Arts funding cuts for dance in Europe
Is the Hollywood of concert dance being torn down?
You might call Czech artist Jirí Kylián the Christopher Nolan of dance: Only an infrastructure developed over a century (the state-supported European concert-dance system, or “dance’s Hollywood,” as I’ll call it) allows him to create as big as he thinks (dances such as Bella Figura and 27'52" are akin to The Dark Knight and Inception).
In this analogy, the world-renowned Nederlands Dans Theater, based in the Hague and Kylián’s artistic home for more than three decades, would be Warner Bros.
It faces an uncertain future: The cultural council of Holland recently proposed cuts of up to half its annual budget. (The Dutch National Ballet, the country’s largest dance company, faces a 26-percent amputation.)
Just as European cinemas rely heavily on the fruits of Hollywood, American dance companies oftenwhen seeking bankable returns on carefully made investments. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents 27'52" at the Harris Theater Thursday 19 through Sunday 22, and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brings a rarely seen but significant 1983 piece by Kylián, Stamping Ground, to the same venue on Tuesday 24.
NDT may also be downgraded to “regional amenity” status. Its tours to Buenos Aires, Chicago, Melbourne and other cities, where fans fill the largest opera houses available, would take a back seat to appearances in Dutch suburbs such as Rijswijk, Voorburg and Wassenaar. A statement released May 4 by NDT’s leadership—which includes artistic director Jim Vincent, previously at Hubbard Street—called the council’s plan “baffling.”
Former NDT director Glenn Edgerton says that a shift toward the American model (corporate and individual giving, supplemented by grants and foundation support), while not ideal, could be possible—but not in a single summer. “It’s crippling to make such drastic changes. For Jim, having just gotten there…he doesn’t deserve it. He needs to see his vision through, and needs the time and the resources to manage that.”
It’s hard not to see this news as just the latest domino to fall. Another global dance ambassador in the Low Countries, Antwerp’s Royal Ballet of Flanders, found itself up against government-mandated reorganization that would essentially rout the hard-won, highly praised vision of its director since 2005, Kathryn Bennetts. The Australian-born expert in William Forsythe’s choreography took to Belgian television in October with a sharply worded rebuttal to cultural minister Joke Schauvliege. Bennetts’s resignation, at the end of her contract next year, still stands; the situation is at an impasse. And British dance companies are scrambling in the aftermath of drastic arts cuts proposed earlier this spring. Those have been especially contentious; some actually saw their budgets increase (Wayne McGregor, Hofesh Schechter), while others were left gutted (Ballet Black, Henri Oguike).
Dance without the boundary-pushing creations made in Europe would be like film without Hollywood.
Which isn’t to say that dance performances need to be expensive. It’s about preserving an art form’s ability to think big. Forsythe’s massive, evening-length opus Impressing the Czar garnered Flanders the dance world’s attention when Bennetts revived it in 2006. (Created in Frankfurt in 1988, it had lain dormant for over a decade.) Will the next generation of artists even attempt to create such immersive, avant-garde dance-theater experiences? “Creativity needs time,” says Edgerton. At NDT, “we would have a week of technical rehearsals in the theater, whereas [at HSDC], we have a day.”
ASFB’s dancers learned Stamping Ground from Kylián répétiteur Patrick Delcroix, a star dancer at NDT from 1986 to 2003. (In 2001, he was knighted in arts and letters by the government of his native France.) When I call him in Munich, Germany, where he’s paying one of his first dance schools an annual visit, Delcroix is hopeful that, if confirmed, the cuts go toward thinning personnel, not grounding NDT.
“I understand both sides,” he says. “And it’s not bad bad, like you have in the States…where you don’t get much [state] money, and you have to run around to get sponsors.… Maybe it’s a good time to clean up, a little bit, the mess.” What worries him most is the future of Europe’s experimental and freelance scene, which faces the bleakest outlook of all, he says. “You have to prove to [the council], if you have a program, that you will make money,” he explains. “It’s, of course, impossible to prove that you will make money.”
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs Kylián’s 27'52" Thursday 19 through Sunday 22 at the Harris Theater, where Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brings his Stamping Ground on Tuesday 24.