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Notes on Democracy

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 |

On the day that the results were announced for the outcome of the UK's referendum on being a part of the EU I encountered an individual who told me they didn't vote because they didn't want the responsibility for the decision on their shoulders, or words to that effect.

If that doesn't sum up the perfect storm of stupid surrounding this entire nonsensical campaign to drag the UK back to the 1940s then I'm not sure what else could. At no point during the campaign or after it has one single leave voter been able to provide a cogent reason to leave the European Union if they can be bothered to come up with a reason at all. The best that anybody can muster is canned statements about "making Britain great again", dictators in Brussels, sovereignty, freedom and, I kid you not, a desire to buy British milk and only British milk. The verbal gymnastics practiced by many when talking about immigration while trying very hard not to sound like, at best, a xenophobic flag hugger would be funny, if it weren't so depressing.

Posing the question "what does the EU stop you from doing given that they are, as you say, a dictatorship?" gets you a blank stare or sudden lack of keyboard activity. Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi were dictators. That little fat guy with the bad hair from North Korea is a dictator. Dictator's shoot you in the head if you say they are funny little fat guys with bad hair. The EU makes regulations about fire extinguishers and crash tests on cars and creates expansive cultural policy and common agricultural policy. It's a lumbering bureaucracy that needs a good kick up the backside from time to time. Dictatorship? Not so much!

My EU passport gives me the right to travel to and work in 28 different countries and I don't need to explain to anybody why I want to. I can say what I like (within legal reason of course) and I can pretty much do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. If that's not the textbook definition of freedom, then I don't know what is. If you're a leave voter, go ahead, try and get a work permit for the United States, enjoy!

Another egregious bungle was actually having an "in/out" vote in the first place. Given the complexity of the decision that needed to be made having it decanted into a binary choice of "in or out" was, perhaps, the biggest tactical blunder since the generals on both sides of World War One decided that digging trenches was a really good way to win a war.

The Civics Test

If anybody thought that the end of voting was the end of the chaos, then they will be sorely disappointed. Calls are being made for parliament to reject the referendum result given the carnage that has already come to financial and currency markets, the 2 step downgrading of the UK's credit rating and the uncertainty that will plague us all for years to come. Some have said that rejecting the result would be denying the democratic will of the people. So let's take a quick look at that.

The vote for exit was, in total, less than 1/3rd of the population of the country, 17.1Million votes vs 65Million population. Young people aged 16 and 17 years old were denied a right to vote because, well because they just were. Despite having to live with this for a lot longer than people aged over 65, who voted by a majority to leave, they had no say while 30% of those who were allowed to vote apparently couldn't be bothered. What better way to teach civics than by engaging and allowing people on the cusp of leaving school for university a vote in a referendum?

Prior to the referendum being announced a voting law should have been passed making it a legal requirement to vote alongside same day voting registration and a ballot that was open for 7 days. Don't want the responsibility on your shoulders? Well tough luck, get yourself educated on the issue and enjoy your vote. Want to win a decision like this? Then you need to get 60% of 100% turnout or you don't win. For a decision that is going to unleash decades of turmoil, it's the very least we should have expected. A decision to quit the EU is so demonstrably calamitous it should have been made almost impossible to win.

In addition to the above, a law should also have been passed stating that anybody deliberately lying to obtain a victory in any election is committing a criminal offense in-line with the pains and penalties of perjury. If you want to claim that the entire population of Turkey is going to move to the UK to scare the naïve, then go ahead, but you're going to jail for 5 years for doing it.

It might also have been a good idea to require voters to pass a basic civics test with a strong EU component so they understood what the EU actually does beforehand instead of looking it up on the internet the day after the damage was done.

The Apology

So what now? If Article 50 is ever triggered then the negotiations will be long, torturous and boring, that much is certain. The best that sane minds can hope for is that the UK becomes part of the European Economic Area (EEA), just like Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland. What does that mean? Well it basically means the UK continues contributing billions to the EU for access to the single market but we also have to accept freedom of movement and employment for EU nationals and comply with EU regulations. If you're thinking that sounds a lot like what we have now but without any direct say in the running of the EU itself, then you would be absolutely right.

Ultimately, the UK will have ripped out a perfectly good kitchen only to replace it with a very expensive new kitchen that looks exactly the same as the kitchen we already had but now the place is covered in dust and your wife has divorced you because you're an idiot who replaced the kitchen for no good reason.

Finally, it occurs to me that nobody has said sorry on behalf of this, at the time of writing, broken little country. Of course nobody asked me to speak on behalf of the nation but the EU furnished me with the right to free expression so as it turns out, I don't need anybody's permission. So, to all of my friends, colleagues and others who are EU nationals living and working in this country, I'm sorry for the hate, the lies and the fear. I'm sorry we weren't strong enough or loud enough to stop it. I'm sorry for the feckless politicians, and the opportunistic mendacious cowards who embarrassed us all and shamed a nation as the world looked on. I'm sorry for the racists and the xenophobes and the low-information/no-information voters who put an X on a piece of paper and then retired to Google to find out what the hell they had actually voted for. I'm sorry this country isn't grown up enough to act like the bastion of democracy it has long claimed to be.

Top Image by Nicolas Raymond

Published Tue, 28 Jun, 2016 at 09:52 | Share on Facebook |

One Of Those Times

Sunday, 10 May, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

A few weeks ago I interviewed Hannah Rotchell (pictured above) a dancer with JV2, the post graduate company set up by Jasmin Vardimon Company to provide additional training and work experience for dancers. Ms Rotchell, a graduate of LCDS in London, is perhaps everything you would want in a professional dancer; Prodigiously talented, intelligent, articulate and driven by the same desire that shapes the thinking of so many dancers working in the profession in this country and around the world, a desire to do so much more with her life than simply work for a wage.

When speaking with dancers in training or at the very beginning of their careers you see the clearest evidence of people being driven forward by something "muggles" (for want of a better word) find difficult to understand.

