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North West dance news, reviews and personal views

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  • 07/12/10--04:37: The 5 Man Show
  • In 2006, DanceXchange presented The 5 Man Show. This highly popular all male dance show, originally staged in-the-round, sold out nationally and internationally, and is being revived for a Spring tour in 2011 redesigned for a traditional theatre format.

    Three internationally renowned choreographers and 5 superb dancers will unite to showcase the very best of contemporary dance, in an unmissable entertaining dance event ranging from burlesque to pure dance to dance theatre.

    The 5 Man Show presents three innovative and dynamic pieces of dance by Arthur Pita, David Massingham (Artistic Director) and Liam Steel (Stan Wont Dance).  With simple staging and sophisticated lighting, the choreographers have focused purely on the nature and the physicality of the performers, in three very different pieces revealing three states of man.


    Sounds good, doesn't it... hopefully The Lowry will be booking this show... the campaign starts here...

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    The leaders of Britain's most prominent cultural bodies are to appeal directly to the prime minister not to cause irreparable damage to the arts.

    The chief executive of Arts Council England, Alan Davey, is expected to say cuts could force it to withdraw funding from more than 200 organisations.

    The coalition government has asked all major arts funding bodies to show how they would manage cuts of 25% or 30%.

    The culture minister said everybody had to take their share of cuts.

    Ed Vaizey said organisations were "absolutely entitled" to make their case to government but "everybody had to share their burden of the cuts that were coming".

    "Nobody should be in any doubt at all that we strongly support the work that arts organisations do in this country, but equally they have to be in no doubt at all that we face a very tough financial environment left for us by the last Labour government.

    "We're going to work together to make sure that we can continue to deliver first class arts to as many people as possible but we have to work together to make this happen," he said.

    The government hopes private money will help plug the gap, but it has emerged some of the country's leading philanthropists are writing to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that such an ambition is overly optimistic.

    The appeal comes the day after a warning that the number of theatres at risk of demolition could grow in the next year because of funding cuts.

    The Theatres Trust latest "at risk" register highlights 55 buildings facing an uncertain future, with cuts seen as a major area of concern.
    from the BBC

    No UK dance companies regardless of their size are unreliant on arts subsidies so this is a huge issue for anyone who places any value on the performing arts as a marker of a civilised society, never mind those of  us who actively support performance with our attendance.

    The wonderful New English Contemporary Ballet folded almost instantly when their ACE funding was pulled, despite having a paid-tutition dance school attached and a solid track record of community involvement - something upon which an almost bizarre emphasis is placed when assessing the value of performing arts.

    No one is safe, from the big boys like the Rambert, the Royal Ballet, the English National, the Birmingham Royal down to the two-, three- and five-man companies that so enrich the wonderfully varied tapestry of dance-based performance that we enjoy in this country.

    How are we to respond? Political pressure? Who has much faith in that, especially when the agenda to make cuts across the board is so central to the current government's position?

    I have sat in enough half-empty auditoria to know one thing we can do: buy tickets and go and see stuff.

    If you support the arts, support them with your paid-for presence. Use it or lose it.


    The Guardian's Judith Mackrell on a similar theme - Judith Mackrell on Dance

    Budget cuts would devastate the arts, warn theatre and gallery directors  
    Job losses, widespread closures and damage to audiences and Britain's reputation would follow, say leading figures - from The Guardian

    How can we soften this blow to our arts?
    Jeremy Hunt needs to think again if we're to survive the spending cuts, says Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph.

    Arts leaders warn that 25% cuts would kill 200 companies - The Stage

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  • 07/15/10--08:40: Pools of money
  • Follow the link for a brilliant article from Article 19 that contrasts the unquestioned and wasteful extravagance of London 2012 Olympics spending with our modest - and soon to be be slashed - arts spending.

    Dysfunctional - Article 19

    London 2012 pool costs quadruple to £303 million - The Telegraph (April 2008)

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    ... the vast majority of arts institutions run on a barely break-even basis, with staff that are paid handsomely in professional fulfilment but poorly in cash.

    A 10% cut for them doesn't mean halving the annual champagne bill, it means deciding if the whole operation is viable or not. A 25% cut [he says], probably does away with that problem, the operation closes.

    Arts funding: Where will the cuts be? BBC Gomp/Arts blog

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  • 07/19/10--01:19: Ivan Vasiliev
  • As I so often do on a Sunday morning, I watched the Andrew Marr Show this weekend. He quite often ends the show with a guest from the arts and this week it was a young Russian - actually he is from Belarus - ballet dancer currently in London with the Bolshoi and seemingly casing a stir - Ivan Vasiliev. They call him the Rocket Man, so high he can leap.

