As the world gets metaphorically smaller thanks to the wonder/curse of the internet, online video, free communication systems and the PDF document making print material almost redundant British Dance Edition (BDE), in the eyes of some, is struggling to remain relevant.
Next years event, hosted by DanceXchange (DX) in Birmingham from the 3rd to the 6th of February, is perhaps the first BDE to take place under a full frontal assault from the web so what have DX done to pull the proverbial rabbit from a hat?
As far as relevance goes there is no substitute for actually being there when it comes to live performance. Yes it's corny and yes Article19 pushes out thousands upon thousands of dance videos every month to viewers the world over but dance is a live medium, for the most part, so gathering folks together to watch work is as important as it ever was.
Facebook and others like it have made befriending someone into an exercise in cold hard numbers so meeting actual people is something we should all seek to do more of and this is a big part of the BDE "experience".
DX is also bringing in a lot of new work from new dance makers and they are using a wider variety of venues (galleries, cafe's, etc). The 'Dance 3' event showcasing three new dance makers from across the UK is particularly welcome, but why aren't there more of these triple bills during the festival?
The Birmingham based NDA (National Dance Agency) then runs straight into a brick wall with their showcase performance at the Birmingham Hippodrome on the final day of the event.
Titled 'In The Spirit of Diaghlev' the work, ironically the show is produced by Sadler's Wells Theatre, is some form of tribute to Sergei Diaghilev. The four separate works are created by Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant, Javier Du Frutos and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui notable for the reason that they are all male.
In total there are seventeen male choreographers on show at BDE compared to just eight female dance makers.
Responding to that point DX told us;
"...we considered work from 210 companies in total, of which 89 were proposing work by male choreographers, 104 were proposing work by female choreographers and 17 were proposing work by both male and female choreographers. The total numbers of work programmed at this point are 19 pieces by male choreographers, 11 by female choreographers and 2 pieces with co-choreographers of both genders.
These include work-in-progress performances, work for children and families and site-specific work, as well as traditional theatre shows. Whilst the majority of the theatre-based work at the Small Scale in BDE 2010 has been choreographed by male artists, a large proportion of the site specific, work in progress and middle-scale work has been created by female choreographers.
As [we are] sure you will have noticed, 2 out of the 3 middle scale shows at the Birmingham Rep are by female choreographers, although there were many more applications to show work at this scale from male artists."
Given the controversy surrounding the AD of the theatre producing this particular show (Alistair Spalding) and his comments about female dance makers earlier this year it is perhaps a surprising inclusion especially as the grande finale.
DX declined to comment on Mr Spalding's remarks.
As BDE is a platform event intended, for the most part, to be used by promoters to see new work the Diaghlev show is also a strange inclusion because it probably doesn't need the exposure. It might sell tickets to the public, it's one of the few shows on general sale, but it probably won't suffer from a lack of exposure at BDE.
One other curious event is the bizarrely titled 'Breakfast with Akram Khan' where delegates (those that attend the festival in an official capacity) will have a chance to see excerpts from the anointed one's new work 'Vertical Road'.
The publicity text for the work mentions a staggering array of overseas touring venues for the show. So, once again, why does this work need the publicity and what's it doing at BDE at all given that it won't even premiere (at Sadler's Wells) until October 2010?
There is much to like about BDE2010, mostly the new work that will be on show, but there is much to make the dance profession roll its collective eyes and say "business as usual". The inclusion of Messrs. McGregor, Maliphant, Du Frutos, Cherkaoui and Khan and John Ashford as a debate moderator (stop laughing at the back) is a step too far toward playing it safe.
Finally, the Independent Dance Managers Network will be hosting a debate with the spectacularly dull title of "Getting Dance Out and About in the 21st Century". Said debate will almost certainly include references to both Facebook and Twitter with regard to promoting work. Let us, here in TheLab™, save you the trouble, they don't work, we'll prove that in a future piece.
BDE 2010 runs from February 3rd to the 6th 2010.
Updated Oct 25th with response from DX.