Sarah Crompton has written an opinion piece in The Telegraph about The Place Prize. She suggests that dance can’t “gain a foothold in the wider culture” because it is inward-looking (that it survives – just – in its own bubble).

Her logic, however, is flawed. On the one hand she likes work that is “radical” [1] and unsafe. On the other she hopes that the judges will “champion a work that suggests contemporary dance has something to say to the broadest possible audience”. These two ideas are, for the most part, mutually exclusive.

I understand that the work of choreographers is to develop artistic work that reflects their interests in the world. These interests might indeed be about pushing the art form further (something like the old idea of the avant-garde), or perhaps small-scale communication (since when is having the broadest possible audience something we should all aspire to?), or making bold statements about love, power, war …

What choreographers can’t really do is second-guess the interests and desires of audiences (and the judges of The Place Prize finals certainly can’t and shouldn’t try to do this). This is the contract in performance: it is a meeting between the changing interests of artists, and the changing desires and tastes of audiences (however big or small those audiences might be). Sometimes these meetings are extraordinary, sometimes they are difficult, sometimes they fail, but they are also, for the most part, unpredictable.

I like this unpredictability. It is the line between my work as a choreographer being seen as outward-looking or existing within the bubble of contemporary dance.

The Place Prize has significant short-comings – not least of all how it bows to and feeds on our culture’s insatiable appetite for competition and simplistic button-pushing responses – but it does enable work to be made and seen.

And three more things:

  • Just in case you were wondering about how far contemporary dance has to go before it’s as culturally significant as, say, film, check out Wittgensteinsfoot’s comment at the bottom of The Telegraph article:

The operational definition of a great kindness is to be a contemporary dancer and to never display your ability in public.

  • I don’t buy the idea that somehow The Place Prize is valuable because it opens up debate about what contemporary dance is. For example:

Surely this debate is largely irrelevant given the breadth of practices that seem to fall under the banner of contemporary dance? I wish the debate involved difficult discussions about meaning, values, entertainment, politics and ethics, and how works of art speak to us (or not), and how we (as audiences) are responsible (in return) to these works of art.

Link to Sarah Crompton’s article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/10003017/The-Place-Prize-2013-does-the-dance-world-only-care-about-itself.html

  1. This is a term that Crompton uses to describe Rafael Bonachela and Hofesh Schecter.

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