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Journalist Rupert Christiansen proposes cutting the Arts Council Grant for ENB and ENO


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This article came up in my news feed this morning, written by the dance critic for the Spectator, Rupert Christiansen. 

His argument seems to be that traditional classical ballet should be scrapped because it doesn't fill regional theatres, and doesn't fulfill the basic premise of ACE which "has an aim to educate and elevate the nation’s artistic taste. If ENB can’t take the more adventurous programming that it presents to the converted at Sadler’s Wells out to the regions, then at some level it is failing to do the job."

 I am interested to hear what others have to say on this subject. 

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-the-arts-council-should-kill-off-eno-and-enb




 

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  • Jan McNulty changed the title to Journalist Rupert Christiansen proposes cutting the Arts Council Grant for ENB and ENO
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Fonty I've changed the title of this thread because my stomach just turned over when I read the title.  On reading the article, it is actually him proposing the cuts as opposed to ACE imposing them.

 

I mostly admire what Tamara Rojo has achieved with ENB but am greatly saddened that the spring UK tour was cut.  I assume the current grant from ACE takes this into account.

 

BTW non-subscribers can register for 3 free articles a month.

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We are not able to reproduce the whole article, but here is an excerpt so that you can get the picture (the bold is mine):

 

But note that word ‘London’: it is at the root of ENB’s problem, compounded by the implications of that adjective ‘National’. Beyond the M25, the company’s viability has narrowed down to Swan Lake, and its occasional efforts (with Manon and Le Corsaire, for instance) to broaden the repertory outside the capital have met with disastrously empty houses. Meanwhile, there are eastern European companies of decent quality that could tour perfectly adequate productions of Swan Lake on a purely commercial basis requiring no subvention from the taxpayer and short-changing nobody.
 

ACE is not constituted to sponsor the pabulum of popular entertainment. It may sound faintly pompous – and in today’s demotic cultural atmosphere few would dare proclaim it – but Keynes’s Reithian rationale for state subsidy remains its justification: ACE has an aim to educate and elevate the nation’s artistic taste. If ENB can’t take the more adventurous programming that it presents to the converted at Sadler’s Wells out to the regions, then at some level it is failing to do the job.

Size is what hampers both companies – the 2,359 seats of ENO’s Coliseum and the similarly cavernous old theatres in Manchester, Bristol and Southampton that ENB regularly visits. Without the imperative of filling so many seats, the work could get much more interesting, and this is why I would like to see both companies shut down and reinvented.

The new model for both would be smaller in scale and lighter on its feet. Fewer backroom staff, no more fairy-tale tutus or routine Puccini, much tighter design budgets, more flexible units of corps de ballet, chorus and orchestra, new stories to tell and new music to be heard, but less pressure to sell large numbers of ticket; more imagination of the sort shown by Opera North, and an ACE grant seen as an invitation to take moderate risks rather than a handout to help balance the books. Measures such as these would break cracked moulds and unlock fresh energies – and could perhaps save a couple of million quid too.

 

Surely it is not the fault of ENB if people outside of London don't go in their droves to see different productions??  I am not sure what can be done about that, but they have tried to tour other things in the past without much success.  I remember going to see their Manon (I think in Milton Keynes) and the theatre was more than half empty.  How do you force audiences in?  It is also going to be more difficult to get anyone in anywhere in the coming year, what with the rise in the cost of living.  They advertise, they do outreach programmes and many other things, but if people don't go to the performances I don't see how they are failing to do the job.  Perhaps Mr Christiansen could suggest ways of filling the regional theatres when new ballets are shown?  He clearly doesn't know much about ballet or its audiences.  He wants a classical ballet company to become....what?  A company with 'no fairy tale tutus'.  So what, he wants ENB to become a contemporary company?  Just throw away all of its heritage and much of its repertoire?

 

These companies are between a rock and a hard place.  RC is saying that two new operas won't cut the mustard.  At least ENO are trying to be innovative (and they sing the operas in English to try to make them more accessible).  If the companies just stick to the classics they are accused of being dinosaurs, not being 'relevant', etc.  However, whether the right-on people like it or not, there is a reason they are classics...and they sell.  In trying new things, both the opera and ballet companies are trying to make life more interesting for the artists and, perhaps more crucially, tick the ACE boxes.  However, if in doing so the productions don't sell, why should they be punished for that?  If doing SL and SB and Giselle keep people happy and earn crucial bucks for the Company, then let it perform them without the threat of their grant being removed. After all, in trying 'new' and 'relevant' pieces they are only doing what is stipulated by the ACE.  If people don't go, perhaps they need to think again about their priorities.

 

Shame on you Rupert Christiansen.  I hope no-one listens to you. 

