Dance: News: Facing Forwards

The first meeting of the Female Choreographers Collective took place at The Actors’ Church, Covent Garden last Saturday. Lise Smith went along to find out more…

It’s a question that rolls around every few years – given the overwhelming prevalence of women in dance (as trainees, performers and administrators), where are the female choreographers and artistic directors, and why are they so much less visible than men in the industry? Pioneers such as Martha Graham, Ninette de Valois and the great Pina Bausch broke new ground for women in the 20th century, but female choreographers seem to be a low priority for major venues currently.

In October 2009, Dance UK and Dance Umbrella co-hosted a debate chaired by dance critic Judith Mackrell discussing the issues surrounding women in dance. Now two young choreographers, Jane Coulston and Holly Noble, have set up the Female Choreographer’s Collectiveto further investigate the causes of women’s under-representation at the top levels of dance, and to provide networking and performance opportunities for female choreographers at all career stages.“I think at the moment what we’re aiming to do more than anything is ask people for their stories, and what they’ve seen through their careers,” says Holly. “We’ve got some very young choreographers that have contacted us, we’ve got some very well-established choreographers and people in the middle; but they’re all saying, ‘why aren’t we out there, why do we not sell tickets, why don’t the big theatres take us on to present work?’”

Since the launch of the FCC just three weeks ago, over 150 choreographers have signed up to the organisation and more are expected to do so in the coming weeks. The aim of the collective is to support female choreographers through forums, performance platforms and information sharing, and to continue investigating the problems facing female choreographers in a more sustained way than previous events have been able to achieve. “We’re here to ask the questions,” says Jane. “We’re not necessarily here to provide any answers, for now, but the more we hear from each other’s experiences, the more we talk in these forums the more we might find out about that.”

The collective aims to build strong relationships between choreographers, venues and dance agencies in order to instigate debate and encourage an ongoing conversation about the issues female dance artists come up against. “So many female choreographers that we’ve spoken to are continually creating and showing work all over the country, they do this for a number of years and still there’s not support. Overwhelmingly people feel like they’re not being listened to, that they get looked over.” A number of female choreographers the pair have spoken to have reported a lack of practical support with commissioning and funding, whereas male choreographers seem to break through and develop a public profile much more easily, with the support of venues and agencies.

The lack of profile for female choreographers – even those with good artistic reputations – has been debated before. “Some dance artists and choreographers we were talking to before said they were talking about this 25 years ago,” says Jane. One of the goals of the FCC is to bring together different networks and forums that may already be taking place across the UK, and look at the questions being asked in a collaborative and comprehensive way over time. “Our role can be to bring these things together, all the pieces of the puzzle,” adds Jane. “We don’t see any end to this, we see just this interesting and fascinating process for however many years to come, so that we really make some headway with it. I’m sure the questions may change, lots of things are going to change along the way.”

The FCC was launched on Saturday with a platform of work by four very different female choreographers. Lucia Piquero’s lyrical piece for Diciembre Dance Group draws on literary sources, where Jane’s own piece for Beyond Repair Dance is much more abstract, movement-led and androgynous. Anna Watkins of Watkins Dance showed a sensual contemporary duet inspired by a developing relationship; Holly’s piece for A.D. Dance Company also examines human relationships, but with a focus on the darker side. Jane feels that there is no single female style or voice that can be identified among women choreographers working today. “The most important thing that we know even from the few things we’ve done so far is that there are a multitude of female choreographers out there making such diverse work, different work. Some (for example, Charlotte Vincent’s ) – will be gender-led and some won’t, so we want to figure out what else is going on.”

For the next year, the FCC’s main task will be to compile information on members using a short membership form. The collective will also share news so that members can keep each other informed of touring and performance activity; and the collective will run its own showcase platforms across the UK. Holly: “One of our ideas that we’re thinking about doing next year is putting a platform on with six excerpts of work, three by male choreographers and three by female choreographers, but we’re not going to say who the choreographers are. We’d invite a cross-section of audience to give feedback and to ask who they think created each work, just to see what happens.”

The next 6 to 12 months will be vital in shaping the ongoing aims of the Female Choreographers Collective, and determining how best the group can support and represent female choreographers. “I think that once we’ve we create that network it’s going to be a real support system and a real kind of push in the right direction,” says Jane. Men are warmly welcomed to the planned discussion forums to give their side of the story and help build a picture of activity. “At the moment don’t know where it’s going to go exactly,” adds Holly. “We know it’s something we feel passionate about, we want to keep doing it, we want to talk to people we want to raise awareness, we want to do all those things, but I don’t know in a year’s time what the answers will be or what will have happened.”

