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Do You Want To Play A Game?

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016 | Comments | Make A Comment

If you use social media of any kind or email then you have probably seen, at some point, a message or a post come in from a friend that's just a little bit weird. It might be a lone link to a website you don't recognise, a plea for help because your friend is trapped in a foreign country and they need money to escape or some other foolishness that most of us recognise as being spam.

What usually follows these emails or social media messages is a plea from your actual friend not to follow any links to websites and ignore any messages sent because they have been "hacked". Their accounts have been compromised by nefarious actors and they are now engaged in a life or death struggle to wrestle control of their digital life from some grotty teenager living in a basement somewhere.

System Breach

The simple truth is that most of the time there has been very little hacking going on at all. Hacking is deliberately breaching the digital locks on secure computer systems using advanced computer programming skills. It takes a lot of effort and, despite what most TV shows and movies would have you believe, a lot of time to accomplish even for systems that are not very well protected. Nobody is going to all that trouble and effort just to get your Facebook password.

Hacking does happen of course but the targets are usually retail companies and other large corporations and their databases of customers and credit card numbers. Such attacks are usually made possible by poorly implemented security or not changing default passwords on various bits of computer hardware the company has installed in their buildings.

So if hacking is not the problem then what is going on, how do people lose control of their various social media accounts and their email? The simple answer is, you are the problem, or more accurately, your terrible passwords are the problem. Your terrible passwords not only create headaches for you but they also create headaches and potential security threats for all of your friends and social media contacts.

The reason compromised social media accounts send out links is to either drive traffic to a website for ad-revenue scamming or download malware onto a target computer to either steal more data from the affected computers or hijack them for use in massive "botnet" systems that crooks use for all kinds of reasons that generally make using the internet a complete pain in the ass for regular folks. For the most part the crooks don't want to read your email, they want to make money and your terrible passwords are helping them do it.


The Common Error

For seasoned professionals and luddites alike passwords are a pain. They are a pain to create and they are a pain to remember. Passwords are also annoying to reset if you forget what they are and forgetting passwords is one reason that so many people commit the cardinal sin of password creation; using the same password for everything they use online. Criminals love this behaviour because all they need is your email address and just one password from a breached database and they can try that combination with every website where you might have an account and they can do that with automated tools and gain access to your entire digital world in a matter of hours.

If you have a different password for each website or service that you use then losing one password to a crook or an ex-partner gone rogue, means a much smaller headache for you and your online contacts.

The simplest way to handle multiple passwords for multiple websites is to write them down. Before you grab a post-it note, write "passwords" on it and stick it to the front of your computer monitor that is not what we mean. Writing down security information is not ideal but it's also not a terrible thing to do as long as you obscure the information in some way. Bury the password information within a regular document that doesn't stand out on your computer or smart phone amongst a thousand other documents. Don't use the word "password" at all and don't use the full names of the websites related to the password.

All modern operating systems and web browsers will store login credentials for you and they do so very securely so you rarely have to actually type in your passwords but an obscured, physical record can come in handy if you need to log in using a new machine or on a computer that is not yours.

There are technological solutions to password creation, storage and retrieval like Last Pass and 1Password. The idea behind these programs is they create the login credentials for you for each service that you use and then you only have to remember the password for the password manager. As long as the password manager is running on the device you are using and you are logged in then you never have to remember another password again. Here in TheLab™ we have found these programmes to be a little bit flaky at times and they may be a technological step too far for those folks who are not too confident in the ways of computer operation but a lot of people do use them and they do create very strong passwords.

The QWERTY Problem

Actually creating passwords is another problematic issue when it comes to online security. Too often people use passwords that are too easy to guess using social engineering techniques or can be determined by automated systems using a so called "dictionary attack".

A dictionary attack is attempting to determine a password associated to a particular account using words from an actual dictionary or custom collections of breached passwords to see if any of them match. The first thing these auto bots will try is "qwerty" or "123456" and "qwerty123456" and a multitude of others to see if they can get into your account. Because these attack systems are completely automated they don't really care how long it takes before they find a few thousand hits.

There are many ways to create secure passwords. The longer they are the better, and inserting random characters, numbers, spaces and capital letters is always a good addition but there is another way, the Diceware way.

Diceware was created in 1995 by a gentleman called Arnold Reinhold. The system works using a list of thousands of words and rolling five dice to create a random number that corresponds to one of those words. To create a password, you roll the dice five, six or even seven times, depending on how secure you want your password to be, so that you end up with a password containing five, six or seven words. Adding in spaces, a random character or two and a capital letter makes the sequence of words that you arrive at for each password almost impossible to guess, even for the world's fastest super computers. The resulting passwords are also remarkably easy to remember because they are just regular words from everyday language.

If you don't have any dice laying around then you can use random number generators like Random.org instead. The Diceware website recommends, somewhat comically, sitting in a room with the curtains closed and not using computerised random number generators but unless you work for Mi6 or the CIA you will probably be fine using a computerised number generator. It can be tedious to do this for multiple websites and accounts but the resulting passwords will be very secure and impossible to guess, even by your own mother.

2 Factor Protection

Finally, we have "two factor authentication", probably one of the easiest to use and understand high security measures for all major website and online services. The principle is very straight forward. When you login to Facebook, for example, for the first time on a new computer or an unrecognised web browser or service, Facebook will send you a text message containing a code that you must enter to prove that you are really you.

Even if somebody has your password they still can't login because they would also need access to your cell phone and the chances of them having both are extremely remote.

Most online services like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Dropbox, Apple, Facebook and many others have two factor services available for their users and you should turn those services on. Many also have code generators built into their mobile applications that will generate a code without sending a text message. Twitter will send a request to their mobile application to authorise any unknown login attempts to your account. Two factor also has the advantage of letting you know that somebody else may have your password so you can immediately change it if you receive a login request you don't recognise.

The actual code you will be sent only works once, so don't worry if somebody accidentally sees that code on your phone if it pops up as a notification.

Take It Seriously

As we mentioned before, the security of your online accounts is something you should take seriously because it doesn't just affect you, it affects everybody you are connected with in the online world. Nothing is 100% secure but that doesn't mean you don't have to make it as hard as possible for crooks to steal your stuff.

So, create strong passwords, don't use the same password twice, turn on two factor authentication, don't click on links in dodgy looking emails, Facebook posts or Twitter messages and stay safe in the wide world of the internet.

top image by Yuri Samoilov

Published Tue, 23 Feb, 2016 at 12:23 | Share on Facebook |

Creating Contact

Monday, 1 June, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

Culture craves contact. We are in an age where we feel in constant connection with everyone, tapping into each other's lives through instant messaging and social media. It seems that the concept of doing things on your own, without external validation has become an alien concept. Even previously observational pursuits of attending performance and cinema are becoming increasingly concerned with making the experience interactive. Ventures into virtual reality, 3D and immersive experience are becoming the norm. Performance art and exhibitions now encourage the audience to experience things up close, at a sensory body level.

Dance has always, in effect, been an interactive experience, the audience's feeling uplifted, moved or exhilarated by empathically sensing the movement they see. However, it is an interesting question to ask whether a dancer (or anyone) needs to gain a better connection with themselves before they can reach out to others? Should we not have full awareness and insight of our own abilities and boundaries so that contact in any form is safe and affirming, not submissive or even damaging?