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It’s difficult to understand why a professed ballet fan should choose this moment (of interregnum at ENB) to launch such an attack.

I do think that ENB’s touring programme in the UK is capable of development but, surely, the role of ACE is to work with the Company on that. Cutting the grant is not the place to start. I

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13 minutes ago, Fonty said:

I find it deeply depressing that a so called dance critic seems to think that a foreign company doing Swan Lake is quite adequate for classical ballet in the provinces.  

Incredibly patronising. 

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How can someone who lives from writing about theatre performances propose to cut the fundings for what he writes about?? In the very end, there will be fewer of the events that he writes about. I don't get it, it sounds like suicide to me.

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I just don’t know what to say but this whole article just makes me feel so depressed…I don’t know which is worse the patronising comment about “tutus” (thus dismissing high artistic achievement as if it’s just nothing) or suggesting we jettison any excellence achieved in this Country because there are always Foreign ones which can do the job 

Of course I’m not against Foreign touring companies at all but why should this be at the expense of our own excellent Companies. 
Im beginning to feel like I’m extremely lucky to have been born in 1947 so have benefitted from the last 60 odd years of theatre and ballet going …has this been the best of it….but can’t help feeling rather down about the future for others. 
It doesn’t help that this seems to be reflected on all fronts in the UK just at the moment 😥 

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I think it is really difficult to fill theatres nowadays because people have less disposable income than ever and the theatre is an easy thing to cut.  I went to see the Trocks at the Peacock and the back of the theatre was half empty.  I went to a regional theatre this week to see a play and the theatre was half full especially in the cheap seats.  I don't think it's just ballet that is suffering from low audience figures.  People are poorer than they've ever been and it means they go out less.  

 

Also people like the classics.  People like the Nutcracker because they feel Christmassy.  People like happy, frothy ballets with tutus (I know I do) because it's fun and makes them happy to see a fantasy kingdom of sweets or the dancing chickens in La Fille mal Gardee.  If you're struggling and life is a bit miserable with cuts, cost of living crises and a war in Ukraine,  people want escapism not a re-enactment of the misery of humanity through contemporary dance.  It's the same reason people like my grandfather in the 1940s liked Astaire and Rogers because it was an escape from the day to day drudgery of working class life and a world war.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to escape for 2 hours through watching something lovely.  

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42 minutes ago, Tango Dancer said:

watching something lovely.  

 

Or the pure beauty of harmonious lines. I love what Arlene Croce said about the Kingdom of the Shades in La Bayadère: "It’s Elysian bliss, and its subject is eternity … it is a poem about dancing and memory and time". Why can't we enjoy ballet like reading a poem or like hearing dialogues by Shakespeare? Maybe Rupert Christiansen never felt the deeper sense of this art form.

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Through family links I grew up knowing him and then one lunch in the 80s we fell out over Wayne Eagling’s legs! Apropos of nothing that is (Wayne had fab legs!) but I don’t think anyone who makes these decisions will take any notice. His arguments are ludicrously simplistic and ill thought out and I say that as someone who lives in Suffolk! Actually transport is the massive issue for access to the arts near home and coming into town! West to East Suffolk at night in the winter?

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I'm not that familiar with Rupert Christiansen tbh. Clearly a chap who likes the sound of his own voice (or clever sneering sentences.) I don't know if he has any real influence? I think he is just being deliberately provocative to make himself feel important. 
 

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30 minutes ago, Candleque said:

I'm not that familiar with Rupert Christiansen tbh. Clearly a chap who likes the sound of his own voice (or clever sneering sentences.) I don't know if he has any real influence? I think he is just being deliberately provocative to make himself feel important. 
 

 

The problem is that this sort of foray can gain traction.

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I am not that familiar with his work either and I don't know how many people actually read the Spectator.  However, I am appalled that a professional dance critic is expressing such views in the first place.  How long will it be before others start to write pieces like this?

 

 

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Tamara Rojo brought (in different years) Corsaire and Manon to Manchester Corsaire did (while not brilliantly) better than Manon (which sadly was disastrous).  Corsaire came to Liverpool and was respectable.  Manon should have been coming but never went on sale because of the disastrous sales in Manchester.  Khan’s Giselle premiered in Manchester and did ok.  It came to Liverpool a couple of years later and did respectably to well.  
 

Swan Lake is currently selling very well in Liverpool.

 

Even BRB stopped touring mixed programmes some years ago because they don’t sell and they no longer perform up north in the autumn.

 

Compare this with Matthew Bourne’s company.  When he first started touring sales were ok but not wonderful.  Now when his tours are announced there is a real buzz.

 

All these comments relate to pre-pandemic (apart from the one about ENB’s Swan Lake) so goodness only knows what will happen in the near future.

