The Evil Imp

The Most Wretched Thing

We might as well get straight to the point here. The BBC show ‘The Most Incredible Thing About Contemporary Dance’ (MITACD) screened last night on BBC4 was contemptible, risible pish.

MITACD was, apparently, a “personal journey” conducted (fnar fnar) by musician Charles Hazelwood through the wide and wacky world of contemporary dance. This is a pretty standard format for the BBC. Don’t make a compelling, informative documentary because that requires too much effort and costs too much money. Get some weak shouldered, pseudo intellectual to arse about for an hour basically taking the piss instead.

The show consisted mostly of Mr Hazelwood standing around in one dance studio or another with his hands on his hips trying to look interested. At one point he seems amazed that, when played some music, a group of professional dancers (who are never identified) can improvise, they can even do counter point?

What did you expect piano boy? That when asked to improvise to some music they would stand around with their hands on their hips looking stupid? No dear, that’s your job.

If the studio happened to be outside of London however he evidently couldn’t be bothered. When the show cut to segments of Scottish Dance Theatre doing a sharing of work Mr Hazelwood seemed to be absent. Apparently travelling to Dundee wasn’t covered by the travelling expenses.

In fact our epic culture explorer appears absent from most of the interviews too. He only shows his face when yapping to Kenneth Tharpe or Richard Alston and a few others. Presumably because they were all in the same building.

Do It Live

Actual performance footage was constructed mostly, if not entirely, from archival material obtained directly from dance companies, jump-cut together by some BBC hack. We know this because we’ve seen a lot of it before, in dance company promo videos. None of the companies are actually identified and the works are never named.

At no point do we see the main protagonist attending any theatre showings of work, actually spending some time at a performance or twelve such is his intense interest in dance and willingness to study the form in detail.

Entire swathes of the dance world are completely ignored, from Phoenix Dance Theatre through Motionhouse Dance Theatre to 2Faced, Company Chameleon, Vincent Dance Theatre, Jasmin Vardimon and Candoco. The list goes on and on and never mind anybody in Europe or anywhere else in the world.

Teaching and outreach are never discussed, in fact no issue of any description is ever discussed.

Nothing about the three to four years of intense training it requires to actually graduate. Nothing about jobs or the lack of them for dancers, nothing about pay, no funding issues, touring issues, no discussion of funding cuts and how they will affect the profession as a whole. Nothing about health care, injury prevention or the lack thereof. Nothing about rep companies vs companies driven by a single dance maker, nothing about live music vs pre-recorded, nothing about what it actually takes to go from nothing to a finished piece of work. Nothing about new dance makers. Nothing about why audiences may find a lot of contemporary work challenging and, dare we say it, boring to watch. Nothing at all about anything.

Instead, we get Mr Hazelwood, in a studio, meowing like a cat.


Shows like this exist because they are cheap to make and require very little effort on behalf of the producers, illustrated by the lazy approach to obtaining live performance footage. They allow the BBC to get away with saying they care about culture. MITACD is just schedule filler for a BBC channel nobody watches and they and Mr Hazelwood treat an entire profession like the punchline to a joke.

By the end our host was musing about how three or four projects he is running “around the world” would benefit from having some dance involvement. It made the whole show seem like supporting material for a funding application.

When watching this wretched thing about dance it becomes clear why the BBC would not provide an advance copy for review or why Jan Younghusband refused to talk to us at all about any of the shows commissioned for this series.

You watch programmes like this hoping against hope that this time you will be wrong and it really will be a thoughtful, well made, comprehensive documentary about contemporary dance. Maybe SkyArts will make a better one?