A way in for self expression and awareness is practising improvisation and Contact Improvisation (CI) as vital part of a dance performer's language. Where the vocabulary of movement is universal and there is no judgement or requirement for technique as such. However there is a concept and underscore which allows personal growth and professional exploration in a held and guided environment.

In the emerging interest in interdisciplinary arts practice, it is no co-incidence that a group of like-minded people have come together to catalyse a growth in this exploration of artistic experimentation, improvisation, contact and body work. @TheGlasgowJam (@TGJ) was formed in 2012 by Tom Pritchard and Penny Chivas and the first jam followed shortly after. Partly supported by Dance House, Glasgow who led much of the work before, they have endeavoured to develop a community in Glasgow and beyond (Edinburgh following having regular groups and a strong link to the work in the city).

In 2014 @TGJ celebrated their 50th jam and was formalised as an unincorporated association. It now has 20 facilitators / workshop leaders and 7 others are currently taking part in the New Jammers mentoring programme.

@TGJ an open space for arts practitioners that are initiated by a facilitator but the core is the art itself. As Tom explained, when you facilitate work well, the discipline is nurtured and feeds the energy which then carries the group. It follows a premise of finding yourself, discovering impulse, intent as well as connections and boundaries.

New Jammers was set up as a programme in 2014 to encourage practitioners to train to become facilitators. It ran informally for a year before the programme received support from Creative Scotland in 2015. There are seven participants currently on the course and it will culminate in a co-facilitated session led by all seven Jammers on June 21st. The essence of a rich contact jam is in its facilitation. It requires successful holding of the space in order to for people to let go. The scheme trains the leader to set boundaries to allow freedom within. They learn how to encourage exploration and nurture self knowledge, to ensure safe contact and above all, create choice.

The Challenges

Some people find the idea of CI difficult. I have heard many dancers, performers and artists struggle with the idea of getting into contact with others, feeling their personal space or even bodies being invaded, rolling around in a situation in which they feel out of control. This is never the aim of contact improvisation, and the @TGJ has great passion in honouring its true ethos. As Steve Paxton, the pioneer of CI said;

It is a free play with balance, self-correcting the wrong moves and reinforcing the right ones, bringing forth a physical/emotional truth about a shared moment of movement that leaves the participants informed, centred, and enlivened.- Steve Paxton

If one can listen to oneself, respond to impulse and be intimate with others in a non-sexual way this is an incredibly educational and liberating experience. We can learn to stand and say no with our bodies and when to say yes;

Contact Improvisation is an honouring of every moment. There is a sweet surrendering that happens when our bodies stay faithful to what is happening now. One learns to recognize and differentiate subtle impulses in our movement choices and our partner's choices. - Moti Zemelmany

There has been a recent and positive shift in the way that dance artists are expected to be. No longer just bodies for choreographers to create upon, directors and collaborators are looking for dancers to bring their own creativity and instinct into the process. Strength and technique are still paramount, but more and more dance artists are encouraged to be creators and comfortable with contact and partnering work. Increasingly auditions call out for dancers to be able to improvise, be willing to experiment, to take risks, use their weight and physicality and even their voice.

Contact improvisation is a place where you can do all that. However, the journey of self discovery in the CI arena is not exclusive to movers or dancers. A jam is open to all artists and encourages other practices to be explored in the sessions; this offers huge possibilities of professional development and growth. @TGJ has run specific workshops to encourage this.

These have included The Underscore (Nancy Stark-Smith's model of self-sufficient jamming) Capoeira, Drawing moving bodies, Voice and text improvisation, and Inclusive practice as well of course the original concept of Contact Improvisation. All of these elements allow an artist to develop their own practice within the jam space and learn how to interact and be influenced by others artistry.

Going Beyond

CI stretches beyond creative dialogue, where we not only immerse in the body for ourselves but as the universal body. It allows a larger understanding of us as humans and how we relate and connect to ourselves and our environment. In effect, the contact community also stands for the bigger community and because of that, there can be an incredible sense of energy, empathy and possibility.

Fundamentally, the jams can be a platform for an artist to research themselves as well as their craft. Tom and Penny were adamant that this was a vital aspect of the work. They also reinforced the need for enough specific information to be continually passed on to people to further facilitate the work as a community, which allows the @TGJ to take and maintain ownership of itself and its activities.

The ethos of the Jam? It gives people a voice, it allows possibility. It is professional and personal development, if we understand ourselves, we understand others - it follows the developmental process - communication is connection but as any dance artist knows this has to be primarily through our bodies.

Top image: Professional dancer, aerialist and teacher Nikki O'Hara teaches Friday contemporary class to a group of third year students at Bird College in London. Photo by Article19

Published Mon, 1 Jun, 2015 at 11:17 | Share on Facebook |

Bad Science

Thursday, 30 April, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

There's an old adage, "numbers don't lie". The only problem with that adage is most of the time it's not true because numbers can be bent to say pretty much anything you want them to say. Statistics are especially problematic for the simple reason that if somebody claims they have 50% of something an inquisitive person is probably going to ask; "50% of what?"

With that we bring you the numbers used by Lloyd Newson, Akram Khan and Hofesh Shechter to claim that dance training in the UK is failing dance students for reasons that they have thus far failed to make clear.

Pressed For Release

The press release the three dance makers sent out, which they claim is backed by numerous, unnamed "choreographers, dance companies and dancers" used some numbers to prove their point. Dance training at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Trinity Laban and London School of Contemporary Dance was no good because their graduates were, statistically, less likely to get jobs.

Newson and Co. cited numbers from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the academic year 2012/2013 as proof that graduates from those three schools were less likely to obtain work in the profession.

In a news story on DV8's website they claim that, on average, 32% of students have found work as either dancers or choreographers after graduating from those schools. The trio claim that graduates from the Juilliard School in New York have an employment rate of 90%, according to numbers they received from Juilliard. If dancers came from the Arts Education Schools in London then the employability rate jumps to 96% on average for a period covering two academic years.

HESA numbers are derived from a survey form that graduates fill out and cover the first 6 months of graduation. If a graduate doesn't fill out the form there is no way to determine what they are actually doing once they leave their training institution.

The numbers provided to Article19 by HESA, that are a combined numbers from all three schools cited by Newson and Co., cover responses from 170 students.

We asked each of the schools for the actual number of graduates for the year 2012/2013 (the academic year cited by "The Three"). NSCD had 56, LCDS had 60 and Trinity Laban had 125 for a combined number of 241 graduates. It's important to note that all three schools train dancers for a number of different avenues within the dance profession. Not all graduates are interested in performing careers as working dancers or dance makers.

The HESA stats say, in full, that 37% of the graduates were working as dancers or choreographers, 19% were doing some form of study, 17% were teaching, 13% were classified as "other SOC", 4% were unemployed, 4% were in administrative occupations, 3% were classified as "other", 2% were actors, entertainers or presenters and the final 2% were waiters or waitresses.

As mentioned, HESA's numbers were derived from the responses of approximately 170 graduates.

Tumbling Down

Perhaps the most striking issue with any form of statistical information is how quickly it goes out of date. HESA's numbers, irrespective of their accuracy, are old news the moment the graduate fills in the form. They only cover the point in time 6 months after graduation. As a method for gauging employability in a wholly unpredictable profession like dance (where professional jobs can last for a single day) HESA's numbers are, at best, unreliable insofar as they only show a very limited snapshot of employment at the time the graduates filled in the form.

What happened to the other 71 graduates for that year remains a mystery.

