CriticalDance Forum

Long-term careers in dance
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Mon Jul 23, 2001 4:27 am ]
Post subject:  Long-term careers in dance

Dance UK is an organisation which does a great deal of valuable work behind the scenes with the professionals in the dance world. For this reason a lot of dance fans never hear about it, which is a shame. Here is a description of the organisation:

If you are interested in the key issues effecting dance today, including health and funding and want to be a part of one of the foremost organisations representing dance in all its forms in the UK, here are the membership details:

In the most recent issue of 'Dance UK News' there is a series of articles about long-term careers in dance from a number of practitioners. In the first of what we hope will be a series of joint projects with Dance UK, I have posted two of these articles. If people enjoy them, please let us know and I will see if we can use some more of the articles from the series.

Many thanks to Dance UK for making these articles available to us.

[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited July 23, 2001).]

<small>[ 09-08-2002, 12:33: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Mon Jul 23, 2001 4:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Long-term careers in dance

<B>Chris Bannerman on Healthy Career Transitions</B> <P><I>Professor Christopher Bannerman has had a successful career as a dancer and choreographer and is particularly associated with London Contemporary Dance Theatre. He is currently the Head of Centre at Rescen (Research into Creation in the Performing Arts) part of Middlesex University.</I> <P>This article began its life as a personal account of my experiences as an older dancer, based largely on my return to the stage last September. The experience of dancing again was rich and rewarding, both dealing with the challenges of a piece of classic dance, The Swan solo, by Siobhan Davies and the new work which was a duet featuring myself and Mavin Khoo, the young and exceptionally gifted dancer whose abilities span Bharata Natyam, ballet and contemporary dance forms.<P>While working on the article however, my thoughts strayed into the factors that supported my return to dancing. I realised that I had been fortunate to end my full time dancing career and move immediately into a Higher Education institution. This had allowed me to stay involved in dance and to continue to contribute to the discipline and artform, albeit in a different way. In some respects this increased my anxieties about the thought of performing because I was all too aware of the standard of dancing that we enjoy today, and it seemed very possible that the presence of an older dancer, and an older dance style, would seem irrelevant and overly tinged with nostalgia.<P>However, in some ways my proximity to the world of dance allowed me to feel that the step on to the stage was not so great a leap. I was in daily touch with colleagues from the dance world, both those who had previously seen me dance and those who had not, and they were universally supportive and this provided critical reassurance for me. And of course, the entirely prosaic point: the reason I was asked to work with Mavin was due in part to the fact that I was associated with the dance context in which Mavin operated. I realised then that this article would focus not on my own experience of dancing but rather on the contexts in which older dancers operate and how they are supported in making changes in their careers.<P>First, I should say that this is all predicated on a change in the culture of dance which allows more participation by older performers. While this may be a tall order, there are examples of change occurring, as this issue of Dance UK News indicates. However, changing the culture of those who work in dance, and of audiences too, may only be part of the picture for older dancers. This is because there may be many, who like me, do not wish to carry on dancing in the same intensive way. They may wish to change their relationship with their art form, perhaps keeping it as a part of a portfolio of activities, but with a changed emphasis overall. If this is so, then a key part of the puzzle of how best to include older dancers, is about the existence of contexts in which their professional lives can be developed and supported, both in relation to dance and perhaps in activities unrelated to dance as well.<P>I should acknowledge those who already have portfolio careers, which contain a number of elements, including performing (see, Digest Number 126 for one discussion of this issue). The increasing numbers of those who work in this way indicates that we must be flexible in our thinking when we attempt to devise support structures and strategies for older dancers. And today, at first glance, should be a time of unprecedented support for older dancers as opportunities are on offer which did not exist even ten years ago. <P>A few examples may serve as an indicator of the range of provision which is available. There is the Dancers' Career Development (formerly the Dance Companies' Resettlement Fund); the Dance Fellowships offered by the Arts Council which enable dance artists to deepen, or find a new focus for, their involvement in their art; Arts Council initiatives for Continuing Professional Development which are being progressed by Dance UK, the Foundation for Community Dance and The Place Dance Services; degree programmes offered to dancers in the Birmingham Royal Ballet by Westhill College at Birmingham University; a degree programme offered to dancers at The Royal Ballet by my own institution, Middlesex University; and for cases of hardship there is the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund, which, somewhat confusingly, is open to dancers from other companies as well. And in addition, all of these developments are taking place within the context of government and DfEE policies which support Life Long Learning and a greater recognition in educational institutions of the status of dancers' knowledge and experience. There is too, the declaration by UNESCO which calls upon national governments to support transitions for those who have spent the early years of their lives in intensive engagement in activities such as sport and the arts.