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Akram Khan: ‘UK dance training has become an obstacle’

Akram Khan. Photo: Tristram Kenton Akram Khan. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Leading choreographers Akram Khan and Hofesh Shechter have launched a stinging attack on the quality of contemporary dance training in the UK, claiming international students are “fitter, stronger and more versatile”.

They have been joined by DV8 Physical Theatre’s artistic director Lloyd Newson in speaking out about the standards of training in the UK, with Newson saying that most who study here “lack rigour, technique and performance skills”.

Khan meanwhile has revealed that since 2000, only four out of 51 dancers he has employed through his company were UK trained. In contrast, 57% have been trained at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios in Brussels.

Khan said: “My dance training has been and still is like an old friend, who guides me, who I debate with and who helps me through many obstacles. I am concerned that somewhere, somehow the training the young dancers go through in the UK is not supporting them in the rigour, technique and discipline that I am looking for in a dancer.”

He added: “Instead the training of the UK dancers today has become the very obstacle that the training was meant to overcome.”

Shechter, who runs Hofesh Shechter Company, said that he saw UK dancers at auditions being “consistently outclassed by fitter, stronger and more versatile counterparts from Europe, Asia and the USA”.

“We must find a way to level the playing field and work together as a sector to address the widening gap between our requirements as employers and the skills with which UK graduates emerge, which 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,” he said.

The choreographers also claimed to have statistics that reveal only between 31% and 35% of graduates from the three main contemporary dance schools – the London School of Contemporary Dance, Trinity Laban and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance – find employment as dancers or choreographers. These figures have been disputed by the schools.

LCDS principal Veronica Lewis claimed the school “prepares its students for lifelong careers in dance”.

“The contemporary dance landscape in the UK has developed beyond recognition over the last 10 years and the knock-on effect of this has been manifest in the greater breadth of artistic skills that todays’ students must acquire,” she said.

Lewis added that London Contemporary Dance School students go on to work as professional dancers in companies including DV8, Jasmin Vardimon Company, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Hofesh Shechter Company.

“London Contemporary Dance School has an ongoing responsibility to nurture the uniqueness of its young artists and support their individual talents and creative development in order to ensure that contemporary dance remains vibrant, innovative and above all contemporary,” she said.

Trinity Laban principal Anthony Bowne said half of the school’s “dance students come from Europe and the rest of the world”, and added: “They come because we provide a world-class contemporary dance 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.”

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance could not be reached as The Stage went to press.

The comments from Khan, Shechter and Newson come ahead of a conference organised by Dance UK which begins today (April 9), called New Ideas, New Inspirations.

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