Friday's election result has left many, including this writer, shaken and dismayed by the hubristic behaviour of the voting public. This country's leader is, as before, a cowardly, small measure of a man lacking in anything approaching an interesting idea on how to progressively tackle the issues facing this dysfunctional little island of ours. Creatively stunted people should, under no circumstances, be placed in charge of anything but our political system evidently encourages anything but creative thinking.

Of course the thoughts of many working in the wide world of dance will turn to the not so distant future and they will wonder aloud if there will be any future at all. Social media has, as social media does, predicted doom, the end of Arts Council England and general blood letting in theatres, galleries and libraries across the land. They might be right, only time will tell of course.

The last five years have seen unnecessary cuts to arts funding at both a national and local level, although Scotland, somewhat ironically, has managed to avoid hysterically beating culture with a shovel for no other reason than, just because. If the new Tory only government continues on the same path then there is going to be trouble and a lot of it.

My response to that is simple. When has there not been trouble?

Even before the Con/Lib coalition took their wrecking ball to all things culture the wide world of contemporary dance wasn't exactly rolling in cash. Some in the arts have it easy, that much is certain, but the folks in contemporary dance have never had it easy. I'm not even sure I know what "easy" would look like for this particular slice of the cultural pie. Speak to anybody working in the profession and the word "easy" or variants thereof will never come up.

Contemporary dance is nothing if not resilient however. This particular art form has been around for more than a hundred years and it will still be around a hundred years from now long after David Cameron and his mendacious ilk morph into little more than Wikipedia entries. The good thing about having not very much of anything all is that you don't miss that nothing when it's gone. Most contemporary dance makers put on a show with little more than the dancers they have assembled and the shirts on their backs. We all want things to be better, we all want things to be a little bit easier but at the moment that's probably not going to happen.

During these times of nonsense it is important for the entire dance industry to stick together. It's during these times of nonsense that it is vitally important to remember that the entire dance industry belongs to everybody working in it. The dance companies, the dance buildings, the National Dance Network and the dance schools and everything else are nobody's personal property and however big or small they might be it's time to dig deep and provide tangible support to anybody that needs it.

Support can take many forms and I don't need to run out a list here, everybody working in the business understands what needs to be done and they know how they can support the people in dance they know and, more importantly, the people in dance they don't know. For the next five years at least there needs to an open door policy on everything from classes to workshops to rehearsal spaces. If it can be done for free then all the better but certain institutions demanding thousands of pounds from independents for rehearsal space need to get a grip because if they continue with policies like that everybody is just going to hate them.

Yes, I'm talking about you Rambert Dance Company.

It is at times like these that everybody working in dance needs to remember why they got into this madness to begin with. You got into it because, to be blunt, you're not like most other people. You really did walk down the road less travelled. You didn't want to be told what to do, you didn't want to come to work at 9am and go home at 5pm, you don't care how much it hurts or how tired you are because being in control of your own destiny is far more important than job security, pension plans and regular hot meals!

If you can't remember why you got into this business to begin with then I urge you to look to the dance students and the recent graduates because they can still remember and they are undaunted by feckless politicians and too many indifferent members of the public who exhort them to get a "real job" for no other reason than the very thought of taking real chances in life fills them with paralysing fear.

This is one of those times. Politicians and their policies come and go but the wide world of dance must persist.

top photo - Dancer Hannah Rotchell, dancers from JV2, the post graduate company of Jasmin Vardimon Company, undergo rehearsals, for up and coming performances, at the company's studio space in Ashford, Kent. Photo by Article19

Published Sun, 10 May, 2015 at 11:21 | Share on Facebook |

Bankrupt Thinking

Monday, 22 December, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

For the last few years working in the arts has been a more unpredictable and stressful endeavour than usual. Cuts to funding at the national and local level are causing massive headaches and losses to local arts provision, touring and a whole lot more.

It was surprising then when George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer and ideologue supreme, during his "Autumn Statement" announced that the government intended to fund a brand new arts building in Manchester to the tune of £78Million.

The announcement was surprising because local projects are not generally of national enough importance to make their way into a speech that, given the up an coming election next year, is about little more than campaigning for votes.

This particular project would turn an unused television studio in Manchester, previously owned by the television channel ITV, into a large scale arts venue and home to the bi-annual arts event the Manchester International Festival.

Reports suggest that the venue will hold anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 people depending on how it's configured. The Manchester International Festival is funded by Arts Council England as part of their National Portfolio programme to the tune of £729,134 per year.

Manchester City Council say that central government funding will cover "most" of the construction cost of this facility.

Career Politicians

Article19 contacted the Shadow Culture Minister Harriet Harman for a comment about this issue. Below are the questions we submitted and the response we received from Ms Harman's "Chief of Staff".

"In the Autumn statement the Chancellor announced £78Million of funding for a new culture facility to be operated by Manchester International Festival (The Factory). At present there is no start date for construction, no completion date, no architect and very little in the way of any written rationale for the existence of this project.

I would like to know if Ms Harman supports the funding of this project through central government given the the proposed cost, the complete lack of any explanation, at present, by the Treasury, DCMS, Manchester City Council or the Manchester International Festival about how this project will be paid for over the long term with regard to operation costs.

Does Ms Harman think it is a good idea to fund large scale construction projects when funding to Arts Council England has been drastically cut over the last few years, with no end in sight, and local government cuts have severely limited arts provision at the local and regional level?

If the Labour Party wins next years election will they support this particular project and provide the funding to Manchester City Council to construct this new facility?"

Response;

"We are in favour of investing in arts and culture particularly outside London and welcome the many social, economic and regeneration benefits that brings."

Make of that what you will!

Designing a Funding Problem

When announcements like this are made many people, usually in arts funding administration, immediately seize on the potential positives derived from the presence of something shiny and new and the fact that it's an arts building and pay little or no attention to the reality.

