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Bob Lockyer: Mr. Television Dance

by David Mead
March 2012

“Dance changes people’s lives, either by doing it or by watching it. That is why I think it is important to support it in any way I can.” (Bob Lockyer)

If there is one name associated with dance on television in Britain, it is surely Bob Lockyer. Described as “one of the great heroes of British dance” by the National Dance Critics’ Circle, Lockyer played an important part in the development of dance in the UK. In a 40-year career as director and producer of dance programmes for BBC television has played a huge part in developing the art form’s popularity, including creating “Dance for the Camera”, a series of over 50 short dance works, some of which went on to win the Prix Italia, International Emmys and the Prague d’Or. He was the first chair of Dance UK, and has taught and lectured around the world.

In an interview with Douglas Rosenberg at the University of Brighton in 2008 (you can read it in full at (http://journals.library.wisc.edu/index.php/screendance/article/view/319/313), Lockyer explained that, when he started, television was very much more creative medium than today, but the major problem was that dance makers weren’t getting much of a look in. Dance on TV was very much replays or things that we brought specially into the studio.

Perhaps surprisingly, the spark that really set things running for Lockyer was when Margaret Thatcher decided that 25% of the BBC’s output had to be made by independents. He explained how that allowed him to work with the Arts Council. And so, dance for the camera was born.

Lockyer went on to say that he absolutely believes the best stage work should be made available to as many people as possible. With touring becoming increasingly expensive, that made television more and more important. And Dance for the Camera allowed far more, and certainly different possibilities, than did dance on the regular stage. Lockyer opened our eyes.

Dance for the Camera established a model that was taken up around the world. Lockyer explained that large numbers of people came in with ideas, with new people encouraged particularly. He now sees that as something of a problem. It’s hard to argue with him when he says that “You’re not going to make a masterpiece- or perhaps, you are going to make a masterpiece the first time. Perhaps not the second, but it’s the third, fourth time [you] begin to understand the language you’re working with.” Yet, he says, people often didn’t get the chance to have a second go, let alone a third or fourth.

Another problem, he now acknowledges, was the length of works. Partly for budget reasons, 15 minutes was the maximum done for the dance on the camera. There was undoubtedly a formula, based very much on what television was about, and how long people would actually watch for. He had a point when he said, “I always think that you don’t actually watch television. You listen to it. You move out of the room, you go onto this…It’s very rare that you sit there glued to the television. You listen to it while you stroke the cat, have a cigarette, glass of wine, or whatever.”

Many of the works created got just one or two showings and were subsequently wiped, lost for ever. Lockyer observed that means that today’s students of dance on film, and there are lots of them, have little idea of what was done in the past. “So, everybody starts new, which I think is one of the great sadnesses.”

And what of dance on film today? The Internet allows many more people access to the form, but watch a lot of what’s there, and it’s hard to disagree with the view that many so-called dance-film makers are “still in the playroom”. Many films seem to have little thought behind them. Dance for the Camera is very different to simply filming dance. The camera should allow you to say

Lockyer was also the Founder Chair of Dance UK. He also helped establish the much admired Healthier Dancer Programme that has been copied all over the world. Until recently, he was Chair of South East Dance, the national dance agency, based in Brighton.

Lockyer’s achievements are not restricted to dance. Dance programming at the BBC came under the Classical Music Department, where he also reformed BBC Young Musicians, extending it beyond the popular search to find some of Britain’s most talented young musicians by giving young composers and conductors the chance to work with the BBC Philharmonic and looking at music therapy and jazz.

To celebrate Lockyer’s achievements, The Place, home of the London Contemporary Dance School, is holding a very special evening of dance on Friday April 13, 2012, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. For one night only, five of the country’s outstanding dance artists - Richard Alston, Mark Baldwin, Siobhan Davies, Wayne McGregor and Monica Mason - have been invited by Bob to curate an evening of original choreography, either creating a new piece, or commissioning young talents. Richard Alston and Mark Baldwin will each be presenting a new piece of choreography; Siobhan Davies has commissioned Charlie Morrissey, from Siobhan Davies Dance Company; Monica Mason has chosen a graduate-year student from The Royal Ballet School, Sebastian Goffin; and Rob Binet, Choreographic Apprentice at The Royal Ballet, has been appointed by Wayne McGregor. The evening will feature dancers from Rambert Dance Company, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, Richard Alston Dance Company, London Contemporary Dance School and The Royal Ballet School, and live musical accompaniment. As well as performing Alston’s homage to Bob Lockyer, the Richard Alston Dance Company will close the event with “Shuffle It Right”, one of Alston’s iconic pieces.

Lockyer says, “Dance in all its forms has been part of my life for over 40 years, along with those who perform it, create it, and teach it. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my 70th birthday than by asking friends to present new works for this performance, supporting younger talents and giving us all a night to remember, whilst investing in the future of the art form I love the most.”

Tickets for this special performance are £20, including a £10 donation to be equally shared between two funds supporting the creation of new dance works: the Royal Philharmonic Society Drummond Fund and The Place’s Pioneering Fund.

Tickets are available from the box office (020 7121 1100) or via www.theplace.org.uk.

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