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1 hour ago, Fonty said:

 a professional dance critic 

 

 

I would dispute this!!  

As far as I'm aware he has always been an opera critic and has only just started writing about dance relatively recently.  Either way, he clearly has no respect for, nor understanding of, this art form and its rich heritage.  Not to mention how happy it makes people.  

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Yes, Christiansen was the Opera Critic of the Daily Telegraph for many years and only comparatively recently turned to writing dance reviews.

However, for as long as I can remember, he has been attending RB performances very regularly and once described the company as his "home team". 

 

I once had the doubtful pleasure of sitting near him at the ROH and, regardless of the potential effect on those around him, he wasn't hesitating to share his opinion of the performance in a very audible manner.

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I haven't yet read the Spectator piece. Speaking about RC in general though, he has some strange hobby horses (as do many critics) and I often disagree with him, but he is always IMO worth reading, partly because more than most reviewers he makes a real effort to keep in mind the perspective of the moderately engaged, ticket buying average punter.

 

I've also seen him at ROH on his own dime, which is not something I can say about most established critics. He really does care about both opera and ballet.

 

That said, I don't expect to enjoy the Spectator piece when I get round to it!

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Rupert Christiansen has produced (it would be an insult to all journalists to call it writing) a ludicrous piece of click bait. 

 

What he’s suggesting as a proposed clever radical idea comes 10- 15 years too late for ENO and ENB, and has already been extensively discussed by others then. Both weathered bad patches in the past and are actually doing very well right now, especially when you look at audience loyalty and community engagement, and many of their loyal regulars would say they are at an artistic peak right now. The article is so tardy to the party that it’s laughable.

 

He’s been in a bad tempered mood for the year  and decided to take it out on soft targets. For example , his was one of the few reviews unreasonable to the point of being demented about the Nureyev Gala. “I hate the theatre, I hate the stage, I hate the refreshments, so I’m just going to take swipes at all the dancers too, even though they didn’t build the theatre, and they’re not responsible for the bar menu”.

 

If wanting ENB and ENO to tour more is a gripe, what about Royal Ballet and Royal Opera, who receive huge subsidies and don’t tour nationally at all?  

 

What about Royal Opera’s experiments with Carmen and other opera reboots that were so bad that even loyal fans couldn’t bear to attend, leaving huge numbers of unsold seats (worse than anything ENB has had in the last 6 years)? And not only that, they put it on again for 3 more seasons! Also, I love Bonelli, Modera, McRae, Dyer, Lamb, Campbell et al, but Frankenstein probably had too many performances per run, again leading to too many unsold seats. ENB & ENO’s counterparts don’t get it perfectly right every time as he thinks they do.

 

Opera North is indeed a good company who have found a successful formula but I’m sure they don’t want ENO copying their rep, style and approach and stealing their audiences.

 

That said, unsold seats in London for RB & ENB are generally much lower than what symphony orchestras in London have had, or many niche companies at Sadler’s Wells. When I’ve asked SW box office staff, they actually consider all ENB’s seasons a box office success (even the ones that don’t reach 90% sales) compared to many of their visiting companies, whose ticket sales are more sluggish- although that perhaps merits discussion as a separate matter in itself.

 

Get rid of fairy tale tutus and “routine” Puccini? Anyone who can use routine to describe Puccini needs to be examined by a psychiatrist, especially when they have had the benefit of many freebie theatre tickets to educate them. Who is he to tell audiences in the regions what they are or are not allowed to see? If they want to bring their parents to see Tosca or La Boheme, that’s their right. If patrons want to bring their children and grandchildren for their yearly treat of Nutcracker or Swan Lake, that’s their prerogative and they don’t have to be forced to see Creature, Akhnaten  or Multiverse instead.  So he’s just being ridiculous.

 

He also seems to forget that London performances get a lot of their income from tourists- there is an entire industry of companies set up to sell or provide theatre, dance, opera, musical theatre and classical music tickets  to international tourists visiting London. The regions don’t have the huge population of London nor do they have half as many tourists. So many attendees are going to want fairytale ballets and Puccini, Mozart and other opera classics, and fewer will want wacky experiments (much as I enjoy some of the wacky experiments) forced on them by Mr Christiansen. 

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5 minutes ago, Emeralds said:

PS I don’t think that all the good contemporary dance companies out there would be impressed by RC’s proposal of ENB staging just contemporary work and stealing their already precarious audience share.

 

Almost certainly.  As far as I'm aware contemporary dance companies are definitely also struggling for audiences at the moment.  Not everyone who likes ballet would want to pay for contemporary dance.   People who make the annual pilgrimage to see Nutcracker (which was a feature of my growing up as well) aren't likely to want to see Crystal Pite's latest thing instead.  They're more likely to choose a different form of entertainment like the pantomime.   