That reality however is the biggest problem. First and foremost, putting this building in place will cost a monstrous £78Million to accomplish and that does not include additional construction costs. Then there is the slightly sticky issue of paying for it to actually operate as an arts building.

Over the last few years arts funding has fallen off a cliff at local, regional and national level. There is barely enough money in the system right now to cover keeping libraries open, education projects running and touring for those companies that do actually manage to tour.

Just two weeks ago Birmingham City Council announced that its flagship new library would have to open for less hours because of severe budget cuts. That particular project was constructed at a cost of £188Million.

So what the hell is going on with Manchester City Council (cut again by 1.8% like all local councils a few days ago) attempting to open a massive arts building as budgets continue to contract?

Lies, Damn Lies and Obfuscation

At the time of writing there is very little, if any, information to be had about the building itself. Manchester International Festival (MIF) referred us to Manchester City Council if we wanted any actual details.

MIF were somewhat vague when asked why a bi-annual festival needs a building at all and had no idea where the money was coming from to actually run it.

Manchester City Council admitted that there are no actual drawings, designs or pre-visualisations for "The Factory" (as it will be called) at the moment because there is no architect. They also have absolutely no idea how much money it will cost to operate or where that money is coming from.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport, who handle culture spending, had absolutely no idea about anything to do with the Manchester project and referred us to the Treasury. A spokesperson for the DCMS had no idea who's idea the project was and stated that they wouldn't tell us even if they did know. When we pointed out that the cat was out of the bag as far as this project was concerned they seemed somewhat befuddled.

Over at HM Treasury things looked even more grim, not for this project but for the country as a whole since the people in charge of the UK's bank account don't seem to be capable of operating a functional communications system, never mind a nationwide economy.

First of all we were provided with an email address that refused to accept any emails. We were then given the contact details for a press officer, whom we contacted, just before he left his job and, apparently, didn't bother to pass on this little tidbit of information before he packed up his stuff and walked out of the building. Numerous phone calls to the Treasury found us caught in a never ending loop with switchboard staff who, evidently, cannot operate a call transfer system.

Almost two weeks later and HM Treasury has provided no answers to some vary basic questions, like where is the money coming from, does this project have cross party support and so on. The last we heard was that our questions were being dealt with by an individual called "Hope". You couldn't make this up if you tried.

Arts Council England denied all knowledge of the project and refused to be drawn on whether or not they would provide additional funds to MIF to operate the facility.

This is a very similar situation to the position ACE placed themselves into when they funded the new building for Rambert Dance Company in London. £7Million was provided toward the construction costs while the company itself faces standstill funding for years to come.

The Christmas Present Nobody Needs

It's all very well for people to get hyped up about projects like this and trot out the pre-rehearsed platitudes about culture funding and investment. But what the arts really need is for somebody, with a brain, to explain where the money is coming from to pay for it.

Where is the money coming from to pay for the staff, the maintenance, the lighting, the heating, the computer systems and the damn window cleaners?

Where is the money coming from to pay for the publicly funded companies to make work for this space and to tour to this space when they are all, no matter what the art-form, facing continuing cuts to already small budgets?

How as a country do we say it's ok the cut local arts provision funding by 100% in a lot of places and then arrogantly cheer as yet another architectural white elephant eats into the hollow carcass of arts funding in the regions?

Given the paucity of information about "The Factory" it seems clear that the announcement of £78Million in funding is little more than an electioneering bribe aimed at voters in the north.

There has been a huge amount of criticism and several reports highlighting the fact that ACE funding is disproportionately directed towards companies in London while the regions receive table scraps.

The Treasury has, thus far, not commented about whether or not the project has cross party support and will continue if, as seems likely, the current government are shown the door in the elections next May.

It is dispiriting if not infuriating that arts leaders have not and will not condemn this latest idiocy for what it is. Should "The Factory" ever be built scarce resources will be sucked into it for decades to come, long after the current regimes at ACE, The DCMS, The Treasury and Manchester City Council have wandered off into the sunset.

They will leave behind a legacy of bankrupt thinking and bankrupt small and medium arts organisations that will succumb to fiscal reality for no other reason than a few individuals were willing to take a bribe from one of the most reckless and vindictive governments in recent history.

Image courtesy of Snoopy.com

Published Mon, 22 Dec, 2014 at 12:12 | Share on Facebook |

Anatomy of a Failed Fundraiser

Friday, 5 September, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

30 Days ago Article19 started something that Article19 has never done before, we tried to raise funding from the people who visit this website every month.

30 days later and that fundraiser has ended its run in failure. You pay your money and you take your chances, that's how it goes. The question as to why did it failed is probably impossible to answer however.

One thing I know is this, raising money is hard, in fact it's very hard.

Over the last month Article19 was able to make tens of thousands of people aware of what we were trying to do. Not only through advertising on every page of the site for regular visitors but through social networks, emailing, texting and any other method we have for communicating with people.

In statistical terms it would only have taken 0.5% of our monthly readers to donate £10 each to hit a target of £3,000. So why could't we hit it?

Any editor of any news website will tell you that getting your readers to give money, through donations or otherwise, is extremely difficult. Internet users are simply not tuned to give money to online publications because almost all websites on the internet are essentially free to use.

Another major issue is that Article19, as a publication, concerns itself with an industry full of dancers who are very badly paid and quite a lot of those dancers are a big part of our reader base. The pages of this website are full of stories of the ridiculous wages and employment prospects of the very people we were asking for help.

Dance students have a hard enough time of it and many professional dancers are working two or three jobs just to keep the lights on. Most admin folk, the ones who don't work at The Royal Opera House, are not rolling in money either.

The result was, perhaps, predictable.

It makes us wonder, here in TheLab™, if our next project should be called "Billionaires, How They Should Spend All Their Spare Cash!"