The other schools mentioned in the Newson and Co. press release and news story also require some scrutiny. Juilliard, a multi-disciplinary arts school in New York, is cited by "The Three" as having an employment rate of 90%. When asked multiple times to provide detailed numbers with regards to graduates and their methodology for calculating the 90% figure, the school failed to respond.

A page on their website however does reveal some interesting information. For the academic year 2013/2014 the school says;

"Fewer than 10 students completed this program in 2013-14. The number who finished within the normal time has been withheld to preserve the confidentiality of the students."

So, "fewer than 10" could mean anything from 1 to 9. If we guesstimate that 6 dancers graduated (and we take that as a constant for previous years) then that means 5 of them found work.

Newson and Co. also failed to point out that the Juilliard School will cost a student over £150,000 to attend for four years.

As for the Arts Educational Schools. We tried numerous times to contact the school to get information about graduates and the methodology for gathering their employment statistics. At the time of writing we had been unable to speak with anyone from that institution.

Arts Ed. trains their students for a career in musical theatre, so-called "triple threat" training. Although it would be difficult to claim the employment prospects for any part of the dance profession were healthy, the musical theatre world certainly has far more jobs available than the world of contemporary dance so employment prospects in that particular field will always be much brighter.

Speaking Of Jobs

As we pointed out in our piece "We Need To Talk About Dancers Jobs" from April last year the NPO dance companies in England employ less than 200 dancers between them. Jobs become available in those companies sporadically, if at all, throughout the year. For example; Richard Alston Dance Company has held four auditions, that we know of, since 2006. We haven't published an audition from Vincent Dance Theatre since 2006 and the last audition from Motionhouse Dance Theatre was 18 months ago.

You can read through a detailed breakdown of jobs that become available in the UK for professional dancers in our piece "Hard Data"

"The Three" employ less than 30 dancers at any given time and Akram Khan spends a lot of his time making and touring solos and duets.

In short, jobs for professional dancers, especially recent graduates, are in very short supply and that is a piece of information that is not going to come as a galloping shock to anyone working in the dance profession. However, the onus for creating jobs for dancers lies with dance companies and dance makers and we have no outspoken rhetoric from the wide world of dance about creating more jobs or providing employment stability for dancers that do find work.

It is not at all surprising to learn that 6 months or less after leaving dance school a number of graduates have yet to secure work but the problem is not, nor will it ever be, purely a training issue. Job supply is a huge problem that is not being addressed.

Of the three companies decrying dance training and citing misleading employment stats only Hofesh Shechter Company has an apprentice company (with two dancers from LCDS and NSCD), providing valuable touring and performance experience. The dancers are paid less than £300 per week.

We, here in TheLab™, still don't know who the other companies are that Newson and Co. are referring to about backing up their spurious claims about dance training, although we have some pretty good ideas. Training and subsequently finding employment in dance, a process that is highly subjective, is about a lot more than just the dance schools training those dancers.

There is a lot of blame to go around about the current state of the arts in the UK and we could say plenty about the creative work and the programming practices that favour the few over the many in this country but that is for another day.

Finally, DV8 mention a document called "ways forward" in their news piece that apparently contains within a magic list that, if enacted, will solve all of the problems they claim exist within dance training. They refused to provide a copy of this document stating that LCDS had asked them not to.... LCDS said they asked them to do no such thing.

Make of that what you will.

Top Photo : 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 Thu, 30 Apr, 2015 at 12:03 | Share on Facebook |

Diminishing Returns

Monday, 9 March, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

Take a look at the three cars in the image above. On the left we have a base model Volkswagen Polo. This car costs £11,815 and contains every basic convenience that you will need in a car in order to get where you are going.

It has a steering wheel so you can point it in the right direction and a stereo so you can listen to Radio 4 and wonder why that station exists at all.

There's a brake pedal so you can make it stop and an airbag will deploy should you be unfortunate enough to accidentally collide with a post box. Given that this car only has a 1 litre engine you probably won't be going fast enough to hurt yourself even if you do hit a post box but it's the thought that counts.

The car has a heater if you're cold and a windscreen to stop bugs hitting you in the face as you fly down the motorway at 35mph. Volkswagen have also, generously, fitted springs and shock absorbers to the wheels so when you drive over a bump in the road you won't end up with spinal fractures.

For all intents and purposes, the VW Polo is a car.

Magic Bodies

Next to the VW Polo in the picture is the Mercedes Benz S500L. For the not inconsiderable sum of £104,020 you will receive a car that makes almost no noise either inside or outside when it drives along the road.

There are so many safety sensors and cameras in this vehicle that only a monumental fool would be able to crash into a post box. Even if you do crash, and this car can hit 155mph, so many airbags will deploy that you will simply step out of the vehicle to call your lawyers so they can start legal proceedings against the Royal Mail for their inconsiderate positioning of the post box.

Does this car have a heater? Never mind a heater, this car will give you a hot stone massage (not making that up) as you drive along to your, presumably, luxurious destination. The Mercedes doesn't have anything as crass as analogue dials to tell you how fast you are going. This car has two (count 'em) hi-resolution computer screens powered by the same processors you get in top of the range computers.

Sitting in the back? Then enjoy, because the seats are fully reclinable and come complete with a footrest. Bumps in the road are no problem at all thanks to a system called "Magic Body Control" that scans the road ahead and actively adjusts the suspension so that you don't feel a thing inside the car.

The Mercedes Benz S500L is a demonstrably better car than the VW Polo.

The third car in our image, on the right, is the Rolls Royce Wraith (try saying that 10 times quickly! Ed!) and it is not demonstrably better than the Mercedes even though it costs almost £150,000 more.

At a full price of almost a quarter of a million pounds it is not more comfortable or more luxurious than the Mercedes. It's not safer, faster or better equipped. The Wraith is a very nice car, it should be, Rolls Royce is owned by the German car maker BMW and the Wraith is made from BMW parts, but it is not tens of thousands of pounds nicer than the Mercedes.

All you really get for the extra £150,000 is the Rolls Royce badge and an insurance headache.

What we have outlined above is the basic rule of diminishing returns. When you pay more money you can get something better but beyond a certain point the benefits are almost completely subjective.

Let The Fat Lady Sing

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Simon Rattle, probably not worth as much money as a lot of people think he is.

It is well known in the wide world of the arts that the Music Director of the Royal Opera House in London, Antonio Pappano, receives an annual salary of more that £500,000. For some recent years that pay level has exceeded £775,000.

Over at Opera North, based in that slightly more shabby part of the country called Leeds, their Music Director, Richard Farnes, earns just over £110,000 per annum.*

Here in TheLab™ we would wager that if both of those men switched jobs and didn't tell anybody, the patrons of each opera company's performances would be hard pressed to tell the difference in either the way the company was run or the performances they staged. Mr Pappano might feel somewhat constrained without the ROH's largesse on his own productions though.

Over the last week or so it has been widely reported that Simon Rattle, currently the principal conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic, will become the new leader of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017.

The current leader of the LSO (Valery Gergiev) receives a salary of £160,000* per year. Although no details have been announced of the salary Mr Rattle will receive when he moves to his new job (nor will there be) there is a strong suggestion that his compensation will be substantially more.

Mr Rattle is held in such high regard by some that his mere suggestion that the LSO needs a new building prompted our famously tight fisted Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to hand over £1Million for a feasibility study to find out just how ludicrously expensive it will be.

