The Evil Imp

Confused Corporation

Starting on June 30th the BBC will be running a series of programs ostensibly about “contemporary dance”. The first of the programs is indeed called “Dance! The Most Incredible Thing About Contemporary Dance” (it’s a subtle joke that will be explained later).

For an opening gambit the BBC told us this about the coming season (it lasts for 4 days) of shows about dance;

“We are delighted to be celebrating contemporary dance with a weekend of programming on BBC FOUR and hope that for audiences, both initiated and uninitiated, there will be both documentary programme and performance pieces of interest.”

So what do we have to illuminate the followers and non-followers of this beleaguered business? Well we have the aforementioned opening documentary that sees musician Charles Hazelwood;

“immerses himself in the world of contemporary dance and actively participates in it to discover how movement works for him and to find his own way into a greater understanding of it.”

We feel sure, given the BBC’s reputation, that this film will be in no way goofy, patronising or deeply embarrassing. The BBC is pondering whether or not to send us a preview copy.

Following on from this we have an 11 year old film about Merce Cunningham, a 34 year old film about Martha Graham, a 2 year old repeat of work from the Ballet Russes by English National Ballet, a 4 year old repeat of ‘Tales of Beatrix Potter’ by the Royal Ballet, a movie about Margot Fonteyn, that well know contemporary dancer, ‘Opus Jazz’ a movie featuring dancers from New York City Ballet based on a piece by Jerome Robbins from 1958 and a weird little film called ‘The Neighbour’ that, according to the BBC, “is [about] two neighbours – a lonely pianist on one side of the wall and a couple with domestic problems on the other”. Sounds like a riot!

Rounding off the above we have a repeat of ‘In The Spirit of Diaghilev’ the failed attempt by Sadler’s Wells Chief Bottle Washer Alistair Spalding to actually become Sergei Diaghilev and a first time showing of ‘The Most Incredible Thing’, the weird new dance work by the Javier Du Frutos with music from the Pet Shop Boys, also produced by Sadler’s Wells.

Now do you understand the joke from before? For a season of contemporary dance, there’s not a whole lot of contemporary dance in it.

Curiously the BBC describes ‘In The Spirit of Diaghilev’ in their press release like this;

“….. features three works commissioned by Sadler’s Wells, along with specially filmed interview content from some of today’s most acclaimed choreographers ……..”

Except of course it doesn’t. It features four works but the BBC refuses to show the one created by Javier Du Frutos because it is, so we’re told, spectacularly offensive in every respect. That doesn’t stop the BBC running Question Time every week but we digress.

In response to our enquiries about mis-stating this particular fact the BBC told us, by way of their communications department;

“The press information relates to the BBC’s broadcast. The Spirit of Diaghilev is four works, and we are broadcasting three of them.”

What’s more likely (in fact BBC communications actually confirmed this later) is that the person who wrote the press release has never seen the works, has no idea what they are or who made them and was simply instructed to roll out a paragraph or two. Welcome to corporate communications.


Article19 wanted to ask some questions of Jan Younghusband, the person responsible for commissioning these programms, but she was permanently “unavailable” to answer questions. So, any and all of the responses we received are from BBC PR. PR people don’t like us to talk about that but hey, since when did we follow the rules? That’s why you love us, right?

So, we asked them why not feature actual contemporary dance companies like Motionhouse, Jasmin Vardimon Company, Candoco, Scottish Dance Theatre, et al in this season instead of re-hashing ancient documentaries on dance makers who are, let’s be honest, no longer alive?

“Our focus on contemporary dance is a mix of new commissions and archive performance pieces.  We hope there is something for everyone in our weekend but inevitably we have to make tough editorial decisions regarding the weekend’s programming. We hope our offering encourages people to delve even further into the genre.”

Tough decisions? The BBC and its commissioning editor are like Magpies and shiny objects. They see something glittery at Sadler’s Wells, run some cameras over to the venue (it’s not that far to go after all) and grease their palms with silver.

Martha Graham and Merce Cunnigham are the goto guys when anything about contemporary dance comes up on television. It’s like a reflex action. Sure, they put snippets of interviews with some current dance makers in their documentary (we think) but as for featuring their work more extensively? No chance.

Perhaps we need to wait until they die before they get any coverage, that’s how it works with dance books after all.

The BBC and Ms Younghusband are casually ignoring every other company in the UK and across Europe because it apparently requires too much effort to do otherwise.

What’s that we hear you say? These shows might be good for ratings? The BBC is a publicly funded broadcaster, ratings are not supposed to be a factor in their programming decisions. This season is on BBC4 after all.


During these tough times for the arts if you were expecting the BBC to step in and help out the wide world of dance then you have your answer with this impending season of shows. Either the commissioning editor is completely clueless about the profession as a whole or, like many in the arts media, she is so thoroughly entrenched in the past we’d need Indiana Jones to find her.

Our money is on the latter.

The BBC season kicks off on June 30 on BBC4, you can also find it on iPlayer if you live in the UK.