Despite all of that though many did pledge support and for that I am truly grateful. The support really does mean more than hitting the actual target.

Cold Irony

There is also the distinct possibility that many people who read and use Article19 actually don't like Article19 very much.

From the very start, many years ago when I was writing on a single page on another website*, Article19 (it wasn't even called that back then) was talking about the wide world of dance the way it really was for the people living and working within it.

As a dance student I intensely disliked Dance Theatre Journal, The Dancing Times and the other dance publications for the simple reason that their writing was completely irrelevant to me and bore no relation to the dance profession that I was experiencing on a day to day basis.

I also believe that this art form doesn't belong to just a few choreographers and even fewer theatre directors. It belongs to everybody that chooses to be a part of it.

A new dance maker with little or no money scratching out a work in a dusty corner matters just as much as anybody else. Article19 can't always get to them to provide coverage, if only, but their work is important because everybody starts somewhere.

When you, our dear readers, look at the wide world of dance does it seem fair to you? Does it seem like everybody gets an equal chance to succeed or fail? Do you think everybody is doing everything they can to make the dance profession progressively better for everybody?

Like it or not Article19 is the fourth estate for dance and when you're in that position making friends with everybody isn't really possible. Some people are going to love you and a lot of people are going to hate you.

So yes, a lot of people dislike Article19, but that's part of the job and I don't take it personally, even if there are some out there who try really hard to make it personal.

Twist and Sulk

In a suitably ironic twist a couple of days ago a job advertisement appeared for an "Editor" on the completely ignored and massively expensive (£16Million at last count) Space project being run by ACE and the BBC.

That particular job comes with a salary of £50,000(+) per year for the lucky winner. For that kind of money Article19 could cover every single dance company in this country including every GFA recipient for a year and still have money left over to buy a pony.

The job description for that position describes one of the editors tasks;

"To lead on making sure all copy on The Space is high quality, readable, accessible, fresh, well written and interesting to the general reader"

Apparently that means writing like this, an interview with an academic, that reads exactly like the nonsense I disliked all those years ago from Dance Theatre Journal.

Writing like that won't so much get people interested or engaged with the arts as it will have them searching for the nearest rhinoceros to headbutt.

Perhaps a comparison between the massively well funded Space and the not funded at all Article19 is the perfect metaphor for the arts in the 21st century.

The thing with all the money is pretentious, ugly and stupefyingly boring. Article19 on the other hand is almost completely out of control, gets to show some amazing work from great companies and dancers, speaks to actual issues and is, most importantly of all, fun.

Even the people who dislike Article19 keep coming back and keep reading because at least this publication is interesting, at least this publication is capable of provoking an emotional response. Isn't that what all art is supposed to do?

I will close by thanking all of the people who pledged support on Kickstarter, all of the people who shared the campaign with others on social media and through email, all of the people who come and read Article19 every month and keep on coming back (and have done for years now).

A special thank you though to all of the people who really don't like Article19 but also keep coming back. This website is not Facebook, it's not about being friends, it's not about liking everything that everybody says or does just because. Article19 is about seeing this industry as it really is, what you do with that information is up to you.

*Article19 started life as a single page on another website called DanceService UK

photo by Pedro Vezini

Published Fri, 5 Sep, 2014 at 11:27 | Share on Facebook |

Rage Against The (Mobile) Machine

Monday, 19 May, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

by Chantal Guevara

Theatres attract such diverse audiences, and yet there is one thing which all audience members have in common: a universal loathing for those people who cannot put their phone away long enough to watch a full act of a show.

It's not as though theatres leave any room for ambiguity, normally: their anti-phone stance is typically outlined on their website, cast sheets and programmes, and usually addressed in the preshow announcement.

And yet we will always get those people who feel that they are nonetheless above such strictures. Oh yes, they can text, email, tweet, check Facebook and so much more during a show - and that's just for starters! And unfortunately, due to funding cuts, too few theatres have the available ushers (and really long sticks / cattle prods / tasers) to keep audience members in line.

What is the big deal, you might ask? Well, you've paid money to sit in a darkened room to watch artists perform a show which they have spent months learning, rehearsing and perfecting. You are doing this alongside other people who have also paid money to watch and enjoy a show.

You should be aware of how bright the light of a phone is: not only does it disrupt everyone sitting remotely near you, but it's also immediately visible to the performers on the stage, highlighting your lack of interest and engagement in their performances to them.

If you cannot be bothered to watch the show in front of you, then show your neighbours and the performers some respect and leave the auditorium until you are capable of actually watching a show.

The sad thing is that England is one of the few countries which is hyperconscious of the people around us and how our behaviour affects other people. So how is it acceptable to destroy other people's evening because we would rather sit in a theatre and text people for several hours? Or play with a phone during every dramatic climax of a show?

To be fair, the worst culprits I've seen - at Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre and at Sadler's Wells - have usually been from overseas, typically either Spanish or Italian. Is it acceptable over there to disregard other audience members or the performers while watching shows? And what are theatres doing to combat this?

And there lies the problem. I've long commented on the viciousness of audience members in Royal Opera House's amphitheatre, the unruliness of audience members in the Linbury Studio, and the extreme likelihood of being stuck near someone at Sadler's Wells who is incapable of putting their phone away. And where are the ushers to do anything about this? Nowhere to be seen. When they can be seen, not willing to get involved.

So what does it take for a theatre to actually take action on people who are ruining shows for many of their audience members, many of whom will not return because the theatre does not prevent that from happening.

I saw an incredible show tonight at Sadler's Wells by Scottish Ballet. But instead of enjoying the show, two Italian women near me chose to spend their evening playing with their phones, refusing to put them away when asked.

Sadly, because this is England, nobody else said anything about them. Yes, some people thanked me afterwards for taking action, but that's too little too late.

I watch dance to be inspired and uplifted, and to cherish this industry I choose to work in; I don't watch shows to be abused and bullied by audience members, and to be left feeling upset about what should have been a wonderful night out.

