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UK contemporary dance training: choreographers raise concerns

Posted on April 9, 2015

dv8 hanneslangolf hugo glendinning

dv8-hanneslangolf-hugo glendinningThree leading British companies have expressed concern over the standards of training in UK contemporary dance schools. Akram Khan Company, DV8 Physical Theatre and Hofesh Shechter Company say they have to look overseas because they cannot find UK-trained dancers of sufficient calibre.

In a press release, Khan, Shechter and DV8’s Lloyd Newson have targeted London Contemporary Dance School, Trinity Laban and Northern School of Contemporary Dance for criticism. “As leading contemporary dance companies, we hope to employ graduates from these institutions, which are all in receipt of public subsidy as well as student tuition fees,” Newson said. “Unfortunately the students, more often than not, lack rigour, technique and performance skills. I have spoken to ten other British dance companies who share this view.”

Akram Khan said: “I am concerned that somewhere, somehow, the training the young dancers go through in the UK are not supporting them in the rigour, technique and discipline that I am looking for in a dancer. Instead, the ‘training’ of the UK dancers today, have become the very obstacles that the training was meant to overcome.”

“Working in the UK I get to know and care about the undergraduates of our major training institutions who attend our workshops and company classes,” said Shechter. “It’s disheartening when it comes to auditions to see these UK students with potential and enthusiasm consistently outclassed by fitter, stronger and more versatile counterparts from Europe, Asia and the USA.” Shechter also suggests that the issue “starts with a complete lack of high quality, professional contemporary dance training for school age children in the UK and continues into a passive approach to addressing this already existing disadvantage head on at undergraduate level.”

Khan, Shechter and Newson also point to Destination of Leavers figures provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which states that between 31 and 35 per cent of UK contemporary dance graduates find paid employment as dancers or choreographers. They accept that not all dance students envisage a career as performers, but compare the UK schools to the Juilliard School in New York, which has a 90 per cent employment rate. Since 2000, only four of the 51 dancers who have been employed by Akram Khan were UK trained. Fifty-seven per cent of Akram Khan Company dancers were graduates of P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels.


Veronica Lewis, principal of London Contemporary Dance School, responds: “London Contemporary Dance School prepares its students for lifelong careers in dance. The contemporary dance landscape in the UK has developed beyond recognition over the last ten years and the knock-on effect of this has been manifest in the greater breadth of artistic skills that todays’ students must acquire.

“On graduation London Contemporary Dance School students go on to work as professional dancers in companies including DV8 (Hannes Langolf) [pictured], Jasmin Vardimon Company (Tim Casson, Mafalda Deville) Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures (PJ Hurst), Scottish Dance Theatre (Francesco Ferrari), PunchDrunk (Tomislav English), 2FacedDance (Jack Humphrey and Chris Knight), Protein Dance (Kenny Ho, Femi Oyewole), Richard Alston Dance Company (Ihsaan De Banya), Hofesh Shechter Company (Hannah Sheppard).”

Kenneth Tharp, chief executive of The Place, said: “There is such a wide variety of dance companies performing in the UK today, especially in London which is arguably the dance capital of the world. However, with that diversity comes a real challenge for any training institution – how do you prepare a young dancer for everything that’s out there?

“What can be achieved in three years of full time training? Not everyone starts ballet aged three and people come into dance via different routes and different styles. This is good because it opens dance up but it also makes it more challenging to ensure a common level over three years’ training.

“Some choreographers want dancers to have extraordinary technique; others require strong stage presence; others well developed vocal skills. As well as all of this, our students at The Place learn how to write business plans, all part of the many skills and tools they will need for survival in the professional world. The sector is much broader than the work of three choreographers but I’d like to know what suggestions do Akram, Hofesh and Lloyd have for improvements?”

Anthony Bowne, principal of Trinity Laban, said: “Trinity Laban is the UK’s number one dance school (Guardian) and we’re also in the top three across the whole of higher education for the employability of our graduates – and for good reason.

“Half of our dance students come from Europe and the rest of the world, and they come because we provide a world class contemporary education. We’re a bit baffled that these choreographers would be in any doubt of this – particularly as they are choosing to employ Trinity Laban graduates in their current productions.” 



Photograph: Hannes Langolf in DV8 Physical Theatre’s JOHN. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning



Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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