    Living and seeing dance almost entirely in Manchester and rather focused on British companies I was blithely unaware of this new ballet star until this point. The interview was stilted as he appears to speak little English. Andrew Marr gamely tried to question him on the sofa while the loathesome Peter Mandelson unctuously ingratiated himself - it appears Lord Mandelson is a 'balletomane' - a fact I find oddly depressing . Then they showed a clip of Vasiliev dancing for the BBC in a rehearsal room; I think it was a solo from Spartacus, which the Bolshoi are performing on this visit (when do we ever get to see that in Manchester?).

    All I will say is that watching Ivan Vasiliev dance in a rehearsal room on TV gave me goosebumps. He's very, very good.

    The new Baryshnikov? I'm sure he is. To be honest, to me, Baryshnikov is just the man who made Carrie Bradshaw give up her life in New York to be with him in Paris and then ignored her. But Vasiliev is impossibly light, balanced, strong and elegant and even from that small snippet I can quite imagine that there is no finer male classical ballet dancer in the world today.


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    We're told that modern audiences are after interactivity and intimacy – but are traditional theatres really so bad?

    There is widespread enthusiasm for immersive, site-specific performance, as well as a revival of interest in older performance forms like theatre-in-the-round, traverse, promenade and street theatre. But what have we all got against the proscenium arch? No single manifesto or programme announced its demise, but various accusations seem to come up time and time again. First, that the proscenium arch was designed for a theatre based on lavish illusion, which we no longer have the taste for. Second, that it embodies a middle-class set of social and cultural behaviours, normalised as the unwritten rules of How To Watch Theatre. Third, that it promotes passivity – which today's audiences, used to interactivity and with shorter attention spans, will not tolerate. [read more]

    As The Lowry goes all interactive and immersive again with last night's production of Domini Public (I didn't see it, as it happens, although it looks to have been interesting  - yes, this new-fangled theatre is spreading oop north too) here's an interesting article in The Guardian.

    For what it's worth, I have been sitting in theatres watching stuff for most of my life - for 30+ years now - and don't have a problem with 'conventional' theatre. In fact, I have an aversion to (if not terror of) audience participation - let alone 'immersion' - and easily-plumbed layers of embarrassment and self-consciousness that means I prefer sitting and watching...

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    While there is little dance on in Manchester over the summer - but do not miss this weekend's Urban Moves International Dance Festival (23 - 25 July) - here's something that looks forward to September, when normal service is resumed, including the Rambert's annual visit to The Lowry...

    The centrepiece of Rambert Dance’s new mixed programme is a carefully-mounted revival of Merce Cunningham’s RainForest, created in 1968 and danced amid Andy Warhol’s floating silver clouds which the choreographer had seen in a gallery two years earlier.

    Warhol apparently wanted to the dancers to perform nude, but Cunningham preferred flesh-coloured leotards, artfully torn by Jasper Johns. David Tudor made a score that conjures the sounds of the jungle through assorted household implements.

    All of which is fascinating historical background to a work that still looks startlingly modern, full of unexpected movement and grave stillness, and surprisingly clear in the way it evokes the creatures and birds that its title suggests. The dancers perform with a quiet clarity that makes a lovely tribute to the choreographer, who died last year.

    Rainforest photo (c) Chris Nash

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    As a new streetdance show opens at the Barbican in London, the BBC'S Will Gompertz examines if this form of contemporary dance has now become high art.

    'Successfully forming a bridge between the street and the elite'?

    I have only limited experience of seeing live street dance and to be honest most of that has pulled elements of street dance into more 'conventional' contemporary dance - 2faced Dance Company, Dance United, State of Emergency - all companies I enjoyed hugely.

    I think the current and growing success of street dance is a positive development. As the artistic director of Sadler's Wells says, it has virtuosity, form and sometimes a narrative, which means it is fully compatible with other forms of dance. Street dance has the kind of community-based appeal that seems so essential in an arts environment where the agenda is so focused on widening participation, and it appeals to a younger audience, which is a huge opportunity to bring a new generation into theatres, hopefully sparking a love of and interest in performance that will stay with some of them for their entire lives.

    Participation in dance has been shown to have huge benefits in improving the behaviour and attitude of young people, especially young men. The success of street dance acts on TV talent shows has strongly suggested that the appeal is wider than just the 'young'. The vocabulary of street is perhaps more comprensible or accessible (or simply more technically flashy) than more established forms of dance, where arguably a general TV audience might simply switch off or tune out, thinking classical or contemporary dance is not 'for them'.

    Whether street dance is 'high art' or not is another question. Technically it requires huge skill. Many young contemporary dancers seem to have moved from street into conventional dance or physical theatre in time, broadening (or deepening) their training and ability to express physically in other art forms.