For more information about the Female Choreographers Collective contact Jane and Holly:

Vanishing Pointe: Where are all the great female choreographers? Judith Mackrell, Guardian, Oct 2009
Originally published at

Dance:Inteview – Betsy Gregory, Dance Umbrella

Betsy Gregory. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Betsy Gregory is Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella, Britain’s largest international festival of new dance. The festival, established in 1978, invites and commissions work by choreographers and companies from around the world and offers a platform to emerging artists through its Brief Encounters strand. A former Associate Director of The Place, Betsy joined Dance Umbrella at the end of 1997, and succeeded Val Bourne as Artistic Director in 2007.

“When the idea of London hosting British Dance Edition 2012 was born, it was actually a partnership between the venues for obvious reasons. However, when the partners started planning they realised that what should be coming out of BDE is a strategic partnership for dance development in London, and so they invited Dance Umbrella to be part of the consortium. Our role has been to be one of the programming voices but also, in a way, to be the non-aligned voice, that is not being aligned to a venue.

“Certainly over the time I’ve been with Dance Umbrella the dance landscape has changed – largely, I think it’s fair to say, because of all the pioneering work that Val [Bourne] did over many years. What we’re really focusing on now is what a festival can do that a venue can’t as easily – we’ve introduced strands of high quality free and outdoor performances, and very high level participatory work with artists such as Rosemary Lee, Stephen Petronio and Royston Maldoom . We take dance to unusual spaces and venues where it doesn’t normally go – and we make a point of creating a context around the work, building a story around the programme to expand the audience’s understanding and take them on a journey.

“We are extremely privileged in London because we see everything. I think London must be the world’s crossroads for dance – I dare say not even in New York is there such a range of international work passing through. We see not only the most established companies from around the world, but also a fantastic range of international artists at all stages of their careers, from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, from everywhere. It’s a marvellous thing for audiences and it’s also a really stimulating thing for artists, to have that such a diversity of work at their fingertips in order to feed their own practice.

“On a very simple but important level, the difference between the UK and the US is that we still have government funding of the arts in this country; it’s a terrible thing that it’s been reduced on the scale that it has, but we still have it. What I have observed in New York over the last 10 – 15 years, where there is almost a complete lack of statutory funding, is that there is less time for artists to work and therefore there’s not as much inspirational work coming from there as there could be. I fear that’s what’s going to happen here.

“I’m really excited about going to see the David Hockney exhibition [The Royal Academy] , I must say. I also recommend the Sir John Soane Museum , an amazing, small museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was an 18th century architect who built the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a lot of other buildings. He had three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which he knocked together. This museum is his house and also his collection of antiquities – it’s very eccentric and very wonderful. When I have visitors I always send them there. Look it up, it’s good!”

Originally published at

Dance: Interview – Eddie Nixon, The Place

Eddie Nixon. Photo: Benedict Johnson

Eddie Nixon is Theatre Director of The Place, a pioneering centre for contemporary dance for over 40 years and home to London Contemporary Dance School, Richard Alston Dance Company and the Robin Howard Dance Theatre. A former dancer with companies including New Adventures and The Featherstonehaughs, Eddie took over as Theatre Director in 2009.

The Place and Southbank Centre started the British Dance platform 20 years ago and so it feels really important to bring it back as British Dance Edition to London this year – we’re one of the organisations who pitched the idea to the National Dance Network. Geographically it made a lot of sense that The Place would become a hub for the delegates – they’ll all be staying around here, meeting here most mornings, and lots of the performances are happening here.

“As The Place is in Central London, it’s a focus for people from all over London to come to dance. There are lots of local people who live and work locally coming here to watch or join in, but people come from every postcode, every corner of the city. I think we’d also consider The Place as a home for a lot of dance artists and even audiences. People feel a real attachment to what we’re doing and the help that they can get here, and that’s how we like it to be.

The Place Prize is one of our big projects. Quite a few of the people performing in British Dance Edition are former finalists [Hofesh Shechter, Frauke Requardt, Tom Roden & Pete Shenton] and there’s a winner as part of the programme as well [Lost Dog’s It Needs Horses]. And so I think it contributes quite a lot to the dance scene and to BDE over the past few years in terms of programming artists – and we feel proud of it.

“Because dance is relatively well-supported here with training and infrastructure, a lot of dancers and choreographers gravitate towards London from all over the world. That means it’s a really rich and diverse community of artists. Because London is also a very diverse city the breadth of the kind of work that’s happening here is really wide and rich, and there’s always someone new turning up to come and say hello or to join in. So in that sense it’s one of the dance capitals of the world and especially of Europe, along with Paris and Brussels.

“For me what I love about London particularly is that it’s such a mishmash of history and modernity. Whilst it’s a really contemporary city and there’s loads of invention and originality, I also love the fact that you’re almost constantly surrounded by history and it surprises you at every turn as you’re moving around the city. I’m always stumbling across a pub, or a building, or a church, or a person that has this incredible history that you didn’t quite know about before. I love that about it as a city, it’s full of surprises. And everyone should take a boat down the river, it’s the view of London that lots of people miss out on!”

Originally posted at