The EvilImp™ 'The Three Mouseketeers'

As any good Yorkshireman would say at a time of heightened crises or distress; "There's trouble at T'mill". Profuse apologies to none Yorkshire folk and overseas readers if you have no frame of reference for that particular metaphor.

Three greats of the wide world of dance (no, seriously); Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter and Lloyd Newson have, in the absence of common sense and a decent press flack, released some sort of statement proclaiming the world of contemporary dance training in the UK to be in a state of terminal disrepair, or something.

What's On Stage is reporting that the Troublesome Trio™ put out a press release saying that they are all "increasingly dismayed by the declining standards they witness when holding UK auditions"

They took aim at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, London Contemporary at The Place in London and Laban, also in London.

One can only imagine the suffering of these poor wee lambs as they thump their fists on the floor in total desperation and frustration as they struggle mightily to hire UK trained dancers that have attained the trio's, as yet, unquantifiable standard of greatness while attending their respective auditions.

It is auditions that Mr Shechter, Mr Khan and Mr Newson cite as their research material for making such bold claims about the state of training for dancers in the UK.

Toil and Trouble

There are, of course, so many problems with this "press release" that we will be unable to cover them all here but let us continue apace.

First up, and possibly the most damning issue of all, is how the hell do these guys know? Do the three of them imagine that every single dancer who has graduated from those three schools have, at some point or another, rocked up at one of their auditions looking for work?

Is it possible that dancers who have graduated from those three schools might be looking for work elsewhere in the dance world or perhaps they are already working?

Do they also imagine that right now, at this very moment in time, it is every dance student's dream to work for one of those dance makers and if they don't achieve those ever so lofty goals their careers, whatever form they take, will be judged as failures, somewhat lesser than those that took to the stages across this country and others in 'Uprising' or 'Vertical Road' or 'John'?

Are we, here in TheLab™, being told to accept that if you don't get hired by Hofesh Shechter, Akram Khan or Lloyd Newson then you are not worthy of the title; "Professional Dancer"?

These three men cannot possibly be that arrogant!

It is also somewhat perplexing when you look at the biographies of the dancers currently working with Hofesh Shechter Company, for example, to find that four of those dancers trained at the London School of Contemporary Dance and two of the dancers in Shechter Junior (an apprentice company) are from LSCD and NSCD.

Mr Khan opines, in the press release, that of the 50 or so dancers he has hired over the years only 4 of them we're trained in the UK with more than 50% of the dancers he has hired coming from P.A.R.T.S in Belgium, the training programme run by everybody's favourite dance making jester Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker.

It has perhaps not occurred to Mr Khan that he has taken a liking to the style of dancer trained at that particular institution in much the same way that a person takes to a particular brand of coffee or beer and anything else simply will not do. Suggesting that all dance training institutions turn out exactly the same kind of dancer so that he can then hire them is so practically and artistically ridiculous it's hard to believe an artists is even suggesting such a thing.

The Perpetual Problem

Claims about training standards diminishing in dance emerge every few years almost like clockwork and the reason they emerge is that there always has been and always will be a problem with dance training in this country and every other country.

Training somebody to be a professional contemporary dancer is like trying to hit a matchbox tied to mouse full of methamphetamine from 2 miles out with a paintball gun in high-wind, in the dark with a blindfold on while being set upon by a pack of lions.

There is no fixed target, there is no simple template that can be applied to dancers in training that will ensure you get the perfect result. Dance schools are not factories manufacturing dancers to the pre-defined specs of choreographers with egos the size of Texas.

Considering the vast array of work being made and the demands being placed upon the dancers in that work it would be a fools errand for any school to try and turn out the consummate all rounder. The dancer that can do anything and everything from day one with absolutely no additional training, guidance or investment from the company that happens to hire them is the rarest of beasts.

Can changes be made to dance training in these institutions? Of course they can, for one thing we would like to see Graham technique restored to all dance schools for at least the first year of training but that is another matter for another day.