    But street dance generally has a limited range of expression, an over-reliance on 'urban' themes  - gangs, brotherhood, conflict, competition, aggression - and musically can be hard to listen to if you're not a fan of urban, rap or hip-hop - although it often has huge excitement and a genuine wow factor. With it's reliance on creating shapes and structure and playing with symmetry, street dance also generally plays straight to the fourth wall - the front - in a way that most contemporary dance does not, although narrative ballet still directs the action towards an audience in this way. 

    If street dance can continue to develop and break free from those limitations - if indeed that is even a fair assessment - and there's every indication that it can, then it will likely consolidate its position within the mainstream - or does that defeat the object?

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  • 07/22/10--08:12: More on cuts anyone?
  • Arts cuts must be made, but made with care

    The days of plenty are over, but too-brutal cuts would sap the cultural lifeblood that makes our country prosper
    Munira Mirza writing in The Guardian

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    Ballet thriller Black Swan to open Venice film festival [BBC]

    Psychological thriller Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, will open this year's Venice film festival, organisers have said.

    The film, from US director Darren Aronofsky, also features Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder.

    It centres on the rivalry between two dancers at a cutthroat ballet company in New York.

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  • 07/23/10--07:19: Not a summer of dance
  • It is 23 July.

    I've just had a look at The Lowry website to see if by some miracle something of interest has slipped beneath my radar.

    There is no dance scheduled at The Lowry until the Rambert Dance Theatre open on 22 September.

    THERE'S NOTHING ON ANYWHERE FOR NEARLY TWO MONTHS!*

    Fortunately I will be going to see Phoenix Dance Theatre's fascinating-looking new programme Declarations on 16 September in Liverpool - which will be like bread to a starving man.

    So that's Urban Moves International Dance Festival this weekend and then cold turkey for nearly two months! And that's before government cuts starts the potential closure of tens of touring companies - for that is what could happen....


    * NB: if you like musical theatre or drama or other stuff there are things to see to see. This performance drought is dance-specific.

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    Urban Moves International Dance Festival - follow the link for the full gallery


    Motionhouse perform Cascade at Urban Moves in Piccadilly Gardens

    Koine - Sempre e costante e il mio amore
     

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    Rootless Roots - UNA Unknown Negative Activity (Greece)
    Rootless Roots - UNA Unknown Negative Activity (Greece)
    La Mov - Como o Vento (Spain)
    La Mov - Como o Vento (Spain)

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    I managed to get to see most of the acts I wanted to over the course of the two-and-a-bit days of the festival. It was generally a very good experience despite the mostly overcast weather. Every performance was public access and free and I would have gladly paid to see most of the companies.

    Saturday
    Motionhouse - Cascade **** Great mix of contemporary dance and acrobatic physical theatre with a  strong narrative and great staging. I liked their show Scattered and this was good too. Hugely likeable.
    Koiné - Sempre e costante e il mio amore ***** I really liked this Italian duo. The relationship between them was very strong and the piece was musically interesting; showed a great range of expression with nice use of recurring motifs and some wonderful moments of stillness.Cie Irene K- Inside a time / outside space *** Played on a large expanse of grass in Piccadilly Gardens between trees linked with structural coloured threads. Looked interesting and had a great soundtrack but was placed too distantly to feel involving - especially when watching from Pizza Express having a much-needed spot of lunch. [Rushed to St Anne's Square to see...]
    Company Chameleon - Search and Find ***** Beautiful new work from Manchester's own. Their work has a very distinctive style which benefits from the intense relationship between Kevin Turner and Anthony Missen. Hugely involving with a strong narrative and beautiful strong, fluid movement and synchronicity.

    Sunday
    Gravity & Levity - Re-flex ** The biggest let-down of the weekend for me. I had high [sic] hopes for this aerial company but they seemed grounded and floundering rather than floating.
    Company Decalage - Appel ***** Short but stunning piece of capoeira-influenced dance with lovely live music on Bansuri (flute) and tabla.
    Koiné - Watched them again from the opposite side of the stage. A techincal hitch on this performance made the piece rather longer thna it should have been but they managed to cover the musical breakdown seemlessly. Enjoyed it even more the second time and I understood more of the narrative and the shaping of the piece was clearer from the 'front'.Went to Castlefield Arena...
    The Bicycle Ballet *** Entertaining nonsense mostly impressive for the fact that it was performed by local volunteers.
    Beau Geste - Transport Exceptionnels ***** Extraordinary duet between a man and a mechanical digger. Poignant, elegant and a tremendous demonstration of skill and trust. Truly worth seeing.
    STRIDE **** Site-specific exploration of the urban landscape of Castlefield by the young men of Stride - aged 11-19 - choreographed by Company Chameleon. Impressively complex choreography from a very young troupe that played with our discomfort with groups of hooded youths. Energetic proof that boys dancing can be as masculine as any sport. [Back to Piccadilly Gardens...]
    Cie Irene K - caught most of their performance again. Still like it but still feels distant.
    La Mov - Como o Vento ***** Spanish male-female quartet gave a gorgeous display of contemporary dance set to a modern latin sountrack. Beautiful.
    Rootless Root - UNA Unknown Negative Activity ***** This Greek group were extraordinary. Very physical and almost extreme performance, dark and disturbing and varied. Absolutely compelling but you felt you were watching something important and slightly wrong. Great energy and four wildy different dancers completely in tune together.

