves be challenged by our biggest critic will really aid us in evolving our practice.
To reflect on Neils editorial again, surely if you believe what you're doing is right then why get so worked up when somebody questions you about it? Young children question every action their parents make, (why do I have to eat my dinner? Why can't I just stroke the doggy? Why do I have to go to bed early?) yet I hope that their parents don't respond by stating 'because I am the boss' because from that the child is left totally confused and power hungry as it appears power is all you need to justify yourself. If the question is satisfied with a suitable answer then no more discussion shall be required.
So why are people taking offence at Article 19, or anyone else who dares, asking the question? My thoughts are that people are now too scared to admit they don't know the answer but as said by Indira Ghandi "The power to question is the basis of all human progress" so those looking to with hold the debate that will find the answers are primarily the reason our arts society is lagging behind that of our European counterparts.
For those of you willing to create Facebook protest groups why not use your time more effectively and comment on the writing on line and if you have anything valid to say, SAY IT! Janet Smith, who I have no doubt is busier than most of you, took time out of her schedule to write a letter with real evidence to challenge the writings on the site and showed a different side to the debate (truly reflecting the nature of debate: point versus counterpoint not point versus mindless personal comments formed by people who appear completely uninformed but wanting to seem opinionated).
As for Article 19 commenting only on the negative... quite frankly if they were (which I don't strictly believe) then who could blame them! There's so much to be said and so many debates to be opened that they have to select the few that are most pressing. As with anything in life the most urgent issue will tend to have a negative inclination as they are seeking improvement in a currently inefficient way of doing thing; if things are ticking over nicely they don't need addressed so urgently. Alternatively if more people were to take the (hopefully proverbial) stick out of the backsides and begin to debate and discuss many of the current issues plaguing our dancing nation Article 19 would not feel forced to try to cover it all.
I emplore those of you who disagree to respond and perhaps some debate may well begin to take place.