The trouble is though Messrs Shechter, Khan and Newson don't care about what student dancers are prepared for in general, what they seem to care about is that dancers are prepared for them to hire. They want dancers that fit their extremely narrow parameters.

Soft Target

Of more interest to us is why these three chose to take a shot at soft targets like dance schools. The pressure on these institutions is tremendous, the most pressing of which is the current financial situation they all find themselves in. Dance schools have to operate under increasingly tight budgets while providing high quality training and support to all of their students, not all of whom are training to be performing artists. There are other career paths.

Dance students are also under tremendous pressure financially. Working long hours in part time jobs so they have enough money to buy food to say nothing of the £27,000+ in debt they are racking up just going through the schools in the first place.

Why has no press release come from Newson and Co. concerning the never ending, ridiculous policies of Arts Council England? Why no open letter to the Chairman of ACE, Peter Bazalgette, to get a grip of that particular organisation and start making real policy changes that positively affect dance?

Could it be that the Three Mouseketeers are too afraid to stick it the the funding body that has provided them with millions of pounds in funding over the years only for them to turn around and start smacking UK dance students around with a shovel?

Where are their letters of protest concerning the millions being pumped into dance buildings instead of into actual dance projects and professional dancer's development? If Mr Shechter wants improvements in cardio training in dance schools, as he appears to suggest in his comment in the press release, then maybe he should make representations to ACE, the Dept for Education and the DCMS that they invest in cardio trainers and gymnasiums for all dance schools.

Perhaps Mr Khan could raise objections about investing £450,000 in the National Youth Dance Company, a company that serves no real purpose, and suggest that money be invested in the professional training of student dancers all over the UK. Perhaps Mr Khan was too busy being paid by the NYDC, for whatever work he did for them, to muster up the strength to raise any such objection.

We leave you with the thoughts of Mr Newson who, according to What's On Stage said;

"...he has spoken to ten other British Dance (sic) companies who share their concerns."

That's the type of comment drummed up by an individual with the levels of courage you only see in hamsters as they ponder whether or not to really give it their all on that little wheel in their cage.

When people claim that unnamed individuals will back up what they say it makes you wonder why those people choose to be in the shadows. Are they scared, are they fearful of the repercussions of the dancers and dance students that apparently lack the requisite talent to work for them?

Where did Mr Newson discuss these concerns? Was it during a monthly meeting held in a secret central London location where all dance company AD's gather, wear long robes and chant as they offer a blood sacrifice to the spirit of Isadora Duncan?

If you are the AD of one these dance companies we encourage you to out yourself in the comments below. Stand up straight and tell all the dancers trained in this country over the last 5-10 years exactly why you think they are not good enough to work for you.

Tell them and we feel sure many will be quick to demonstrate why you're wrong.

[ Story on What's On Stage ]

