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Dance landscape shrinks and shifts nationwide in Arts Council cuts | reviews, news & interviews

Dance landscape shrinks and shifts nationwide in Arts Council cuts

Dance landscape shrinks and shifts nationwide in Arts Council cuts

Buck passes to regions as choreographic pool reduced

The Arts Council’s rearrangement of the dance world by its handling of its 15 per cent subsidy cut shows no change in its persistence in choosing to prefer bureaucratic structures to talent. The 15 per cent cut has been handed straight over to all the ballet companies, with no evidence of strategic thinking about the implications for numbers of dancers, productions or programming.

But it’s in the area of contemporary dance that my first impression is of an urge at HQ to pass the buck of decisions to the regions to handle. Once again the talent, the artists, are much less visible in the pot than the organisers of them.

The infantilising of ballet into a sort of populist dansical theatre will continue without respite - Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet this year have struggled (particularly the latter) to make brief efforts to offer diverse programming beyond the big fairytales, and how such already lean and strained companies will cope with cuts of £700,000 in two years spells a hastening death for British classical ballet in its current layout. I would have said it was better to keep two strong and healthy companies and cut one out, than to cut and chop them all democratically bit by bit for the next three years. This is no way for Britain's classical ballet to survive lean times - yet it could even have thrived, had there been genuinely strategic and brave thinking ready to challenge the UK ballet world head-on.

As it is, I foresee a crunch between now and 2015, and a largely boring outlook for discriminating ballet-goers. Possibly an enforced remodelling on a smaller scale for one or other (which might not be a bad thing) or the attempt to introduce the benighted US part-year contracts for dancers.

In proportion, the Royal Ballet's superficial new Alice production cost somewhere over £1.5 million, it's said, though costs are shared with the National Ballet of Canada. But with the Opera House’s 15 per cent overall cut to keep its combined opera and ballet budget to £26 million a year, such extravagances are not likely to be repeated. Over the next few years as ballet cuts starve Britain's theatres of their offerings, the Royal Ballet's continued exemption from any touring obligation will become more and more an anomaly, and if ticket prices rise steeply, as looks likely, this will deepen the perception that the Covent Garden company exists to serve a rich London and international audience, while feeding off national taxes. Until the RB faces that, it's saddled.

In the area of contemporary dance the most surprising cuts are to two flagship London organisations - Dance Umbrella, which for more than 25 years has brought the best of world dance to London each autumn, along with choice British companies, takes a savage 43 per cent real terms reduction by 2015, and The Place in Euston, the historic base for London Contemporary Dance and the veteran choreographer Richard Alston, is to lose up to 20 per cent of its funding in real terms over three years.

The fact is that Dance Umbrella has been dealt a blow by not only a shrinkage in dance abroad too as economic circumstances tighten, but also the dreadfully coincidental deaths of the headline names Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham, and the ageing of the great generation of US moderns, now mostly in their seventies and eighties. Nothing much has been found to take their places in the eyes of the British public (even the Edinburgh Festival has shown evidence of this in its own severe shrinkage of dance interest).

A new initiative is a partnership between Greenwich Dance Agency and the Trinity Laban music and dance academy, just under £400,000 a year, which looks to make good sense in offering graduates performing opportunities.

Meanwhile the regional dance agencies, boards of well-meaning arts bureaucrats who organise socially useful dance activities, are being given enormous increases in proportion to the cut in talent. This, of course, just as many local authorities scythe back their arts support. Whatever the agencies do with their extra funds, one has to hope that they are going to have sharp enough creative antennae to give good choreographers a chance, considering that the list of unfunded fine British talents - Jonathan Burrows, Matthew Bourne, Kim Brandstrup, Russell Maliphant, Javier de Frutos, Matthew Hawkins - grows further with the dropping of the gifted Henri Oguike.

Such choreographers, many of them with 20 years of experience and quality behind them, and recognised as Britain’s artistic assets much better in the world than here, should be heading medium-sized troupes to fill Britain’s many medium-sized theatres, but they are now left entirely dependent on international offers or occasional commissions from Rambert or a dance agency. For most of them that means no chance to polish and develop their talents to the enjoyment of the British public. Thus continues the institutional inability of the Arts Council to spot the artists and give them what they need to grow - and what British audiences need from them. It is painfully evident from the paucity of choreographers who applied for funding this time that they have lost confidence in the Arts Council.

The only choreographers British dance-lovers are likely to see for the next three years are a small number of big names: Wayne McGregor, Siobhan Davies, Michael Clark, Akram Khan, DV8’s Lloyd Newson, all of whom now tend to spend more time touring internationally than nationally. The subsidy for the touring network of theatres that host dance around the country, the Dance Consortium, is being cut by 11 per cent in real terms between today’s rate and 2015’s, which does not augur well for the enlightenment of regional audiences now growing up without a shred of an idea of what really good contemporary dance is.

Though the Arts Council insists it has made "strategic" decisions, rather than salami slicing, it's hard to see any strategic shift or focus here. The two pieces of good news are that Rambert gets what it needed to continue at current levels (it’s commissioned Javier de Frutos for the autumn, and will remain virtually the only potential showcase for any new British work of sizeable scale), and the Balletboyz have been strongly supported with a 25 per cent uplift to a measly £230,000 a year. Their current show in Sadler’s Wells this week displays their eye for new talent both in performance and in creativity - if only the Balletboyz were running the Arts Council.