As with Mr Pappano and Mr Farnes we suspect if you put an audience in front of the LSO and they played the same piece of music conducted by Mr Rattle and Mr Gergiev and each was hidden from view nobody would be able to tell the difference?

Sure, the music might sound a little different but would anybody be able to tell which conductor was doing the conducting? Would anybody be able to tell if an experienced, professional conductor that nobody had ever heard of was behind that screen?

An unknown, experienced, professional conductor is the Mercedes S500L in this scenario. If you're paying money for the Rolls Royce Wraith (Mr Rattle and Mr Pappano) then all you're getting for the money is a badge along with the chassis and engine from a BMW 7 Series.

Of course, an unknown conductor wouldn't stand a chance of getting the job since the LSO didn't advertise the position. Also, where are all the women in the high and mighty music world?

Diminished Return

The more you deal with the arts in the UK the more you come to realise that the whole set-up is a complete basket case. As the arts struggle for their very existence in some places, with 100% cuts to funding, the music world is swooning over Simon Rattle and his ridiculous hair.

People who love Mr Rattle will tell you that they know something that you don't know, you know! They will tell they get why he's different, why he's better, why he's more deserving, you know!

Perhaps he is (we suspect he's not! Ed!), but he, and the rest of the over-paid men in the arts world, should show their commitment to the cause with wage caps set at £125,000 per year. That's more than generous enough as salaries go especially when you're working in the publicly subsidised arts sector.

Some might wail that on lower salaries they would not be able to attract this kind of talent. This is of course complete nonsense. Maybe the LSO wouldn't get Simon Rattle but what they might get is an unknown musician/conductor that has just as much talent but is without the right connections to land the job.

Finally, if we extropolate our car analogy to the extremes the actual performing artists, like dancers and musicians, are also the Mercedes Benz S500L specification, the arts just uses them at VW Polo prices.

*salaries were determined using the most recent published accounts of those companies. Apart from Antonio Pappano the recipients of those salaries are not named so we assume the highest ranking member of the company is in receipt of the largest salary.

Images courtesy of Volkswagen Group, Mercedes-Benz UK and Rolls Royce Motor Cars

Published Mon, 9 Mar, 2015 at 11:37 | Share on Facebook |

Stopgap Dance Company - In Rehearsal

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

In a few weeks Article19 will publish the first in a series of extensive feature pieces about professional dancers and dance students in the UK. One of our features concerns Stopgap company dancer Chris Pavia.

As we prepare these new feature pieces will we share some snippets prior to final publication so here are some photos from a recent rehearsal for Stopgap's current touring work 'Artificial Things'.

Stopgap are one of Europe's most well established inclusive dance companies working dancers that have both physical disabilities and learning difficulties. The company started as a community dance project in 1995 and has been growing ever since and they are now an international touring dance company.

The companies latest touring work is 'Artificial Things' and can be seen on this very website along with interviews with the company dancers and the company AD Lucy Bennet.

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Company dancer Chris Pavia takes part in morning class prior to rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Company dancer Laura Jones leads morning company class for the company prior to rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Stopgap Dance Company Artistic Director Lucy Bennet looks on as dancer Chris Pavia (foreground) teaches a section of morning class at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Company dancer Laura Jones leads morning company class for the company prior to rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Dancer Amy Butler rehearses 'Artificial Things' as company dancer Chris Pavia looks on at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Company dancer Chris Pavia takes part in rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Company dancer Amy Butler lifts dancer David Toole during rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

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Stopgap company dancer Chris Pavia during rehearsals for 'Artificial Things' at the Weydon Christian Centre in Farnham, Surrey

These photos are available for sharing and embedding via our Flickr account. This feature was funded in part by Arts Council England.

[ 'Artificial Things' Video on Article19 ]
[ Company Website ]

Published Tue, 17 Feb, 2015 at 11:58 | Share on Facebook |

No More Shapes

Thursday, 5 February, 2015 | Comments | Make A Comment

by Michelle Lefevre

In the wide world of dance we are used to seeing dance photos to promote shows and tours and, more often than not, those photos seem to involve a lot of stereotypical shapes. Some photographers involved with dance however are choosing to buck that particular trend and try something different in the not so wide world of dance photography.

Nicole Guarino is a professional dancer, currently working with Mark Bruce Company, who moonlights, so to speak, as a photographer. Although Ms Guarino doesn't exclusively photograph dance it does take up large part of portfolio of work.

While working with Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee she became badly injured and during recovery decided to take up photography.

"In 2010 I ruptured the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) on my right knee and had to have surgery to repair it. The recovery process is slow and I was away from the stage for a whole year. During that time I decided to study photography and like they say, you should always practice with subjects you love.
So, I started taking dance pictures for my own pleasure until the day one of the dancers in the company showed my images to the director (Janet Smith). Suddenly my photos were promoting the company's work at the Edinburgh Fringe. After that people started taking notice of my work and I slowly starting taking photos commercially."

As we all know from a lot of dance promotion material there is a very specific style of image that appears over and over again, perhaps driven by theatres and with a very narrow marketing strategy.

On taking images that a different from the norm Ms Guarino tells us;

It is relative to say that my work "stands out from the crowd". Some might pass by it unnoticed and I know that there are others out there striving for the same goals as me. I do have an advantage of being a dancer myself and understanding movement. So, in every shoot I try to connect to the feeling of the piece or the intention of the dancers and hopefully create something special.
If I am on a shoot for myself I will definitely try to avoid photographing typical dance shapes, mainly because I feel that we have a lot of those images out there and, as a dancer, I believe that there is more to dance than what certain images show.
I am very much interested in the theatre side of dance but I respect and appreciate other views, and with an interesting approach I wouldn't be against those images. I guess when you have a client with a briefing the situation changes slightly, but I will always try to stand true to what I believe and maybe give my own twist to a typical dance image.

Here are a sample of some of Ms Guarino's images with captions written by her.

Northern School of Contemporary Dance

nscd-1.jpg

NSCD is based in Leeds. These images had to show both dance and the many aspects of the city that the school is based in.

The first image took us a few attempts to get it right. We had to wait for the red light to come on at a busy crossing in front of the Corn Exchange. Judging through his body language you can see they had to rush every time.

nscd-3.jpg

For the second image I wanted to show the green side of the city. I played with exposure time and was blessed with beautiful lighting to create a fairytale atmosphere.

nscd-2.jpg

Dancers: (Kyle Lawson and Robyn Byrne; Harriet Irving; Louis Lever)

In the third image we wanted to show strength and lightness at the same time. Louis is a lean male with beautiful lines; we wanted to avoid the stereotypical "jetté" but still show technique.

Scottish Dance Theatre

sdt-1.jpg

"Winter, Again" - Scottish Dance Theatre (choreographer: Jo Stromgren/ dancers: Natalie Trewinnard and Maria Hayday)

I was looking to translate the cold nature of the piece and slightly creepy relationship between the characters into an image.

sdt2.jpg

"Under Construction"- Scottish Dance Theatre (dancers Naomi Murray and Toby Fitzgibbons).

Taken at around 8 am in Dundee, this day was colder than it looks! I shot this image in our first attempt, which I am sure the dancers were happy about, as one can imagine the next step from this movement.