Part of my work involves seeing a lot of shows, so boycotting theatres isn't an option for me, so I can only hope that one of these days, theatres will finally decide to take action and stop others from ruining shows for everyone else - audience members and performers alike.

Chantal is the Artistic Director of the Cloud Dance Festival in London. This article originally appeared on the CDF website and is republished here by permission.

Published Mon, 19 May, 2014 at 11:03 | Share on Facebook |

We Will Never Know

Monday, 16 December, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

by Neil Nisbet

Like many individuals and a lot of established groups working in the arts today Article19 has to do as much as possible with the limited resources at our disposal.

You can't always do everything you want to do and you can't always do everything as well as you want to do it. Compromise is what we all have to live with on a daily basis and, like so many others, we could all do so much more, if only....

Over the last year, and for a long time before that, Article19 has reported on a seemingly never-ending stream of issues in the wide world of the arts, almost all of them involving wasted resources and wasted opportunities.

Some criticise Article19 for "complaining" too much, sometimes repeatedly, about the same issues. Criticism that I, as the editor, completely reject because pointing out what's broken is how you get things fixed.

If you have a leaking pipe in your home do you think happy thoughts for a few weeks and hope that it stops or do you complain about it to the landlord to get it sorted out?

It should come as no surprise to learn that the arts has a lot of leaking pipes.

Of particular interest this year has been The Space, a joint venture between Arts Council England and the BBC. The idea behind The Space was to get the arts to more people "for free" using the internet.

The dance content, such as it was, cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce and was available online for just a few months. If the level of interest in the live broadcast of the Breakin' Convention was anything to go by then the raison d'être of The Space was not fulfilled.

Such a large sum of money would have been far better spent on the touring costs of dance companies in the real world at a time when touring is being relentlessly squeezed.

The Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Poppano, was paid over £740,000 in 2011. If you want to get more people into the shows you are touring with the money saved from not doing The Space then consider this.

Mr Poppano's salary could have been used to reduce a £15 ticket for a live performance to £10 for 148,000 people. A £5 drop in the price of a ticket could mean the difference between 148,000 more people coming to a live performance or keeping 148,000 coming to see live performances.

This is especially true at a time when the public are being financially squeezed almost as much as the arts organisations trying to provide them art.

Need I remind you once again about the £400,000 per year being spent on the National Youth Dance Company?

Opportunities missed, resources squandered, it is the story of the arts in the 21st century.

Over the coming year there will be, inevitably, a lot more opportunities missed and a lot more resource squandered on projects trying to meet unquantifiable goals.

Article19, and maybe some others, will write about these issues, bring you the facts and, with fingers crossed, hope for change.

My optimism about that change however diminishes more and more with each passing year because the desire to actually do something about the massive problems facing the arts in the UK simply does not exist.

Given that the applications for National Portfolio Status will be going in to Arts Council England very soon I can only imagine that dance organisations will hunker down and be even more unwilling to rock the boat.

Whatever the outcome of that application process, no matter the casualties in terms of companies being obliterated by an arbitrary decision making process, few, if any, will speak out.

As long as those in the culture world continue to accept the misleading narrative that we are all living in "difficult times" as huge sums of money continue to be demonstrably squandered then nothing will change.

When I see an organisation (DanceEast) spending over £80,000 making some dire videos about dance and they are so indifferent to that material they can't even be bothered to keep a copy it pisses me off.

Why doesn't it piss you off and why don't you do something about it?

As an individual or an organisation what could you have done with that money? How many workshops, how many touring shows, how many new works could have been created?

If you just sit back and do nothing then we will never know.

[ Deleted Files ]

Published Mon, 16 Dec, 2013 at 11:39 | Share on Facebook |

Not Going To Russia

Monday, 12 August, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

Choreographer Ben Wright was invited to be part of a government initiative of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation to launch a special arts program to develop and support contemporary culture in smaller Russian cities. In light of recent violent suppression of the rights of the LGBT community and the passing of an "anti gay propaganda" law Mr Wright declined the offer, explained here in a letter to the events organisers.

I have watched with growing dismay as the situation for LGBT individuals has intensified under Medvedev and Putin's systematic swathe of anti-gay legislation and institutionalised government homophobia.

Thankfully, the visibility and comprehension of the scale of present circumstances in Russia have been enhanced by the internet and social media. The world is becoming increasingly sensitised to the plight of regular LGBT people and their families and to high profile individuals such as your TV journalist Anton Krasovsky.

I've been appalled at scenes from Moscow Pride; sickened by the brutality of unchecked Neo Nazi mobs, and rendered speechless by the barbaric torture and murder of the gay teenager in Volgograd.

Putin has essentially decreed the lethal legitimisation of prejudice and has allowed discriminatory treatment by his law enforcement to flourish. Unless things change unequivocally, the situation is set to escalate with an unprecedented rise of neo-Nazi groups with anti-gay sentiments.

Jenny, thank you wholeheartedly for your invitation to come to Russia, but after extensive thought, and despite a very real desire to meet and share an experience with your dance artists, it would be utterly hypocritical of me to accept your offer under the present political regime.

The New Russia

For many years now violence has been the response of choice for many opposed to demands for equality for the LGBT community in Russia. Such violence often goes unpunished by law enforcement who, more often than not, will arrest participants in the "pro-gay" demonstrations rather than their attackers.

Marches and other demonstrations are frequently banned in Russia with some politicians calling such gatherings an "outrage to society".

More recently young gay men have been deliberately targeted by kidnappers and subsequently tortured and humiliated, online, by far right extremists opposed to their very existence.

Homophobia has also extended to murder in at least two recorded incidents, both in Volgograd (capital city of Volgograd Oblast in western Russia), this year. In both cases, press reports cite the victim as "unnamed".

Individuals were arrested and charged with committing both of those crimes.

