The events of the last several months in this country and abroad have been mentally shattering to anybody with a conscience irrespective of their political leanings, nationality or religion. From the attacks in Paris and Belgium, through the ongoing refugee/migration crisis in Europe to mass murder in Orlando, Florida, the irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric and lies being foisted on the naive in the EU referendum all the way to the inexplicable murder of a UK politician, Jo Cox, just last week prior to an open public "surgery" that all MPs have at least once a month in their constituencies.
For anybody paying attention, the world at times has the appearance of being on fire with the massive levels of crazy being too much to take in even for the most hardened individuals.
Perhaps less well known, to the larger public at least, was the senseless murder of American singer Christina Grimme, a 22 year old artist who was shot and killed, again in Florida, following a concert for reasons that law enforcement agencies have yet to determine. Ms Grimme's death is, sadly, just one among hundreds of thousands in the USA's ongoing idiocy when it comes to firearms. When tragedy strikes many often make reference to losing "one of their own". Ms Grimme was a writer, a musician and a singer, she was an artist. Even though most artists didn't know her, she was... one of us!
The World View
Before the internet came into our lives, for better or worse, if you wanted to know what an artist thought of the outside world you had to find their work or wait for them to be interviewed by a journalist and hope that said hack was up for asking some pointed questions. In 2016 however we have lots of ways to find out what is going on inside our nation's dance companies and the minds of our nation's dance makers. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and websites there are multiple ways to reach the public at large using any medium they see fit.
If you were only able to view the output of the wide world of dance through their online presence though you would be forgiven for thinking that the world outside of dance didn't even exist. With a very small number of exceptions there is no trace of the globally influential events of the last several months if we track backward to the attacks in Paris in November 2015. Again, one of the primary targets was a music venue, people were attacked while they were engaging with the arts.
There is not one single piece of commentary, no reaction, no thoughts, not a single solitary word about anything at all outside of the sphere of dance. Now, you might be wondering why this matters? Why is it important that the artists of the world are active in the realm of social and political commentary? Our response to that, here in TheLab™, would be if they're not engaged and actively commenting then what's the point in having them around at all?
Leaving aside the bureaucratic and administrative wrangling over funding and the incessant marketing, first and foremost, dance makers are contemporary artists and we would argue that it is vitally important that they express their views and positions on society and the world around them. The world does, after all, provide them with the inspiration to make their work, does it not? Artists do not inhabit some parallel universe, observing this one through a magic portal.
The current political hot topic in the UK and around the world is the impending referendum on whether or not this country remains a part of the EU. Given the fact that dance is a genuinely international art form with dancers, dance companies and dance makers moving around Europe to work, create and perform you would think that the dance community would be buzzing on social media at least with chatter and forthright opinions on this issue. Leaving the European Union would have a profound effect on the entire industry at almost every level. But, once again, apart from a few isolated cases, there is nothing to be found.
We feel sure that artists on a personal level are talking about these things, debating with friends, colleagues and others in private but there is a greater responsibility for artists to take on when it comes to discussing world issues in a more open and public way.
The internet has gifted the arts with the tools to speak up and to speak out about the events of the day as they happen. Artist now have an unprecedented opportunity to engage those that would normally stay away from politics or debates about religion, terrorism, xenophobia, homophobia and so much more. Some will say that such issues are toxic and divisive and in the wrong hands that is absolutely the case. In the hands of thoughtful, intelligent artists things could be very different. Who better to speak about the benefits and the excitement of working across Europe, for example, with people from a huge range of backgrounds, cultures and nationalities than a dancer or a choreographer who has been doing just that for years?
Issues like these have become toxic because the only people we ever hear on these topics are the ones shouting loud enough in the news or campaigning for one elected office or another. If you want the high ground back, then you're going to have to take it back.
The wide world of dance uses the internet like it's little more than a marketing brochure and that's fine, up to a point. Dance companies are not making and selling phones however, you can't be a dispassionate artist, you can't pretend that the world is not happening around you and sometimes the things that happen are terrible and difficult to talk about but that's just tough luck because you chose this profession and you chose it for a reason.
There is a greater responsibility here and at the moment the wide world of dance is shirking that responsibility.