Eleesha Drennan Dance

eleesha-1.jpg

Eleesha's piece is so rich visually that it creates these beautiful "painting-like" moments. The second image really represents the "magical" side of the piece. The above image was taken during their R&D period and it ended up influencing Eleesha to create one of the most memorable moments of the piece.

eleesha-2.jpg

"Channel Rose"- Eleesha Drennan Dance (dancers: Annamarie Keskinen, Annabeth Berkeley and Kenny Wing Tao Ho)

Verve 2014

verve-1.jpg

This image was part of a body of images that promoted the work from Verve in 2014. The dancers in the company are young and vigorous but we also wanted to show their strong performance skills through this photo.

"Verve 14" (choreographer: Ben Duke/ dancers: Rachael O'neill and Sandro Piccirilli)

Solene Weinachter and Emilia Giudicelli

solene-1.jpg

Commissioned by Solene Weinachter and Emilia Giudicelli, this image was taken in the Highlands in Scotland. We played with the idea of their bodies being hidden sculptures in nature.

[ Nicole Guarino's Website ]

Published Thu, 5 Feb, 2015 at 12:26 | Share on Facebook |

Swimming With Sharks

Wednesday, 8 October, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

For the longest time now Arts Council England has been attempting to crack the "digital" problem they think the arts has with one completely mad project after another.

The highest profile project thus far, namely "The Space", has been both consistently unimpressive and massively expensive. In its current incarnation it will have cost more than £16Million when it closes down in three years time.

Last week the funding monolith announced that the latest grant of £1.8Million had been awarded to a company called Rightster (stop laughing at the back) to deliver a Multi Channel Network or MCN on YouTube that will, so they say, bring the arts to the masses through the magic of the internet (again).

Genesis

A document provided to Article19 by ACE laid out the reasoning for this project;

"We are now entering phase 2 of the internet - you need to go and put your stuff where people are, rather than build a website and wait for them to come to you."

Here in TheLab™ we're pretty sure than web 2.0 was years ago and the online world is on version 14.6 or thereabouts by now but do carry on;

"We shouldn't just be filming live performances, we need to create experiences that are an extension of the live experience not an attempt to replicate it."

Replicating the live experience would mean dealing with uncomfortable seating, over priced drinks and uncooperative and rude staff.

If you wanted to go all in you could always arrange for people to visit audience members in their own homes while they watched a live show on the internet and beat them about the legs with an iPad™ as you yell at them to get out because they want to lock up. But we digress.

At the core of the proposal is the idea that so many people watch stuff on YouTube that the arts should get in on the action and that's where this MCN comes in.

The budget of £1.8Million will be used to both promote the channel and produce content for it, as ACE explains;

"In order to supplement available content, an additional budget of up to £250k per year was set aside to create original content in Rightster's application. Therefore, Rightster have proposed an allocation of up £875,000 (proposed 48.6% of the total award) to original content it will commission over 3 years.
Content commissioning and curation is one element but the remainder of the funding is largely going to two other major areas which are essential for a successful MCN which are (1) technical channel management including system architecture and software and (2) user experience, brand, audience and marketing activities."

So, just under 50% of the money will be spent on creating content and the rest will be used by Rightster to promote this content. The theory is that by putting a lot of arts media together in one channel ACE and Rightster (seriously, stop laughing at the back) think they can boost the profile of the arts on YouTube.

If ACE continue their well documented profligacy when it comes to producing online media however then £800,000 will not go very far when it comes to creating material for this channel.

Expertise

For a company that does a lot of boasting about how good they are at what they do Rightster gets very shy when it comes to answering questions about what they do and how they do it.

The company refused to answer any questions put to them about how they would promote this channel to the general public. Rightster also refused to answer questions about their experience working in the arts or with arts organisations or the commissioning of arts related content.

We can only imagine that their refusal to answer these questions was due to the fact that they have no experience working in the arts at all.

What do Rightster have experience in selling via their super sophisticated network of YouTube channels?

The video above features one shark attacking another shark and is featured on a channel called "Barcroft TV". Their channel is populated with lots of other videos that involve animals attacking animals, animals attacking people and, probably, people attacking animals.

Other, less ridiculous, channels like "eNews Channel Africa" produce more serious content but the videos have very low viewer numbers (like many of the company's online efforts) and that contradicts the entire reasoning of giving Rightster £1.8Million in the first place.

Financial Stakes

In a twist worthy of the worst BBC television drama it turns out that Rightster recently purchased a company called Base79 another company that specialises in mass content distribution across YouTube irrespective of quality or usefulness.

Arts Council England Chairman Peter Balzagette has a financial stake in Base79. Rightster purchased that company during the application process.

When asked why Rightster wasn't immediately excluded from bidding for a £1.8Million contract they told us;

"Sir Peter Bazalgette's shareholding in Base79 was declared in the Arts Council's register of interests in November 2013. We ran an open process for the MCN commission which opened for applications from 3 April 2014 and closed on 15 May 2014 inviting applicants to apply and Rightster was one of those applicants.

Between the application being received and the assessment interviews, Rightster acquired Base79 (8 July) and Sir Peter Bazalgette updated the register of interests, but at this point all applications were already being assessed by officers. The assessment panel are not able to take into consideration any factor beyond the application and interview, including this acquisition, and made recommendations based only on this basis. There was no breach of the Arts Council's conflicts of interest policy."

Make of that what you will.

If Rightster's whole schtick is about how they can get people to watch online video material and they demonstrably cannot do that then what is the point?

Perhaps the business world is asking the same questions since Rightster's stock price has fallen almost 30% in the last 6 months.

The Only Way Is Down

The inherent problem with the vast majority of MCN networks is that their content is essentially a race to the bottom.

MCNs make money from advertising revenue paid to them by Google, the owners of YouTube. The amount of money they get from their videos is based solely on how many times a specific video is viewed.

Google, the MCN and the video producer don't care how good the video is or even what's in the video, all they care about is how many clicks it gets. Google get paid to run the ads, the channels get paid a percentage for showing the ads and all the users get are crappy, disposable videos covered in those ads.

Even the custom produced content for a lot of YouTube channels is churned out on an almost daily basis because the channel owners, even if they have millions of subscribers, know those people are subscribed to a lot of other channels so they have to stay current or the money stops coming in.

It's hard to imagine arts organisations trying to create high quality, thoughtful content that fits in to this never ending online media-churn that is geared not to entertain or inform but to exploit Google's broken revenue machine.

We can probably look forward to 56 episodes of "A Shakespeare Minute" followed by 30 second viral videos like "Romeo and Juliet, Sharks On The Balcony".

Sharks attacking other sharks get a lot of hits because they can be easily promoted through blogs and click bait companies like Taboola. It's the perfect distraction for millions of bored teenagers and office workers.

Another problem with YouTube video views is that they can be easily bought online for just a few hundred dollars. Dozens of websites offer tens of thousands of fake views to give the appearance of popularity where none exists.

Google, from time to time, will purge what they consider to be fake YouTube views from their network but given how much they profit from their own numbers game you have wonder how serious they are about tackling that particular problem.

The whole platform simply cannot be trusted to measure popularity or engagement of any kind.

Rightster did not answer specific questions put to them about whether or not they had ever used "pay for view" methods on their network.

Disposable

ACE continues to throw huge amounts of money at the "digital problem" but they keep on getting into a game that the arts shouldn't be playing. YouTube "Multi Channel Networks" are full of mostly forgettable nonsense with a shelf life of less than 5 minutes.

Channel creators stumble onto a simplistic idea (like highlighting plot holes in movies) and then just keep repeating it until their viewers get bored and move on.