McGregor, already the Royal Ballet’s paid resident choreographer, receives a large increase in subsidy too for his personal company, Random Dance - up to £537,000 by 2015. Surely Random will need to be seen to be doing more performing in the UK. The choreographic voices who will be heard on a larger scale are Hofesh Shechter, Jasmin Vardimon and the amiable Protein Dance, only one of which shows evidence of much of significance to offer, that being Shechter. But three interesting big increases are in Yorkshire dance companies: Balbir Singh, Ballet Lorent and Vincent Dance Theatre.

Siobhan Davies, who now has a London studio and choreographic base to administer, can cope with the slight reduction to her £607,000 per year. It is fair, in the circumstances, that the most comfortably off choreographer in Britain, Richard Alston and The Place, cope with a 20 per cent reduction. There will certainly be squeals of distress (though not from me) at the ending of support to Lea Anderson’s very tired Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs.

A major realignment goes on in Leeds, as all three of its best-known companies, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance and RJC, take a 15 per cent cut over the three years, even as the city's fine new dance centre opens.





  • 15 per cent cut by 2015 dealt out to Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Royal Opera House, which includes Royal Ballet.
  • Rambert stays the same, at about £2.3 million a year, as it moves into a new South Bank base this year.


  • Sadler’s Wells stays the same, at about £2.5 million subsidy per year
  • An 11 per cent real reduction of help to the theatre circuit pledged to tour dance: the Dance Touring Consortium
  • Dance Xchange Birmingham an 8 per cent increase to £615,000
  • New theatres on board include, at last, Blackpool’s wonderful Grand Theatre
  • Lost: Exeter’s troubled Northcott Theatre

Contemporary dance

  • Dance Umbrella takes a massive 36 per cent real cut over 3 years
  • The Contemporary Dance Trust - The Place, Richard Alston, teaching courses - takes a 20 per cent cut to £1.8 million
  • Greenwich Dance Agency & Trinity Laban - a new partnership scheme of up to £399,000 a year by 2015

Regional agencies

  • Dance East up 27 per cent to £835,000 by 2015
  • South East Dance up 17 per cent over 3 years to £595,000 pa
  • Greenwich Dance Agency up 42 per cent to £400,000
  • Doubling of money to Dance South West up to £400,000 - hopefully will make up for withdrawal of funding from Exeter’s Northcott Theatre
  • Yorkshire Dance up to £340,000 from current £200,000 pa
  • Manchester’s Dance Initiative up 70 per cent in real terms to £176,000

Independent commissioning companies

  • Rambert real-terms standstill at about £2.3 million pa
  • Balletboyz up 25 per cent in real terms to £230,000 by 2015
  • Candoco roughly standstill at £415,000 by 2015


Choreographers - gainers

  • Wayne McGregor up 29 per cent to £537,000 by 2015
  • Hofesh Shechter up 73 per cent to £400,000
  • Protein Dance up to £250,000
  • Jasmin Vardimon up 8.4 per cent to £250,000
  • Balbir Singh Dance (Yorkshire) trebles from current £50,000 to £157,000 pa by 2015


  • Akram Khan real-terms standstill
  • Michael Clark virtual standstill £208,000

Reduced circumstances

  • Siobhan Davies slight reduction £607,000
  • DV8 down 11 per cent to £432,000
  • Shobana Jeyasingh down 28.7 per cent to £270,000
  • Motionhouse down 11 per cent to £270,000
  • Ludus Dance, down 70 per cent

No funding

  • Henri Oguike (this is bad news)
  • Lea Anderson's Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs (bearable news)
The regional dance agencies are being given enormous increases in proportion to the cut in supporting talent

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What I find most distressing in this list of names is the appalling lack of female choreographers receiving decent funding or for that matter receiving any funding! ( However, there is also a noticeable lack of female choreographers creating work in contemporary dance, that is more interesting than a pale derivative of Dance Theatre ). So for me, it is not a 'squeal', as sarcastically expressed by this writer, at the cutting of Lea (MBE) but more a stunned silence for one of the few, older, mature woman choreographers left in dance in the UK. In the same way this writer talks of unfunded British talents, (notably all men again, some of whom make work that is no more intellectually or aesthetically stimulating than an egg frying), I lament the underwhelming support for Lea and women in this list as another nail in the coffin for talented British women in this profession. Finally, advocates of dance — including those sitting on the Arts Council one assumes — should be speaking out vociferously about the virtually complete absence of women choreographers in British Ballet in the last century! As the lions share of funding for Dance is, yet again, STILL going to propping up Ballet then, in this day and age, the Royal and the rest have a cultural and political obligation to ensure equal opportunities, and that in the 21st Century the work of women choreographers is visibly present and sustained in order to break into and overturn this male dominated preserve in Ballet. It is outrageous that women have allowed this to continue. It would be interesting to know if any women have a say in what funding goes to the Ballet companies, and if they do, they should be taken to task for being useless at not raising this years ago and pressing for this change!

How you can say the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs are "tired" is beyond me.. they have played many different and "new" dance venues in the past few years and shows like Dancing on Your Grave and Edits, had an amazing response??... and they were and are still so different to everything else which is going on...?? They have branched out to small venues, clubs, bars as well as music venues/festivals..taking dance to new and exciting audiences.. they always try to push the boundaries...what is Richard Alston doing?? same old costumes, same old publicity??...they do about 40 shows per year???

private promoters bring companies from overseas at no cost to the taxpayer.

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