The Evil Imp

Old Man Ashford

John Ashford, out going AD of The Place in London, has taken a parting shot at pretty much everything before he moves on to pastures new in Europe, where the grass is always, always, greener.

In an interview with Time Out magazine (which Mr Ashford worked for many years ago) he berates British dance for being too “timorous” and “boring” amongst many other things compared to its mainland European counterparts.

Throughout the piece some old, albeit accurate, stalwarts are thrown out there. For example, ACE’s meddling in funding policy means dance companies have to set up educational outreach programmes. The bigger the company, the bigger the programme. If the company doesn’t have an outreach programme then there is a pretty good chance they won’t get funded.

Almost everybody in the arts, dance or otherwise, has been complaining about that for decades. The smart dance makers though long ago embraced this particular facet of obtaining funding from ACE having figured out that if you want to do what you want to do then, to a certain extent, you have to play their game.

Education and outreach isn’t going anywhere anytime soon until ACE steps up and tells the DCMS (Dept. For Culture Media and Sport) to back off and let people make work, no strings attached.

Mr Ashford then moves on to the way dancers are trained:

“Fundamentally I would say that if we want to have a cutting edge – and I’m not sure that we have one in London – then we have to notice what Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker is doing at PARTS [Performing Arts Research and Training Studios in Brussels, the hotbed of experimental dance]. We don’t have anything like that. What we do have is too much dance education, which is producing people who are not going to have a place in an overcrowded profession.”

This statement is probably a bit of a shock to Veronica Lewis the current Principal of the London Contemporary Dance School, based in the same building Mr Ashford has been skulking around in for the last 23 years!

Encouraging people to be experimental is fine, we’re actually all for it, but there’s a down side. If you’re coaxing people to be off the wall, controversial, edgy or whatever then you run the risk of dance makers doing weird stuff just for the sake of doing it. What you’ll end up with is the Turner Prize but in a dance context. Pile some bricks in the middle of a room and call it art. The critics will fawn, the public will lay down and cry.

If you want young dance makers, and old ones, to find their way then it has to be their way, not some pre-packaged Experimental™ idea that’s been foisted on them by others. Any creative idea is valid but it’s a mix of ideas that keeps things fresh, getting creative tunnel vision in the search for something “new” is only going to cause stagnation and boredom (from the audience’s perspective) in equal measure.

It’s also slightly ridiculous to suggest that young dancers will forever be shaped by their original training. The majority of dancers and choreographers (the good ones at least) are constantly learning and evaluating new methods, new forms and new ways of creating throughout their career. As someone who worked at The Place for 23 years, Mr Ashford should probably know that!

The final knife in the back is a rather cowardly generlisation about a “boring’ regional company who continue to get funded just because they tick the right boxes”.

Whether or not Mr Ashford had the courage to name the company to the journalist is not clear but it could be anyone of a dozen dance companies that are mid to large scale that are not based in London.

Here in TheLab™ we often make reference to The London Dance Mafia, of which Mr Ashford was a part, which considers any company not based in the nations capital to be, for reasons that are never made clear, somewhat less than. Whenever we hear the term “regional dance company” we consider it to be a pejorative statement, like “children’s television presenter” or “tabloid journalist”.

With his final comment Mr Ashford really pins the tail on his donkey of half baked rationales. It seems to have escaped his attention that many dance makers (and dancers for that matter) working in the UK are not from the UK and they weren’t even trained here.

The very idea that geographic location or the inept ramblings of ACE are somehow preventing the UK from producing great work is laughable when you take a look around and see what’s being produced in this country all the time by companies and individuals too numerous to mention, young and old alike.

How can we prove that? Well that’s just it, we can’t of course because it’s all down to personal taste but if Mr Ashford gets his way, wherever it is he’s going, then be prepared to see a lot of people sitting around on stage yelling about potatoes.

We wish you well Mr Ashford and don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out!

[ Time Out ]