In June of this year Russia's parliament, the Duma, passed a bill that outlawed activities that they described as "promoting homosexuality". The law means that people could be arrested and fined for engaging in any activity deemed to be promoting homosexuality to those under the age of 18.

Foreign visitors can be deported if found to be in violation of this new law that many have criticised for using overly broad language to describe what "promoting homosexuality" actually is.

I cannot consent to an invitation that is funded by a Ministry Department within a State that also promotes the penalisation, maltreatment and stigmatising of LGBT people. I therefore have to decline your generosity, and for that I am profoundly sorry.

As it stands, I perceive this to be the most active form of personal protest I can undertake at this time. Please ensure that my feelings are forwarded to your senior managers and the politicians you work with.

As an artist and a gay man, I cannot support the National Cultural Agenda of a government that has so vehemently declared war on a minority - a minority to which I proudly belong.

I consider my sexual orientation to be nothing short of a gift as it has consistently encouraged me to be aware of alternative perspectives, to look beyond the norm and to question convention.

My 'queerness' is an innate part of who I am, a quality that is not only profoundly reflected in the work I make, but has also impacted my entire outlook on life; in my personal history, my sense of humour, my anecdotes, my humility and my criticism of patriarchal condescension.

I belong to an extended society that has (not without a tremendous fight) evolved dramatically over the last 20 years in terms of the rights and equality for LGBT individuals. I am surrounded, inspired and challenged by a whole range of people, many of whom identify as being gay. I have been in a committed relationship for 17 years with my husband and I will not temper or censor who I am one iota. Putin has made it pointedly clear that people like me are not welcome in Russia.

Were I to accept your invitation, I would have volunteered creative provocation, shared my life experience, spoken of about faith and doubt, and eagerly endeavoured to inspire. But being privy to the absurd knowledge that foreigners can now be detained for up to 15 days and deported - as well as fined up to 100,000 rubles for 'promoting' a homosexual lifestyle - it would be foolhardy for me to attend these workshops for my own personal safety.

I have no wish to be a martyr Jenny, but instead I am actively finding ways to join the greater public outrage focused at The Duma's repulsive policies.

Putin's agenda to engineer and enforce a 'heteronormative' culture in Russia is akin to Hitler's 'solution' to the Jews and the minorities he considered undesirable in Nazi Germany.

When asked on Feb 1st 2007 by Marina Lapenkova, "Do you agree with Iuri Mikahilovich Luzhkov's opinion that a gay parade is the work of Satanists?"

Putin replied,

"With regards to what the heads of regions say, I normally try not to comment. I don't think it is my business. My relation to gay parades and sexual minorities in general is simple - it is connected with my official duties and the fact that one of the country's main problems is demographic. But I respect and will continue to respect personal freedom in all its forms, in all its manifestations." - ref

Where is the respect for freedom in your government's fascist stance towards LGBT people? The current demonisation tactics are barbaric, and just as violence was the very basis upon which Nazi society was built, Putin and his political cohorts have become perpetrators of terror and brutality.

One wonders about his sudden change of face? What kind of home affairs is he trying to steer light away from? - Hasn't that historically always been the case? Totalitarian leaders who manipulate the un-educated with noxious propaganda to erroneously create a sense of 'righteous togetherness' by creating an 'other'. An 'other' to focus hate and prejudice upon; an 'other' who's demonisation can alleviate potential national dissatisfaction?

It is commonly accepted that homophobia is caused by the fear of a threat to masculine power. Is Putin losing his grip?

Putin is now globally identified as ringleader of hate and your politicians have aligned Russia with the likes of Iran, Uganda, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Sudan, Jordan, Jamaica, Cameroon and Zimbabwe as one of the most dangerous place on earth to be LGBT. My heart goes out to those individuals who find themselves at the mercy of Russia's new legislation.

I am certain many of the artists I would have met on his trip would identify as LGBT.

Jenny, I would welcome an opportunity to establish contact and begin a dialogue with the individuals you have targeted for this initiative, but for now this would need to be explored through on-line forums or through social media.

The Anthropologist Kenneth Clark said, "Art must do something more than give pleasure; it should relate to our own life so as to increase our energy of spirit." I am all about the increase of spirit - an increase through compassion and imagination, by engendering curiosity, by bringing people together to question, wonder and to celebrate. It is an anathema to me that your government wants to build these new cultural centres and seek to inspire artists, curators, managers, and creative leaders whilst also coordinating a climate of fear and stigmatisation.

Of course I appreciate the potential social and artistic benefits of developing contemporary culture in smaller cities such as Vladivostok, but my concept of a progressive contemporary society is one that is based on inclusivity; one that is ultimately loving and that encourages an 'energy of spirit', irrespective of race, religious denomination, class, sexual orientation or gender.

I sincerely hope that the International Olympic Committee will see sense and cancel the Winter Games. I can only trust that through systematic boycotts and the potential withdrawal of competing countries, the Duma will be forced to consider their abhorrent human rights violations.

Ben Wright is a freelance choreographer and the Artistic Director of bgroup a dance theatre company based in the United Kingdom.

[ 'Just As We Are' on Article19 ]

Published Mon, 12 Aug, 2013 at 12:16 | Share on Facebook |

The Open Letter

Tuesday, 15 January, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

by Neil Nisbet

Over the last couple of years the talk in the wide world of culture has almost incessantly been about funding cuts. Alongside that has been some fairly muted counterpoint from a few, some would say, privileged members of the arts community.

Every time we read about the case for arts funding it's usually being made by Nicholas Hytner (AD of the National Theatre) or the director of the Royal this that or the other.

Their arguments usually fall on deaf ears since they all come across as people speaking out in defence of their own substantial pay packets and even more substantial pension plans.

Disingenuous doesn't even begin to cover it.

