Saturday, 18 June 2011

Odds and ends ... some frightening ends

Back home after a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam for Het Ballet Nationale’s double bill featuring two full-length pieces – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Labyrinth and David Dawson’s timelapse/ (Mnemosyne) – as well as for reunions, production meetings galore and one writing session – all packed into roughly forty hours.

The premiere went off splendidly, with hardly any technical glitches (and dancers cheerfully tackling the few that happened in their stride, so if I hadn't seen the dress rehearsal I would not even have guessed). I won’t dwell much on the pieces themselves though Labyrinth still plays on in my mind, over and over again, nocturnal, luminous and elemental in so many ways. It was a storyteller’s delight with fables and parables woven in and out, but– exceptionally for Cherkaoui – without even a shadow of text. This piece was also striking in its use of ensembles – it was heartwarming to see the corps de ballet given such prominence. But I cannot claim any objectivity here.

Timelapse/(Mnemosyne) was more in the purely balletic vein, but all electronic thunder and lightning (most of it psychedelic) and special effects refracting the spirit of Greek myths through very snazzy dance-club sets. I staggered out like a habitual wallflower after her first night on the disco floor, head spinning a little from the onslaught of sound and lights, the choreography and performance – admirable as they both were – unfortunately being relegated to second place by the excess of other elements.  

What prompted this post, however, were neither the performances themselves nor the joys and woes of racing around a deluged Amsterdam nor the unspeakably divine chocolates at Puccini (reserved for another post, another day), nor the refurbished Thalys interiors (Eurostar, could you please borrow a page out of the former’s book?). This post  was triggered by the announcement on the funding cuts in arts by the Dutch government.

The U.K. saw much consternation earlier in the year after the Arts Councils decisions were announced. In France, structural subsidies for performing arts have been decreasing to favour an event-driven programming. In Italy, the mood has been one of despair for some time now, though they are resisting valiantly.

The petition launched in the Netherlands explains it far better than I could:

As the post title says, there are ends in view. There is change in the air, a change that is being made in the name of larger interest and economy, but those are really debatable points. Larger interest is a term that shields many abuses and omissions. In Europe we are very fortunate to have funding for arts – there are many parts of the world where not only is there no funding, but artists and art professionals have to struggle to present their work, and are even in danger of their lives. But no civilization has advanced by suppressing or discouraging artistic expression. Funding of art is such a sign of social and cultural progress – one obtained after much struggle and reflection. Reneging on cultural policy might make sense in a short-term, profit-and-loss approach – just as cutting down on social security seems to make sense to more and more governments – but a society deprived of non-commercial art is a frightening prospect.

One day soon, then, the plush Muziektheater might only play host to conventions or a 500-euro-per-head gig. One day soon, there might be nobody to support Candoco Dance Company  in its mission of bringing together able-bodied and disabled dancers, of giving them a stage to share their strengths and weaknesses with us. No place to tour Rachid Ouramdane's and Gregory Maqoma's coruscating explorations on colonists rewriting our memories and our tongues.  No audience, then, for Pina Bausch’s colossal, savagely beautiful Rite of Spring.

It might be sooner than we think.

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