The Evil Imp

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

Do you remember Richard Alston Dance Company? For those not in the know the company existed for 25 years under the leadership of its titular director Richard Alston, a dance maker of note, according to some, and crafter of 50 dance works that toured the world, dazzling audiences with a great deal of Wafting About™.

The music was, more often than not, supplied by some dusty, long dead tunesmith with costumes that were, as they often are in dance, largely forgettable. The whole thing was very nice though, the pictures looked good in the local paper when they came calling to your city and if you wanted to explain to somebody what “contemporary dance” was, you could point to RADC and everything made sense, at least to the Muggles.

Mr Alston himself was a part of the original London Dance Mafia, a group of dance makers and policy wonks that emerged from The Place in London that refused to release their strangle-hold on funding and public attention for decades. The publicly funded company spent millions creating and touring work until suddenly and without explanation, in 2020, RADC was gone, like a whisper in a storm.

If you visit the company’s original website it is long gone, it’s now “domain squatted” by “Rich Dance Alston” and filled with pages of text scraped from Wikipedia. Another website does exist but this features only scraps of information, some short videos of a few pieces and a biography that doesn’t really explain a decades long career working and creating dance pieces, imagine a book with 85% of its pages missing.

RADC was inextricably linked to ThePlace in London for its entire existence and a link on “Richard Alston Choreographer” claims;

“For the history of the now closed Richard Alston Dance Company including a full list of Richard Alston’s works please visit The Place[sic] website.”

Richard Alston Choreographer Website

That link takes you to a “404-not found” page and the only thing left of Mr Alston on ThePlace’s website is that same biography you can find on “Richard Alston Choreographer”. An inauspicious scrubbing of history if ever there was one.

The dance maker’s working site is dependent on somebody, somewhere paying the annual registration fee for the domain name and some web site hosting. At some point in the future, it’s going to disappear. It’s a thin thread on which to hang the history of an entire body of work.

Not The Only One

What we have outlined above is not a problem that is unique to just one company. Siobhan Davies Dance Company formed in 1988, named for Siobhan Davies, another former member of the London Dance Mafia, closed its doors in 2007. This company did have an archive of work that came online in 2009 and at the time we said this;

“…the Siobhan Davies Archive is a superb resource for students and academics. The sheer volume of video material, photos, background information and details of additional projects carried out by the company over the years are both fascinating and overwhelming.”

Article19 2009 Feature Piece

The archive’s design was poor and the video quality was terrible, even for 2009, but at least it was something. Sadly, it didn’t last, the site is gone now and the domain name they used redirects to a Japanese porn website (not making that up!)

If you visit any website for a dance company that has closed its doors for good, in the vast majority of cases, you will find nothing but dead air. DV8 Physical Theatre shut down in 2016 because the company’s AD Lloyd Newson was ridiculous, but they do still have a working website, although it is functionally useless.

The homepage claims videos of their work are available on a site called “Digital Theatre” (that doesn’t work in the UK) and “Digital Theatre Plus” which does work but the video is locked behind a paywall and is for educational institutions only. A none too subtle slap in the face considering everything they ever made and are selling access to was publicly funded, but that’s Lloyd Newson for you. You could also travel to Bristol University because they apparently have an archive of the company’s material, for some reason, but if you’re looking for a compelling reason to visit Bristol, a DV8 archive is not it.

Even the dance companies that are still running, both new and old, have little to offer the public in terms of archive material. Maybe you can see a promotional video or two but that’s about it, it’s slim pickings in the wide world of digital dance.

The Cost of Nothing

Here in TheLab™ our other life involves photographing and filming dance to create various types of media work for dancers, dance companies, and others. While the core technical aspect of what we do is taking pictures and shooting video, a more poetic way of looking at our work is to think of us as remembering things for you, taking a lot of notes, and recording your history for safe keeping.

It’s not for crusty historians or academics to determine what should or should not be recorded and made accessible for all time. Everything is important to somebody somewhere but as of today a vast amount of work has already disappeared into oblivion alongside the millions that it cost to create it in the first place. Dance companies and choreographers evidently have little interest in the preservation of their legacy so, perhaps, for the publicly funded stuff we should relieve them of that responsibility?

Coming up with plan to accomplish this task would not be difficult. Arts Council England (stop laughing at the back) simply demands that all performed work is professionally recorded and that recording is then uploaded to a digital service replete with all required written information, so people know what they are looking at. Think of it as YouTube for the arts only with a lot less grifting. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport would pay to keep it online, we pass some laws protecting it from opportunistic politicians and include physical libraries in said law for good measure.

There are of course issues pertaining to licensing, copyright, and money for the artists in the recorded work but, again, let’s pass some laws and spend some money. If we can build a £250Million concrete shoe box then we can pay for a national video archive for the arts without breaking much of a sweat.

It is not acceptable now and nor has it ever been acceptable that publicly funded artwork is simply thrown away because nobody could be bothered to work out a way to keep it. If somebody were to start burning books or paintings using the rationale that nobody cares about them anyway, we would all be justifiably outraged and demand it stop. Yet, for decades dance works from thousands of artists has been cast aside, probably lost forever, and we just let it happen.


Top Photo: Lenny K Photography

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