  • Some very good points in this... Maybe these three should go and visit these institutions, maybe even join in with a class... If you really look at this subject you see how stupid these comments are... Dance has never been more cool and respected in this country... That its self helps the standards stay high... The constant pushing of boundaries and crossing of disciplines... I totally agree that Graham should be brought back in all schools... In my opinion and i apologise if it offends... I feel that Graham went out of fashion because there was a generation of dancers id say early to mid 90's that fought against Graham saying it was no longer relevant and created tense, bound dancers... This was generally said in my opinion because these dancers found that they had to work in class as Graham is a very hard demanding technique... New Dance and release techniques became increasingly more popular so these deluded dancers again in my opinion saw this as an easy option... Not having to have high legs etc... etc... etc... What these dancers failed to recognise is that many if not most of the teachers of these techniques had a strong base in the strong techniques Graham, Cunningham and Ballet etc... that these deluded dancers were criticising... These deluded dancers then went on to teach and to perpetuate their ignorance about what makes a strong dancer hence creating a generation of dancers that were amazing at moving in ways like release techniques but struggled with the demands of the more traditional ones... I fear Kahn was a product of this generation... For me i was so engrained in techniques like Graham, Cunningham etc that i found release techniques and new dance alien and hard to master... I soon realised in about the 3rd year of my training that to be the best dancer that you can be was to embrace all techniques... I did a 4th year at NSCD and was funded to attend outside courses and workshops with artists like Mary Fulkerson, Julian Hamilton, Emelyn Claid, Janet Smith etc etc etc... I even Started to love my Jazz Classes with Derek Williams...lol... God I'm babbling...lol... I think what i am saying is if these three feel like dance training has become weaker then they may have to bare some of the responsibility... Do they teach company class... Is it a technical class or a class just concentrating on their choreography... If it is just an extension of their own choreographic process then thought it may be good for their work fails the dancer in many other ways... Two of the companies mentioned in this debate i find very impressive, but as the writer of the article says they do attract a certain type of dancer... Not all dancers see their work appealing... So again mirroring the guy who wrote this articles opinion... It is very arrogant to think that the dancers that are attending their auditions are the best that this country has to offer... I think if these choreographers are getting funding from ACE then they have a responsibility to employ and nurture young dancers from the UK... I got my first job the day after i left my training, but in no way was i the finished article... I was even described as Green after a performance i was in with Matthew Hawkins... As Matthew said at the time i was green i was new to the dance world i was learning every day... I doubt very much that the three in this article could run before they could walk... I in fact was in class with Akram not long after he left his training, was i impressed Not Really...lol... I never wrote him off and the fact that he is were he is shows that the dance industry didn't write him off ether... I t is therefore very sad that he and the others mentioned write young UK dancers off in this way... Babble over...lol...

  • Jacob

    I would love to know the employment rate of graduates from schools like ArtEZ and P.A.R.T.S to compare with UK figures (the 31-35% statistic of UK graduate employment conflicts with the figures I've previously seen (around 80%) but perhaps I'm mistaken...). And for Newson to compare UK schools to Julliard, they train for 4 years with a tuition fee of £26,000, PER YEAR! With no student finance loans. To think what the UK schools could do with all that money...

  • Catherine

    I find it disappointing that these choreographers, alongside others, made these comments without offering a solution. Everyone is entitled to opinion as long as you can thoroughly validate it. I enjoy debate and discussion, but when empty comments are made that merely provoke negative reaction to the schools and choreographers, it makes me cross. If you want to make changes to dance education and training, you need to start at the beginning this means dance in state schools, private dance schools and public attitude to the art form. It seems to me that these choreographers have formed these opinions without looking at the bigger picture. I work in dance education and would value the support of these choreographers, just as I encourage my students to see and discuss their work. I consistently remind my students that dance is a subjective art form. I encourage them to form opinions, be open to change and listen to others. I am well aware that not every student I teach will become a professional dancer or choreographer, but I do know that every student I teach will have knowledge and understanding of the art form and they will be able to share this knowledge with others, hence building support and validity for dance to exist within our culture.
    Dance education in this country is declining, soon there will be no young British dancers training at these institutions, let alone dancing in these companies or any other company. The current government already views dance as 'extra-curricular' and suitable only for those who can pay for it. That's not nurturing talent, it is encouraging elitism. Comments made by these choreographers are simply affirming political thought. If these choreographers are so underwhelmed with British talent, maybe the best solution for them would be to move to Europe or America? It would free up a little more ACE funding for other upcoming choreographers.

  • Free up ACE funding? Yes please - these three receive £1.3m/year between them, they have publicly stated they refuse to use this funding to hire UK-trained dancers [besjdes the ones they've already hired] for work which will predominantly take place overseas. Remind me how this fits into Arts Council guidelines?

    Most importantly - why are we indulging these three choreographers? Why do we let them think they are relevant? As Renaud Wiser touched on in his Facebook post of a few days ago, the focus should be on what the midcareer artists can offer across the industry but can't due to ACE strategy. These are the artists who want to support, help and nurture others, unlike three who we can think of.

    And seriously, we won't lose those three to Europe/beyond because their work isn't up to scratch.

  • Catherine

    I wasn't sure of the exact amount of funding they received. And, yes I agree with Renaud Wiser.