<P>This then, must be a time of burgeoning opportunity for those who wish to make changes to their engagement with dance, either by choosing a entirely new career path or by finding new ways of being involved with their artform. The list above represents significant development. So, what is my concern and is it justified? Well, in part my concern stems from the wide spectrum of opportunities and the pace of change. Are dance artists getting appropriate advice which acknowledges this wide range, or do they have to engage in intensive research just to find out what is available, always worried by the thought that there might be another possibility, just out of sight? In addition to this, I have a nagging doubt, reinforced by anecdotal evidence, about the effectiveness of the structures that are in place. This might be misplaced and I may be wrong to be concerned - perhaps the anecdotal evidence stems from the exceptions and for most there is no problem. If this is the case, then I will be delighted to be wrong! However, if this concern is even partially justified then we should try to make the situation better for the future.<P>In the past year, I talked to the former artistic director of a company which had been supported by the funding system over a ten year period. The company had folded, not through mismanagement or crisis, but rather through the recognition of the artists and the board that the company could not continue in the current context. This is not unusual in the arts; many companies have a life cycle that reaches a point when closure is a completely justifiable response to changed circumstances.<P>The artistic director seeking a career change followed the avenues which were available, received advice, made applications and was awarded £1000 to follow a postgraduate course which had fees of a bout £4000. There was no provision for the costs of living over the period of study and no advice about how to access other sources of funding. It seems to me, that this is a derisory response to the situation which the artist faced. I acknowledge that this is anecdotal, perhaps these circumstances were unusual and perhaps the artist concerned was unlucky. Equally, however, the artist might have been one of the few lucky ones. Other conversations with dance artists clearly indicate that the right support, at the right time time and in the right form is still hard to come by. It is a process dictated by hit and miss, as much as anything else.<P>Surely in this time of change and development, we can do better that this. It seems to me that the patchwork of provision that is evolving requires some kind of one-stop-shop, where advice that recognises both the nature of the problems and the extent of the provision, should be available. Dancers who benefit from a substantial structured company involvement may be disadvantaged by a lack of awareness of what is on offer, and those who pursue more independent careers may not be able to access development possibilities due to their project-based working patterns. The intense physical engagement which is a hallmark of the life of a dance artist may always mean that flexibility should be a key aspect of development opportunities. To put an effective system in place will require effort on the part of companies as well as individuals and there may well be a need for increased resources to support these developments. However, the schemes above suggest that some money is available. It is ensuring that dance artists can access it at the right time and in the right form, which causes problems. <P>My hope is that we can evolve more career pathways which could allow artists to maintain their connections with dance, even if it becomes only a relatively small part of their portfolio of activiti es. In this way we could preserve access to the years of experience and accumulated knowledge the older artist represents. We would also have a dance culture which reflects more accurately the diversity of the society in which it is located. The most valuable resource in dance is undoubtedly the people. We need to ensure that this is reflected in what is offered to those people at critical moments in their careers.<P>The questions to be asked are relatively simple: Will the range of opportunities that is developing become a confusing patchwork of possibilities? Will the advice on offer recognise that range, the needs of the individual, and the diversity of directions available? Will there be a ladder of opportunity throughout the career of the dance artist? As I said previously, if the answers are already in place, then I am delighted. If they are not yet established, then let us ensure that we move swiftly towards a better future. <P><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited July 23, 2001).]