Such creative behaviour, if you can call it that, is completely contradictory to the whole idea of the arts and what ACE is supposed to support.

Rightster have absolutely no experience of working in the arts or with the arts and they don't appear to be very good at anything unless it involves wild animals biting something.

Arts Council England needs to back off from their digital strategy, that isn't really a strategy, and figure out better ways to spend the millions that are disappearing on these projects.

The funding monolith is acting like Yosemite Sam but instead of shooting bullets they're firing money into the clear blue sky and not hitting anything.

The MCN managed by Rightster will launch sometime next year.

Published Wed, 8 Oct, 2014 at 12:38 | Share on Facebook |

Hard Data

Monday, 18 August, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

Two weeks ago we published "Hiring Women" a detailed look at the motivations behind dance makers decisions to hire one gender over another, or not as the case may be. Since then we, here in TheLab™, have been poring over the historic audition information published on Article19 from 2006 until 2014.

We did this to try and build as accurate a picture as possible of the number of jobs that are available for professional dancers to apply for in any given year.

Another goal was to determine if there was, as we suspected, very little in the way of substantive job growth for professional dancers in the UK year on year.

Data Party

Since 2006 Article19 has published 789 auditions that have offered approximately 2,545 jobs to dancers across the UK, in many EU countries and a limited number of countries in the rest of the world.

Although Article19 does not receive every audition notice for every company (that would be an achievement in and of itself) we do get enough notices for the UK and the EU to create a comprehensive picture of the job market for professional dancers, especially the job market in the UK.

Our data does not represent all jobs available to dancers in any given year because some jobs are not offered through the audition process or advertised at all.

UK Auditions and Jobs

Job numbers are derived from a combination of hard data and statistical averages with a +/- of 5%

The chart above lists the number of auditions for UK based companies alongside the number of jobs on offer.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the data is the almost non-existent jobs growth. Yes, the numbers jump dramatically from 2010 to 2011, following a large drop from the previous year, but from 2006-2010 and from 2011 to 2013 the numbers are flat. If 2014 continues on its current trend then by the end of this year we predict a fall in the numbers from those of the previous year.

For 2012 the job number spikes to 337 despite there being only 8 more auditions than the following year (with 2013 having 265 jobs available). On average, auditions that were for more than 3 dancers were recruiting 4 or 5 dancers.

In 2012 (the year of the London Olympics) there were an unusually high number of auditions looking for 6 or more dancers including one notice that advertised 15 jobs. Those 9 auditions seeking more than 5 dancers accounted for 70 jobs in total. If we subtract those 9 auditions from the job total for that year we have a number that almost has numerical parity with the following and previous year.

The spike in the number jobs was, more than likely, connected to the Olympics and all of the arts activity that was taking place during the event as part of the so called 'Cultural Olympiad'.

UK Gender Breakdown

This data is based on the auditions received from 2006 until 2014. The final year does not represent a full year.

The basis for the 'Hiring Women' piece was the evident disparity between the number of male only audition notices versus the female only audition notices.

For that piece the data was for a very specific time line, January - July 2013 and 2014.

As the chart above shows however the disparity has existed consistently over the last 8 years. More telling though is that the number of male only auditions have been steadily rising while the number of female only notices has remained relatively flat with an average of just 8 per year.

The average number of male only auditions is 18 per year. You should read through "Hiring Women" for more detailed analysis on those particular numbers.

A "neutral" request means the audition specified no gender or specified "either/or" when referring to the dancers gender. "Both" means the audition requested male and female dancers but there is no data to show how many were eventually hired.

The historic gender request data from 2006 shows a pattern swinging from choreographers requesting both male and female dancers to an inclination not to care what gender the dancer is to begin with.

That neutral preference has held in 5 years out of 8. We can't explain why the change is coming about but Article19 would suggest this is better for female dancers (who are in the majority in dance) because it means more jobs being made available to them through the audition process.

Across The EU and Beyond

Job numbers are derived from a combination of hard data and statistical averages with a +/- of 5%

When it comes to the European Union (EU) and the rest of the world we don't have enough data to illustrate growth in the number of jobs on offer, a decline or otherwise.

The above does show that the EU provides a lot of potential work for dancers in the UK (and in any country across the EU for that matter).

So when the news is rambling on about political parties and their divided opinions about the UK being a part of the European Union professional dancers should pay attention because the jobs market is harsh enough without removing the EU from the equation.

The majority of the audition notices we receive come in from UK based dance companies and choreographers. If you were wondering where the rest of the notices came from then wonder no more because the above chart reveals all.

Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Israel, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland are by far the biggest job advertisers outside of the UK.

The remaining notices come in from across the EU and a few countries in the rest of the world and these numbers are increasing year on year. The easy portability of dancers from one country to another (thanks to EU rules) mean that providing overseas job information is a vital part of what we do here at Article19.

Flat Growth

As mentioned at the top of this piece we anticipated that the data would show flat jobs growth for professional dancers in the UK.

Article19 has discussed, on numerous occasions, the need to start talking about job creation for dancers not only in the freelance world but also on the NPO side of of things, in the UK at least. Adding just two dancers on long term contracts to the ranks of every NPO dance company would create 58 new jobs with significant employment terms.

The money is there to pay for it, if ACE would stop throwing money down the drain on massively expensive vanity projects, but that's not going to happen unless the leaders in this profession start demanding some changes. Now you they have the numbers to argue with, will it start the discussion?

[ How Much Is A Dancer Worth ]
[ Hiring Women ]
[ We Need To Talk About Dancer's Jobs ]

Published Mon, 18 Aug, 2014 at 01:24 | Share on Facebook |

Hiring Women

Thursday, 7 August, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

When it comes to contemporary dance in the UK Article19 carries almost every audition that comes up from companies large and small. We also carry auditions from European companies and beyond if and when they come in. Over the last seven months though we noticed a trend.

During the first 7 months of this year Article19 published 78 auditions for professional dancers where the dancers would be paid for doing the work. Of those auditions 49 were mixed notices, that is, they either specified no gender or they were hiring both male and female dancers.

Female professional dancers were specifically requested in 5 of the notices and 24 specifically requested male professionals with just one of those offering multiple jobs within an all male dance company.

Over the same period last year, from January to July, Article19 published 73 auditions. Of those 46 were mixed, 11 were female only and 16 were male only. Two of the male only auditions were for all male dance companies (2Faced and Ballet Boyz). Going purely by the numbers we have an increase in the number of male only auditions and a small decrease in the number of female only notices. Mixed auditions remained roughly the same.

This large number of male only auditions caught our attention and the attention of several readers who contacted us wondering what was going on, so we decided to take a look.

Comparison Shopping

We reached out to several of the choreographers who specifically advertised for male dancers to ascertain their reasons for doing so. In most cases it was a simple matter of the choreographer needing to cast a male dancer for a specific role or replace a male dancer who had moved on to work elsewhere;

One dance maker told us;

"The first job was an historical piece, between a man and a woman. So no choice there. The second one was piece already made partly about male friendship. It's a re-cast of a piece already made with not much time to re-rehearse."

They also mentioned that consideration had been given to re-casting the role with a female dancer but the cost of additional auditions (space and a good audition teacher) made this option impossible.

Physical strength was mentioned a couple of times by a couple of choreographers but it was not the key reason given for hiring a male dancer over a female dancer. We also posited the idea of gender flipping an entire piece of work to alter the balance between male and female dancers and what differences that might make to the finished piece.