  • Akram: £500,610/year (+122% increase from previous NPO funding)
    DV8: £414,035/year (-7.1% decrease)
    Hofesh: £383,037/year (-7.1% decrease)

    Source: http://article19.co.uk/npof...

  • PB

    Don't some of them have youth companies that are funded, if for nothing more than to identify talent they think they can nurture into their own style? If that is not their purpose then why are they being funded. "Shechter Junior – a full-time, paid apprentice programme for talented, young dancers between 18 and 25 years old." Would this be obsolete if the UK schools were producing it all for them? I think not. I suppose their comments are the comments of choreographers, not those of artistic directors, an important distinction and one that funding bodies should be careful not to confuse.

  • Of the three, Hofesh's company has an apprenticeship scheme which serves as a feeder route into both his company and Akram's. The new Junior company was created in response to the demand for apprenticeships.

    Although Fenella Kennedy in her blog doesn't refer to apprenticeships (I think), she states that these three Luminary Greats [my words, not hers] don't hire fresh graduates, which means the technical ability and fitness levels etc of auditioning dancers is to some extent determined by what CPD these dancers can afford and manage to do.

    We all know that not all dancers have access to daily class, whether for financial reasons, time constraints - including working hours - or daily class not being provided. But of course the schools are an easier target than the industry itself....

  • Abby

    I agree Chantal... but one thing I know has made a huge difference in the last 10-20 years is the work being done by Dance UK and in dance science to highlight the need for dancers to train better, and look after themselves. If you look on the P.A.R.T.S website and curriculum, they place a big emphasis on this area. In my experience UK schools pay lipservice, unless at Trinity Laban obviously where they have a dedicated health unit and Dance Science course... The schools are doing their very best in a very harsh climate.. Education has been dumbed down and had the life squeezed out of it in this country, Arts are at the bottom of the pile..

  • You know what's really weird. If you look at Hofesh's dancers, as explained above, 4 of them are trained at the, as you claim, awful LCDS and just one at Rambert. Weird.... Guess they must have slipped through the cracks of mediocrity.

    Your entire comment, while eloquent, can be boiled down to, "things aint' what they used to be!"

  • Your positions are, pun intended, all over the place. It's petty to point out that one of the guys slagging off the training of dancers in the UK has hired dancers trained at those institutions?

    No, it's hypocritical on his part.

    You use the phrase "vast majority" yet you have no idea how many dancers from LCDS, NSCD or Laban have auditioned for any of these three dance makers. DV8 holds open auditions, the other two do not, if they are so appalled at the standards at these three schools why would they invite them to audition? Given their certainty in their press release don't they already know the will be unsuitable?

    According to you the dramatic decline in training has been going on since the 1990's. Newson has been making work since the 1980's, did he just notice this week? Or did it take him 25 years to work up the courage to say something? How about Khan and Shechter?

    Akram Khan graduated from NSCD in the 1990's, isn't he a product of their mediocre training? Has he spent the last 15 years also working up the courage to say something?

    Your entire comment is completely subjective. It is your opinion that dancers trained in one institution are "better" than dancers trained at another institution.

    Here in TheLab™ you sir are what we call a True Believer and that is not a compliment.

  • A personal insult would be saying you're stupid or your nose is too big, we just replied to your comments, that's why we have comments and you're the one that sounds "butt hurt"..... an oddly Xbox Live type of insult.

  • We don't take umbrage because it's 2015 and taking umbrage went out of style at about the same time as contemporary dance training collapsed into the abyss..... or something.

    You continue to confuse facts with opinions.

    Article19 has absolutely no skin in this game at all. We don't have any connection to any dance school, we don't hire dancers (we suspect that you don't either). Our position on this matter is written above, we're not going to write it again.

    Now, off you go, it's sleeping time.

  • Dom Czapski

    I'm curious as to your comment in which you say that "their success and position make them pretty untouchable". Would you be able to elaborate a little on this?

  • commenter has been banned for trolling, they will be unable to respond.

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