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2 minutes ago, Tango Dancer said:

 

Almost certainly.  As far as I'm aware contemporary dance companies are definitely also struggling for audiences at the moment.  Not everyone who likes ballet would want to pay for contemporary dance.   People who make the annual pilgrimage to see Nutcracker (which was a feature of my growing up as well) aren't likely to want to see Crystal Pite's latest thing instead.  They're more likely to choose a different form of entertainment like the pantomime.   

I’m personally a big fan of Crystal Pite (even before she made Flight Pattern for RB) but I agree with you. 70% of the family and friends I’ve taken to ballet won’t go to see Pite [unless I’ve taken them without telling them in advance and they are just coming along for a catch up and the dinner, haha!] but will see the classics. I must admit that even though I love The Statement and Flight Pattern, if a friend said he or she could only join me for one show and had never seen a ballet before, I wouldn’t be taking him/her to TS or FP but to a good production of Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Swan Lake, Nutcracker or Coppelia - to me those ballets sum up the power and uniqueness of the art form, and there are still many in our population of 67 million who have not had the chance to experience the magic of ballet being performed live. 

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57 minutes ago, Emeralds said:

Also, I love Bonelli, Modera, McRae, Dyer, Lamb, Campbell et al, but Frankenstein probably had too many performances per run, again leading to too many unsold seats. ENB & ENO’s counterparts don’t get it perfectly right every time as he thinks they do.

 

The first run of Frankenstein was a sell-out, though.  It was only the later one that proved difficult to shift.

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If we are talking about classical music, has anyone ever suggested there is too much Beethoven or Mozart? Sir Thomas Beecham once said that whenever conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony he always reminded himself that for some people in the audience it would be the first time they heard it.

 

The definition of a classic is something that endures. So why such antipathy to ballet classics?

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I remember Clement Crisp once said much the same about Swan Lake - for him it was the umpteenth time and if he was bored, he always tried to remember that for someone else it might be the first time.  So - another argument for putting on what to some of us are the 'same old, same old' just so that others can come to them fresh.

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1 hour ago, alison said:

 

The first run of Frankenstein was a sell-out, though.  It was only the later one that proved difficult to shift.

Once we had all seen how bad it was…!

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1 hour ago, alison said:

 

The first run of Frankenstein was a sell-out, though.  It was only the later one that proved difficult to shift.

One ticket for each fan of Bonelli, Campbell, Dyer, Hirano,  Lamb, McRae, Morera, etc....I guess that’s how it sold out. I mean, it had some good bits, just not enough for a whole full length. Maybe he could have shortened it into a Frankenstein Suite of highlights, like in classical music. 

 

1 hour ago, Pas de Quatre said:

If we are talking about classical music, has anyone ever suggested there is too much Beethoven or Mozart? Sir Thomas Beecham once said that whenever conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony he always reminded himself that for some people in the audience it would be the first time they heard it.

 

The definition of a classic is something that endures. So why such antipathy to ballet classics?

Christiansen also keeping very quiet about the numbers of unsold sections (not just seats) in many classical music concerts every season for the last 5 years, even pre Covid. A musician has confided that it worries her that her orchestra (like ENB national touring) lose money on many of their London and touring concerts and wouldn’t survive were it not for sponsorship and playing for opera in summer (am not saying which opera company, of course). 

 

I think a lot of the poor revenue may be down to poor marketing, infrastructure costs and use of inefficient practices- perhaps storage and transport costs need looking into (admittedly all transport is currently more expensive due to fuel price rises).

 

Many performing arts organisations are still not taking advantage of publicising their work to college and secondary school age students (surely group tickets at 40% off in the back rows is better than entire sections being empty) or offering discounts for family or group bookings. There’s a lot of talk about “attracting young people” to the performing arts but the talk is futile if the companies are making themselves invisible and not even telling young people  or their parents/guardians/schools that they are there! 

 

Many are still too slow to capitalise on the speed and efficacy of social media announcements to sell tickets (especially to college students and twentysomethings.) Nothing more crazy than seeing the likes of Sadler’s Wells or the London orchestras putting sone random post about an obscure topic on Facebook the day before a performance that is about to happen, and not a single post about the performance itself.

 

The venue managements seem to be relying on the artists doing their own marketing, which is a problem if the audience that can go to the venue doesn’t know the artist and can’t see their posts. I’ve seen unpaid volunteers do better. What are these marketing departments  up to? It’s an own goal as poor ticket sales can mean their own jobs are threatened. Are the leadership at the top gagging their own staff from posting? (This was the case at one U.K. dance company when a new director took over and forbade any social media marketing, until eventually poor sales forced a change of policy and the staff now do very useful, popular and effective posts.) 

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