So what of everybody else, the massed ranks of the small and mid-scale? Well, apart from a minor scuffle late last year over the failure of the government to include the arts as a mandatory requirement in the new EBacc in schools, that prompted a few dance companies to openly comment, they have all been as quiet as church mice.

Far from being a rich source of discussion, ideas and advocacy for the profession as a whole, dance companies come across, publicly at least, as being entirely disinterested in the world around them.

Last year when we published the piece on the shockingly poor pay for professional dancers at English National Opera, how many dance companies spoke out, openly, in defence of their profession's most vital resource?

None!

'The Royal Ballet's Women', a piece that focused not only on the lack of female commissioning at the Royal Ballet but the all too obvious sexism in the dance world, elicited the same level of response. In fact, only one dance maker we contacted actually agreed to comment for the piece.

No Idea

Just to give you some idea of the level of the open discussion being conducted in dance I give you the Rural Retreats, run by Dance East in Ipswich.

During the annual get together this month David Nixon, the AD of Northern Ballet, is quoted as saying;

"Dancers often used to be thought of as children and even now they are still sometimes called girls or boys rather than men and women or just dancers. I want to get to the point where dancers don't think of themselves as girls and boys... They need to think of themselves as adults."

Given all the ballet dancers working in the world today who have forgotten that they are adults this is probably sound advice or Mr Dixon should immediately resign, take your pick.

Mark Baldiwin, the AD of Rambert, who was also in attendance, said;

"It's important to create a culture within a company so that dancers can talk to you [artistic directors] whenever they want to."

Essentially, try not to be a semi-autistic, dictatorial, jackass if you run a dance company. Thinking of the very highest level.

Do More

Many would argue that simply doing what they do should be enough to demonstrate the merits of dance companies and culture as a whole to both the public and the politicians. In a perfect world that might be true, but in the current climate it simply is not, nor has it ever been, enough.

More needs to be done, much more. Tweeting links to petitions is just weak sauce. What the dance profession really needs is active and consistent participation in the discussions about the profession and culture in general. That participation needs to come from the company directors, choreographers and the dancers.

However, leadership must come from the top. Adding the voices of company directors and choreographers to the debate and discussion surrounding all facets of dance can only be a good thing for the profession as a whole, no matter what the topic.

This participation needs to be thoughtful and visible to anybody who wants to see it or read it. You all have websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, email accounts, phones, computers and a tongue in your head and I strongly urge you to use all of them.

If Akram Khan wants to go to the national press and complain about the arts having "too much" money then one of his peers needs to immediately debunk his ridiculous reasoning and do it publicly.

It's not about arguing, it's about setting the record straight and creating some balance in the narrative.

Stop waiting for somebody to ask you to get into the fight, just get in here before it's too late.

This Editorial was sent in email form to dance company directors and others across the UK.

Published Tue, 15 Jan, 2013 at 10:45 | Share on Facebook |

A Letter To Equity

Tuesday, 8 January, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

On January 17th Equity, the performing arts union, will be holding an open meeting for actors and dancers so they can discuss the issues that are important to them. Writer and Editor Francis Richard sent a letter to that organisation, we have copied it below, in full, with the author's permission, outlining issues that need to be addressed.

Beth Haines Doran
Live Performance Department
Equity

Dear Beth,

With regard to your open meeting for actors and dancers at opera houses on 17 January 2013, please find attached my personal observations and proposals based on views I have heard expressed by a number of dancers (and one actor) over the past few years by acquaintances of my Equity member daughter who have performed in operas.

As you know, dancers and actors already striving to eke out a meagre living on short-term contracts and minimal wages are dependent upon being called to auditions. Perhaps understandably, many therefore lack the confidence to rock the boat by expressing their individual views robustly or publicly, or seek to negotiate reasonable improvements to their contracts.

And it has already been said somewhere that trying to persuade performing artists to undertake collective action in order to improve their own situation is like trying to herd cats.

I realise that fighting to introduce performers' fees that reflect a living wage is a perennial problem in the UK, but why is it? It is incumbent upon Arts Council England, performing arts colleges and theatre schools, impresarios and arts journalists alike - not just Equity - to properly address these issues by first asking themselves the following question:

"How is it that the very people who live off the work of professional actors and dancers by teaching them, contracting them, administering them and writing about them enjoy salaries, benefits, terms and conditions the majority of artists can only dream of?"

So I hope you will accept this document from an "interested party" (I'm actually a PR writer and editor). I may have bowdlerised your industry's jargon, and the views expressed in the attached paper may be arrogant, naïve and simplistic, but I hope they can add something to the debate, because I hope and believe your meeting could be a game changer.

All power to your elbow, and good luck!

With kind regards,
Name and Address Supplied

Identified Issues

• Current minimum fees, terms and conditions for actors and dancers at opera houses in the UK start from a pitifully low base (£25), as is highlighted when productions tour overseas.

• Opera company administrators appear reluctant to acknowledge actors' and dancers' expertise, or to value it as highly as that of singers, chorus members and musicians.

• The administrators who negotiate actors' and dancers' fees appear to base them on an arbitrary sliding scale that differs between different productions within the same company, and between different opera companies.

• Some opera cast administrators only forward casting calls and auditions notices to restricted lists of 'favoured' actors and dancers (ROH) - possibly those they know will accept lower fees. Others simply select the first batch of performers to respond to a call and ignore the remainder regardless of their eligibility, experience or expertise (Glyndebourne).

Both flout industry Best Practice - yet administrators are duty-bound to help directors/choreographers audition or call as many appropriately-qualified actors or dancers as is reasonable.

• Opera company administrators (rather than choreographers or directors) also make seemingly arbitrary decisions about what makes performances by actors and dancers 'worthy' of improved performance fees, including additional fees payments for cinema simulcasts, DVD filming, solo roles etc.

• A reason cited by opera companies reluctant to increase meagre fees for actors and dancers is the claim that "the production has gone over budget" - even as they alter set designs and costumes and pay singers multiple thousands of pounds per performance.