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Mon Jul 23, 2001 4:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Long-term careers in dance

<B>A Longer Lasting Choreographer.</B><P><BR><I>Eleanor Fazan interviewed by Catherine Willmore</I> <P>Eleanor Fazan has the builders in modernising her ******* at the moment. A project largely done at her son's insistence, they probably don't give this slight 72 year old a second look, thinking of her as her just as her son's mother. But Eleanor is an artist whose career spans nearly fifty five years in the theatre, film, opera and television worlds, who has twice had three West End shows running simultaneously, who has choreographed on Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, George Formby and Placido Domingo, worked alongisde directors such as Sir Richard Attenborough and John Schlesinger, and of whom Peter O'Toole once said "You work with her and you think nothing is happening then you suddenly realise you're taking part in something rather good." So the question which is on my mind when I read her CV is, why is this person not a household name? why, in fact, is she not even particularly well-known in the dance world? <P>One obvious reason is that she's a 'jobbing choreographer', a profession which doesn't yet warrant a category in the BAFTA awards. Yet there are one or two household name choreographers, Gillian Lynne, for example, who I was listening to on Radio 4 before leaving to meet Eleanor. So that alone does not explain her undeserved obscurity in the wider world. Over the course of my talk with Eleanor several clues emerged as to why you may not have heard of her. There are the usual reasons to do with the invisibility of choreographers and their position of relative servitude within a production, but in this case it almost seems to have been her choice as well as the circumstances of her career (unlike Gillian Lynne or Matthew Bourne she has not had a big theatre hit where dance was the driving force).<P>During my research for this interview I watched the film of Oh What a Lovely War directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, to which Eleanor contributed a huge number of inventive and complex choreographed set pieces as well as working throughout the rest of the film on subtler movement matters, yet had I blinked during the credits I would have missed her name because it appears, to quote her, "down among the dog trainers." Nowadays a more assertive choreographer might have fought for a higher billing, as indeed many fight for royalties for their work, but neither seem to have crossed Eleanor's mind as important either at the time or now. She says dancers aren't careerists, that they take what comes up, and that they are also the most humble and generous of artists, because "they know how hard it is". The themes of humility and struggle arise again and again during our conversation.<P>She is slight and softly spoken, but with bags of charm and humour. She still has the look of a dancer about her, and I can see she would have been quite a beauty in her youth. Among many anecdotes, a favourite is the one early in her performing career when she auditioned for a starring role in a film called The Secret People, and although she was the choreographer and director's favourite for the part, the producer's choice prevailed. The producer's choice turned out to be a then unknown actress called Audrey Hepburn! <P>Eleanor described herself at the beginning of her career as "a little dancer coming from Africa, knowing nobody". Trained as a dancer, her early career was spent mostly performing in West End revue and cabaret in the days before theatre became director-led, and where the performers often wrote and directed their own sketches and set their own dance routines. This led to directing and acting (in John Osborne's Inadmissable Evidence which was also filmed), and only later to choreography. "Choreography came last on my list," she says, "and I still think it's the most difficult …. On the whole choreography has been very frightening because you are a writer and you are given a blank page to fill. It was easier directing." <P>There are many directors whose vision she respects but her favourite is John Schlesinger with whom she worked on the film Yanks, the BBC dramas The Innocent and Cold Comfort Farm and on numerous operas, the most recent one an Italian / American co-production of Otello. With him, she spends an unusual length of time in preparation, mapping out their characters' every move using a model set. It's obvious that this kind of longer preparation is a luxury and she says that "it's extraordinary how people don't realise it's a process that has to be dug for and discovered and arrived at", yet when a director puts her on the spot, demanding what she calls "instant nescafe", her ability to rise to the occasion comes to the fore. She says "I can look a fool, but the people you're working with musn't. They're the ones out there.... It's a far cry from thinking just about steps." (It's also a far cry from other creative situations such as American sitcoms where teams of millionaire writers spend hours over every gag.) <P> When asked what her style is, she says a dancer once told her "with Eleanor you never know what to expect, her work is different every time." She says "I try to get to the centre of the thing ... observe the essence of the piece. Choreographers are on the side of poetry,and that is why [our] relationships with great artists are so successful." <P>Of the diversity of her work she says "I loved going from doing a strip dance to King David going into Jerusalem, the whole difference of it". In fact I never once heard her say anything about her vision, her world view, her ego. It is always about making other people look good, serving the director's view, and in the end that is probably why she is not better known. "I was professionally well known and that was enough." she says. The late actor Leslie Edwards [Stuart adds: not the Royal Ballet Leslie Edwards], who became a good friend of hers, once chastised someone who said they didn't know who she was by saying, "Well you should. This is the person who has a better sense of theatre than anyone I know." Her admiration remains not with the big stars she has worked with, but with colleagues from her revue days, and with dancers, of whom she says "all dancers have a humility to their artform. We know how difficult it is. We're less jealous and more generous on the whole". And for choreographers who work across so many artforms and "contribute so much to the artistic life of the nation" not to mention make everyone "look good", they, including Eleanor Fazan, deserve a bit more recognition. <P>

Author:  Azlan [ Mon Jul 23, 2001 6:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Long-term careers in dance

Thank for you posting these excellent articles, Stuart. I know several people who would find them inspiring.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Sep 08, 2002 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Long-term careers in dance

Career Development
By Linda Yates, Executive Director, Dancers’ Career Development for The Dancing Times

“I wanted to write and thank you for the Fund’s personal and financial support over the last few years which has been instrumental in making my career change as smooth and painless as possible. There is life after being a dancer — it’s challenging but equally rewarding!” Thus avers Richard Whistler, formerly a dancer with Scottish Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, who is now Marketing Officer at Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

In an ideal world, Richard’s sentiments about a career change would be the norm for every dancer who moves on from performance to the next stage of their working life. Dancers’ Career Development exists to enable this inevitable transition to be a positive life experience.

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