    Roll on Urban Moves 2012!


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  • 07/27/10--01:23: Anton Dolin
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  • 07/27/10--01:34: New Art Club
  • Comedy-contemporary dance duo New Art Club are appearing at the Royal Exchange Studio in September. There is an interesting piece about them and their unique approach to comedy using dance - they are both trained and experienced 'proper' dancers - in The Guardian here.

    New Art Club - This Is Now

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    The marvellous Wayne McGregor | Random Dance has announced tour dates right up to the end of 2011 for their new work FAR.

    Hopefully a Manchester date will get slotted in at some point as I had to venture to Liverpool (Liverpool!) to see the beautiful Entity.

    Actually, the issue with going to Liverpool was not the 'inconvenience' as such. Scheduled as part of Liverpool's LEAP dance festival, the company had to scale down the staging of Entity to fit it onto the small stage of the Liverpool Empire. FAR - about which there are few details at present - is a work for 10 dancers. It needs a generous dance stage with state of the art technical facilities. Like The Lowry. If you know what I mean.


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    NWDA cuts cash for key projects | News | Manchester Confidential

    Manchester International Festival to lose funding, among many capital investment projects now facing the axe as the North West Development Agency winds up its affairs .


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    The arts are affordable and profitable, costing as little to fund as half a pint of milk a week per person. The government would be idiotic to cut them.

    Whenever there's an economic squeeze, the arts are first to go. Ministers such as Nick Clegg and Jeremy Hunt may endorse the defence of the social, cultural, even moral value of the arts, but they cut them anyway. So inevitable do reductions seem, playwright Mark Ravenhill has even suggested the best place to start cutting.

    If they're so inevitable, why bother writing those defences? Because this time it's different. This is the first time artists have had access to sound, well-evidenced arguments for the economic value of the arts. It's no longer in question: the arts are affordable and the arts are profitable. If the government is interested in saving money, it would be idiotic to cut them.

    First, the annual cost of British arts subsidisation is £0.47bn – roughly 0.07% of public spending. That's 7p in every £100, which equates to 17p per person per week or less than half the cost of a pint of milk. Cutting the arts budget would therefore save next to nothing, especially as the cost of the arts vanishes when placed alongside other government spending. According to Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, the size of the bank bailout is "breathtaking" at close to £1tn. Not many of us even realise how big a trillion is. A million seconds takes 11.5 days; a trillion takes 31,709 years ...

    Of all the absurdities behind the potential cuts to the arts, the greatest is that they are directly, unequivocally profitable. In 2008, Arts Council England spent £100m on theatre; VAT receipts from London theatre alone were worth £75m. But hang on – everyone knows the arts lose money. How can they be profitable? Because Arts Council money is the thin end of a wedge prising open loads more investment. Every pound from the Arts Council buys several more – most of them directly contingent on that public subsidy. So the reality of a 25% cut from central government could result in something much, much worse, especially as arts organisations struggle to meet redundancy payments for staff they can ill afford to lose ...

    So the arts are affordable, and the arts are profitable. Of course, the value of the arts can't be measured in pounds and pence alone – and yet they're earning their keep in pounds and pence alone. The Tories like financial strategising, so let's put it this way: cutting something that makes money is simply a poor business plan.

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    Arts for everyone is cheap considering its rich returns
    A 25% cut won't be plugged by philanthropy. To take this paltry sum is a political gesture, not a financial necessity - full article here

    As every party promises to rebalance Britain's economy away from finance, the creative industries are a fast-growing sector. Between 1997 and 2007, they created two million new jobs and £16.6bn in exports. Culture drives tourism, worth £86bn in 2007. Heritage sites, equally fearful of cuts, employ another 270,000 and draw in more tourists. Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture brought 15 million visitors, making £800m for the local economy. The return from a tiny government investment is probably greater in the cultural industries than any other – every £1 the Arts Council England puts in generates another £2 from commercial sources. In the north-east, a consortium including The Sage and Baltic reported this week that every £1 of state aid brings in £4 locally.
    Polly Toynbee in The Guardian (28 July 2010)

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