The Evil Imp

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 ]