As this post is currently averaging 100 readers an hour, I would like to add that this article represents solely my own views, and not those of TrinityLaban or any other institution.
I remember the day I finally lost my temper with “named” company auditions. It was the day I saw this: “Candidates selected for the second round of the audition will be expected to spend the subsequent week in rehearsal with the company, following which a final selection will be made.” Think about that for a minute…. So I can only audition for you if I can take a week off of work without notice? How many dancers do you think that’s actually feasible for? Or rather, what kind of financial support system do you need in place to even go to that kind of audition?
A similarly appalling lack of empathy for the practicalities of the non-celebrity dance world was displayed yesterday, when three major choreographers got together to slam the quality of UK dance training. Hofesh Shechter, Lloyd Newson and Akram Khan publicly announced their ongoing disappointment in the rigour and technique of dancers emerging from England’s three top contemporary dance schools.
But…. Hofesh Shechter isn’t looking for recent graduates…. Neither is Akram Khan. Lloyd Newson would famously prefer you to have a northern accent than for you to have had any kind of dance training whatsoever…. So really, are these the guys we want to be listening to about UK dance education? The guy who, for example, decided that his apprenticeship for graduating students required them to leave their degree two months before completion?
The triumvate compare TrinityLaban, Northern and The Place unfavourably to P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels, as well as to contemporary conservatoires in the United States. What they seem to have forgotten is that this is a comparison of apples and oranges: the MAJOR difference between these UK training schools and those in other countries (especially those stateside)… money. The UK programs are government funded, and you don’t have to pay private tuition fees to get in.
I’ll speak to TrinityLaban, because I was a student there in the past and I teach there now. I got through Laban with no financial support other than a UK government student loan, which covered my tuition, housing and expenses (with the help of a weekend job). While I was going through my degree, they lost nearly three quarters of their government funding. Three quarters. And they’re STILL providing a world-renowned education for nearly 100 students a year. Now, living in the US, I can walk into pretty much any contemporary dance audition I choose on the strength of where I trained. Undergraduates in colleges over here are thrilled to bits to come to Laban as foreign exchange students – and so they should be!
Being a government-funded program means your curriculum must be validated by an external university, which means you have to divide your time in a particular way, and use your money to certain ends. A macrobiotic lunch provided every day – as they do at P.A.R.T.S. – is simply not in the budget. Two dance classes a day, however, with internationally recognized professionals, a substantial theoretical program, movement analysis, opportunities to choreograph and to dance in rep. by Rosemary Butcher, Wayne McGregor, Martha Graham, Richard Alston, Jose Limon and others… that we can do.
And think about who we’re doing it FOR. I argue that the student population at Laban is more diverse than that of all three of those other dance companies combined (ish). They don’t have an age limit. They don’t weigh you. They don’t require you to have had a particular kind of private training. In fact if the big three got anything right it’s the fact that early dance education in the UK is patchy, and poorly funded. But we’re taking in students from community dance programs, BTECHs, hip-hop, after school ballet… and turning out internationally successful artists.
Because we are turning out internationally successful artists. Maybe not the kind who go to one company, and are one kind of dancer for the rest of their careers, because in the contemporary financial climate that kind of career is simply not an option for the vast number of recent graduates, and to train only for that kind of platform would be an exercise in futility. There are not enough companies available who have the funding and jobs for the number of dancers graduating each year, and pretending otherwise is to fail as educators.
But our graduates are in those companies. And they’re independently funded choreographers. And they’re photographers. Teachers. Therapists. Physical Therapists. Company Mangers. And again and again and again they’re dancers. The kind of dancers they want to be.
Take me, for example. By the end of my first year out of Laban, I was paying my rent and bills from freelance dance work. I was a qualified Labanotator, so I could (and did) restage repertoire for other companies. I was a university lecturer in dance by the time I was 23. I’ve presented at international conferences and been paid to dance in more countries than I have fingers. This is the success that TrinityLaban trained me for.
I’m angry with what was said about dance training yesterday. Not least because I have to introduce my students to the work of those choreographers. And one quick google will teach them that they’re not wanted. That they’re not good enough. That three big names with no investment in the higher education system have decided in a blanket statement that the UK is doing it wrong. Is dance really only for the rich kids, who can afford to pay for private schools and leave without a degree?
Perhaps before we listen too seriously, we can pay attention to the teachers, educators, and leaders of dance education who can give a more rational perspective on the matter. Who have consistently demonstrated a commitment to the employability and success of UK dance graduates. What about letting the students have a voice in talking about what they need?
Because when choreographers this important think it’s ok to pull a stunt like this… things need to change.
Edit: I have been asked to clarify that this post was not intended at a critique of P.A.R.T.S., which also produces phenomenal dancers, and makes every effort to award scholarships.