One company director told us;

"The idea of flipping the gender balance is interesting. My current touring piece is 2 female and 4 male dancers. Flipping the balance would create many challenges, one of the main ones being that there is a lot of lifting work that would take a very strong dancer (male or female) to do, let alone do well.
I also find that my work sits a lot better on male bodies due to the sheer strength required (particularly upper body strength). With this said, the main dancer in the company is female and she does many things that very few male dancers could do, I guess it is swings and roundabouts!"

The new work from Manchester based Company Chameleon, "The Beauty of the Beast', is an all male work but the previous double bill by the company, 'Pictures we Make', was an even split of two male and two female dancers. With regards to strength and devising they told us this;

"Creatively, there would in the beginning of a process [a] marked difference in body strength, so male artists for example might generate movement material that includes lifts or movement that requires the support of the upper body that our female artists might take longer to achieve.
This is generally overcome in the process by the way we train, with a large focus on building strength in the upper body, planks, press-up, handstand drills etc. In my experience to date, I would say that generally, male artists have weaker classical technique (I refer here also to other standardised contemporary techniques such as Graham and Cunningham).
Taking things like this into account, training has to be varied to help performers develop in many different areas (assuming the work requires this)."

The Law

When hiring new dancers for your project or advertising those jobs it is important to remember that employment law and more specifically the Equality Act of 2010 does apply to you.

The act covers a wide range of discrimination issues but with regards to employment it states;

(1) An employer (A) must not discriminate against a person (B)
(a) in the arrangements A makes for deciding to whom to offer employment;
(b) as to the terms on which A offers B employment;
(c) by not offering B employment.

There are some exclusions to the law that cover hiring actors to play a specific role (you need a man to play JFK and a woman to play Amelia Earhart for example) that might apply to dance companies if you were creating a piece of work that was, in some way, gender specific.

You should tread carefully though because the law can be an unpredictable animal and if it bites you it's really going to hurt you.

When crafting your notices and deciding what dancers to hire think about what you're doing for a moment.

Essentially, strength is a factor but training and preparation can make any physical differences moot as the devising process will naturally adapt to suit the dancers.

In The Majority

As the numbers above indicate the majority of auditions posted throughout any given year on Article19 are either gender neutral or request both male and female dancers. This would suggest a certain amount of gender blindness when it comes to hiring. We asked several of the NPO dance companies if they deliberately tried to create a gender balance in their company.

Kevin Finnan the AD of Motionhouse Dance Theatre told us;

"It would be my choice to have a company that is reflective of the society we live in. I would therefore choose to have a company as diverse as possible in gender, sexual orientation and race. This fundamental ambition is then tempered by the abilities of those who come to audition.
"Motionhouse always holds open auditions (I think we are rare in doing this). The dancers abilities are then paramount. In the past I have held auditions and I did  not feel the male dancers were of sufficient calibre and we employed an all female cast. It is not cut and dried but if there are enough candidates of sufficient calibre I would have a mixed gender company."

Candoco Dance Company helmed by Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado and currently touring a multitude of different works created by a diverse range of choreographers said;

"We look for the best dancer for the job, which means being part of a company and all that entails, including contributing to a variety and balance of skills and personalities."

Article19 also wondered if it was possible to specify the differences between female and male professional dancers, why hire one instead of the other? To which Candoco responded;

"It's hard to put into words without falling into unhelpful and unrealistic generalisations and stereotypes. [We] think differences between skills and personalities are more important. Gender is not a priority consideration for us in casting. At the moment for instance we have a male dancer learning a role created for and by a female dancer (and that includes wearing a dress)."

Anthony Missen from Company Chameleon expanded on this;

"Men and women bring a lot of different qualities and energies into both the rehearsal room and into performance, although both can display strength, vulnerability, grace, athleticism, beauty and a whole host of other things. You cannot escape the fact that when you watch a performance, you are either looking at a man or a woman, and there is a degree of bringing your own subjective experience to bear in how you view [a piece of work]."

Rosie Kay the AD of Rosie Kay Dance Company and creator of works like '5 Soldiers' and the all-female 'Supernova' explained her thoughts on male and female dancers on-stage.

"I think my company would be different if it were all male or all female. It can be interesting depending on the concept or individual work, but for my company there would need to be some kind of artistic justification, which I can't ever see being a permanent situation. I'm interested in human stories, human ways of moving and energy, not a single gender. In other companies it does seems to be leaning heavily towards all male rather than all female companies. Personally I love seeing strong women on stage."

How Many Jobs

Most audition notices do not state how many jobs are available for dancers, especially gender neutral notices, so it's not possible to tell if the number of opportunities for female professionals have declined from this time last year.

One possible reason for the high number of male only auditions (relatively speaking) could be directly related the greater number of female dancers in the profession to begin with. Although things have changed a little over the last few years the graduating classes from dance schools will almost always be predominantly female.

Independent dance makers may struggle to find male dancers suitable for their work because through training and then working they are more likely to know a larger number of female professionals they would want to involve in their projects. So instead of auditioning they just ask the female dancer to work with them while using the audition process to find male dancers.

If an audition requests a male dancer only it doesn't necessarily mean that a female dancer or dancers are not already working on the project.

Additionally, for most dancers working and touring within companies in the UK their abilities onstage are just one factor of their employment. In a modern company the dancer can take on multiple roles from rehearsal director, through class teacher all the way to administrator and fund raiser. To say nothing of the education work. These are factors that also have to be considered when hiring.

Ultimately however female dancers still face greater problems finding jobs in the wide world of dance because there is, very obviously, greater competition for the few job that are available for them. From the perspective of a recent graduate or a seasoned professional seeing a lot of auditions with "male only" in the description is probably more than a little frustrating.

There is also an additional point to make. Of the 131 auditions published by Article19 in 2013, 92 of them were for jobs in the UK. That's 92 job opportunities for professional contemporary dancers in a country with a population of over 60Million. Given the the paucity of discussion in the wide world of dance about job creation for dancers that's a sobering statistic and one very good reason for the UK to remain in the EU.

Examples of many of the works and companies cited in this piece can be viewed in our video section.

Scottish Dance Theatre in 'Second Coming' photo by Maria Falconer - Dancer Natalie Trewinnard

Published Thu, 7 Aug, 2014 at 10:26 | Share on Facebook |

Corrupted Space

Wednesday, 25 June, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

We've all been there. You enter an art gallery, the space is the size of a sports hall, it's brightly lit and around the edges stand unsmiling staffers in black shirts and trousers, each with an earpiece dangling from one ear so they can receive instructions from an unseen control centre about when to take lunch.

Positioned in the middle of the floor is a single plinth about 4ft high. On top of that plinth is a tiny white box, fashioned from some exotic material, and next to the tiny white box is a card. Written on that card in plain black text is the phrase "musings on the universe - 2001".

Congratulations, you've been indoctrinated into the world of extreme visual art.

It is this world that TheSpace now inhabits. The website originally intended to bring the arts to the masses on the internet and on television has become the world's most annoying art gallery.

Internet, We Have A Problem

On paper the original "Space" was simple enough. Put the arts on the internet so people could see the arts on the internet. The only problem was that the pieces commissioned to be on TheSpace were, to be blunt, completely awful. There was also a side mission to get arts organisations in the UK educated in the ways of digital media.