• All of the above results in contracted freelance actors and dancers in opera houses having to individually negotiate improved fees even as intensive (and often collaborative) rehearsals are taking place, ensuring a weak and fragmented negotiating position. It also leads to some productions lacking a 'cover' dancer in case of injury etc.

Proposed Motions

1 • That opera cast administrators follow industry Best Practice by announcing and/or forwarding casting calls and/or audition notices to as wide a selection of suitably-qualified actors and dancers in the UK as is reasonably possible, and assess ALL responses fairly and equitably

2 • That ALL actors and dancers contracted to perform onstage or offstage in UK opera houses, however briefly, be paid an Equity-Approved Minimum Fee, and that this minimum fee be made mandatory for all UK and visiting opera companies from 5 April 2013.

3 • That this Equity-Approved Minimum Fee be subdivided as follows:

a. Rehearsal Fees: Minimum £100 per day/£500 per week (Monday to Friday);
Minimum £150 per day (Saturday and Sunday).
b. Performance Fees: Minimum £150 per performance, however brief.
c. Additional Fees: Solos and/or featured roles: Minimum £75 per performance; DVD filming, cinema simulcast transmissions etc: Minimum £100 per day.

4 • That when requested to do so by any party Equity will arbitrate and/or negotiate on behalf of actors or dancers contracted by opera houses when disputes arise, with no subsequent professional disadvantage being conferred on the performers by the opera houses.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Article19.

Published Tue, 8 Jan, 2013 at 03:50 | Share on Facebook |

What Needs to Happen in 2013

Tuesday, 8 January, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

by Neil Nisbet

More than five years ago we published a piece entitled "10 Things That Need To Happen in 2008". As the dance profession, en masse, moves into another new year what better time to take a look back and see if any of the things we discussed actually happened.

"ACE needs to support DanceUK's National Centre for Dance Health and Performance."

Not only did Arts Council England not support the renamed National Institute for Dance Medicine at all but they completely de-funded DanceUK. Despite that set back DanceUK did manage to open a starter clinic in London last year of which we shall have more in the coming weeks.

We should note that during the last 5 years ACE has squandered huge sums of money propping up failing, large scale arts institutions, handed over millions for pointless new buildings (looking at you Rambert) and continues to pay its senior executives salaries, that evidence suggests, they are entirely undeserving of.

So if it wasn't the lack of money, then what was it?

"Dancer's pay needs to get real."

Given the debacle last year with the English National Opera and the notorious £327 per week pay cheques and the fact that many dancers report not earning enough money to even qualify to pay any income tax we shall go out on a limb and suggest things have not improved a whole lot.

Equity minimums are still a complete joke and long term employment prospects and career development are pretty much just a fantasy for most professional dancers.

Over the five year period we have failed to note one single substantive position piece written by somebody in the dance profession about creating jobs for dancers.

If we missed it, then do point us in the right direction.

"A touring structure for new companies."

The National Dance Network had a brief experiment with some touring project or other but it was so brief and so badly publicised we can't remember what it was called. Resolution is the same as it ever was and a grander plan to get the work of new dance makers touring around the country on a regular basis is nowhere in sight.

"Dance companies need to actually embrace new technology, not just pretend they do!"

On this front there has actually been some progress. Websites, at least some of them, have improved and the overall content is better, if a little dry most of the time.

The standard and type of videos being produced is still very hit and miss however with too much emphasis being placed on marketing strategy as opposed to providing actual information or a compelling watch.

Just last week Dance4 released a video about 'Big Dance 2012' that was so laden with meaningless statistics you could have printed it out on paper and it would have made more sense.

"Dance bloggers need to write about stuff that's real."

This one is a little more difficult to measure but most of the blogs that were active in 2008 have either completely disappeared or are languishing, unloved and lacking any updates.

Thewinger.com, started by former NYC Ballet dancer Kristin Sloane, had a grand total of three updates last year, a depressing fall from grace.

If you know of any other dance blogs that may be of interest then please let us know, because we sure as hell can't find them.

"National Dance Agencies need to work together more."

Not only is that not happening but a few them are directly responsible for undermining the profession as a whole with some pretty ludicrous projects and wasting huge sums of money. Far from being a wealth of experience and knowledge they come across as ivory towers, in a swamp, surrounded by an impenetrable forest!

"Arts Council England needs to open up."

Stop laughing at the back. If anything they have gotten worse and the funding monoliths fake "live chats" over the internet are evidence of nothing at all.

Spare Change

So five years later and it seems not a lot has changed in the wide world of dance. If anything things might actually be getting worse.

Change is often slow to happen but some of the things we were asking for, like ACE being more open to the public about discussing their policies and admitting their failures, are pretty simple things to achieve.

Far from dance companies and agencies becoming more collaborative, at least in terms of how they talk about, debate, promote and support the art form, they look increasingly isolationist in their behaviour.

We are of course generalising but that still doesn't excuse the lack of progress in a lot of areas. Bad policy and bad decision making still persists throughout the industry.

Here in TheLab™ we can't make people do things differently, all we can do is keep highlighting the problems. We did ask for Phenomenal Cosmic Powers™ for Christmas but none came.

Without sounding like a commercial for Coca Cola the only thing left is for you, whomever might be reading this, to lead the charge for wider changes in the dance world on a whole range of issues.

Proactive organisations like the Female Choreographers Collective are one example of a big idea led by just two people (Holly Noble and Jane Coulston). It might work it might not work but at least they're giving it a shot.

Carol Lee, a costume designer from Leeds, took on the Big Bad (ACE) and lost, sort of, over their less than honest funding practices. Ms Lee fought the good fight however and that's better than nothing.

If you don't ask then you don't get, so start writing, start Tweeting or start calling because the ways things are going we won't see any substantive change until at least 2346.

Published Tue, 8 Jan, 2013 at 01:04 | Share on Facebook |

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