From violinists playing music in airborne helicopters (not making that up by the way) to massively expensive "dance" films and faux television programmes that, along with the entire contents of the previous website, have now vanished into thin air.

The website (thespace.org) was a mess, the content was rubbish and the staff operating it came across as having the collective personality of a cactus. Mercifully, Arts Council England, along with the BBC, only ploughed £3.5Million into the thing before it was deleted.

Did we say "mercifully"? What we meant was incompetently. Now TheSpace is back with a new mission and a new tagline;

"The Space is one of the most exciting places on the internet to find new art to explore and enjoy."

Ok, stop laughing at the back!

sdt.jpg

Marina Abramović tries the enthuse the audience about her new work '512 Hours' at the Serpentine Gallery in London and fails miserably by being a bit miserable.

The old mission was such a massive failure they had to try something new and the new thing they are trying seems to be focused on, mostly, a visual art approach.

This time out you can watch, for example, Marina Abramović giving daily updates about her project '512 hours' running at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Ms Abramović's delivery on the videos is so dead-pan, so devoid of warmth or personality we can't imagine why anybody would want to sit through all ten (at the time of writing) videos or what they would learn about her work.

If you want to get people enthused about the arts, whatever you do, don't let them watch those video diaries.

The videos themselves feel like an annoying art installation and you don't even get to see the work itself because cameras are not allowed in. Irony!

Another commission on the site ('Longitude') describes itself thus;

"LIFT, The Space, Abandon Normal Devices and Watermans have co-commissioned a world first - a live play with actors in three cities on the same longitude line - London, Barcelona and Lagos, focusing on global water shortages. All perform (sic) in a Google Hangout"

First of all, every play ever made is "live", albeit in a theatre. This play is little more than a badly written and badly acted piece of film rendered in Google Hangout's low-res video format.

The only reason we can think of for this piece being commissioned at all is for the simple reason that it can be classified as "digital". 'Longitude' is a clear example of technology leading the idea. The quality was of secondary consideration to the method used to deliver it to the good people of planet earth.

Camels, Committees, Confusion

Pretentious bad work is all part of being in the arts but when you put all of that work together into one place and it's the only thing you offer the visiting public then you have a problem. Just ask the people who watched the Aerowaves dance festival "live" from Sweden.

TheSpace is not bringing the arts to the people. What TheSpace is doing is bringing a very narrow subset of the arts to people based on the egos of the individuals who hand out the money for commissions.

Speaking of those people. TheSpace has been turned into a "Community Interest Company" the reasons for which they were unwilling to explain. Suffice to say that a CIC has less stringent, publicly available, financial reporting requirements than a registered charity. Almost every arts organisation in receipt of public arts funding on a regular basis is a registered charity.

The money to fund the TheSpace's operations is coming from several sources, all of them public. Arts Council England is handing over £8.1Million over the next 3 years (that's eight point one million just in case you thought it was a typo).

Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI) is throwing in £600,000 over three years along with Creative Scotland, because they are slightly less crazy, who are stumping up £250,000 for 2014/2015.

Commercial Break

ACE refused to hand over the application form (for what they describe as a "Solicited Grant") that TheSpace filled in claiming that the information contained within was "commercially" sensitive.

The funding monolith said the application contains a "detailed business plan" for the operation of TheSpace and their contracts with "partner organisations".

ACNI and Creative Scotland did not provide answers as to whether or not TheSpace had to apply for funding in writing.

In another twist it turns out that ACE CEO Alan Davey is on the board of directors of the company set up to run the website. Again, ACE claimed that there are "strict" operational guidelines in-place that counter any conflict of interest problems especially when it comes to commissioning work.

The obvious elephant in the room however is the fact that Arts Council England awarded over £8Million in funding to an arts project operated by themselves.

The registered address for TheSpace is Arts Council England's own address in London. Communication's staff at ACE seemed unsure as to whether or not the employees of TheSpace are actually working in the same building and, if not, where they actually are located.

TheSpace themselves (they have a separate communications contact which is actually managed by private PR firm Bolton Quinn) refused to say how much money was spent commissioning the videos from Ms Abramović, the painting demonstration (since removed from the site) by David Hockney or for the material "donated" by Chinese artists Ai Wei Wei.

When asked, TheSpace did not respond to questions stating that since the website was basically a proxy funding body of Arts Council England why are the general public not entitled to know how their money is being used or how much is being spent on commissions.

A New Space

Imagine for a second that you are making a funding application to Grants for the Arts* or, like many, you have gone through the torturous process of making an NPO** application. From your perspective the whole thing is like rolling the dice in a casino.

Now imagine that the CEO of Arts Council England is on the board of directors for a rival organisation also making a large funding application. Do you still think the playing field is level?

TheSpace is the perfect encapsulation of what happens when you do the arts by committee. ACE, as a funding organisation, takes something very simple, putting the arts online, and makes the whole process complex and badly presented with the overwhelming appearance of insider dealing and corruption.

Add to that TheSpace's (ACE's?) refusal to comprehensively answer even the most basic questions about what they are doing with other people's money and you have more than enough reasons to throw ACE and their entire senior management team in a canal.

ACNI and Creative Scotland's involvement in this mess, although more financially restrained, is no less forgivable.

The entire arts output in the UK could be comprehensively covered by about a dozen journalists working independently of the funding bodies and the arts organisations they fund for a lot less money than is being wasted on the current incarnation of TheSpace.

No commissions, no pretentious ideas about "hacking the arts", just coverage of the massive amount of culture being funded, created and put on show every day, all over the country.

Running a web based platform for the arts that way prevents it from being little more than a publicity exercise for large scale organisations. Like this example from the National Theatre of Scotland, because what people really want to do is watch badly made short plays, broadcast "live" on the internet at 3am.

ACE and the BBC dug themselves a giant hole with the first version of the website, which they smugly referred to as a "beta test". Having spent so much money and time flogging a web-based dead horse they had no option but to continue the project, throwing more money away in the process. Hubris and arrogance do not make good bedfellows.

Instead of learning however they have just made it all worse and even more aesthetically unpleasant and impenetrable.

In a much delayed response to questions put to Arts Council England with regards to the manner in which the money was granted to TheSpace they told us;

"Apologies for the error in [our] last email but it was in fact a Solicited Grant which allows the Arts Council to invite a specific organisation, individual or partnership to apply for funding in order to deliver a specified project that helps deliver one or more of our goals and priorities as set out in our 10-year strategic framework for the arts. When, following an analysis of all options available for achieving a particular priority or strategic aim, it is clear that only one organisation would be best placed to deliver the outcome we have prioritised; we will request approval for a solicited approach to be made to that organisation."

Arts Council England invited themselves to apply for a huge amount of money for a project that only they could run and, surprise surprise, the application was accepted.

It was accepted because only Arts Council England could operate an online arts service as bad as TheSpace and spend millions in the process.

Make of that what you will the next time your GFA or NPO application is turned down.

*Grants for the Arts or GFA is the project based funding programme from Arts Council England and is funded by Lottery money.

**NPO is National Portfolio Organisation, the regular funding programme for arts organisations run by Arts Council England and is funded by money from central government.

Normally for a piece like this we would use a screen capture of the website in question. TheSpace is so badly designed and so ugly however we thought a picture of a cute dog would be preferable! photo by Adrian Fallace

Published Wed, 25 Jun, 2014 at 11:44 | Share on Facebook |

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