Theatre News

Choreographers warn of 'declining standards' at UK dance schools

Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter and Lloyd Newson say they are often ‘dismayed’ by the level of UK-trained students at auditions

Tamara Rojo and Akram Khan in Dust, as part of Lest We Forget
Akram Khan and Tamara Rojo in Dust; Khan claimed that UK dance training lacks 'rigour, technique and discipline'
© Arnaud Stephenson

A trio of leading choreographers have issued a stark warning about the quality of training in Britain's contemporary dance schools.

In a joint press release issued today, Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter and DV8's Lloyd Newson united to condemn the training offered at three major institutions – London Contemporary Dance School, Trinity Laban, and Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

According to the release, Khan, Shechter and Newson have gone public with their criticism of these schools as they are "increasingly dismayed by the declining standards they witness when holding UK auditions".

All three reportedly employ a majority of dancers from overseas because they "cannot find British trained, contemporary dancers of sufficient calibre".

Akram Khan, a longtime associate of Sadler's Wells who performed in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, revealed that of the 51 dancers his company has employed since 2000, only four have been UK trained. By contrast, over half graduated from P.A.R.T.S in Brussels.

"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," said Khan. "Instead, the 'training' of the UK dancers today, has become the very obstacle that the training was meant to overcome."

Schechter, who is Israeli, added that it was "disheartening" at auditions to see UK students "consistently outclassed by fitter, stronger and more versatile counterparts from Europe, Asia and the USA". Newson, whose recent credits include John at the National Theatre, said he has spoken to ten other British Dance companies who share their concerns.

'Bridge to cross'

In response, Veronica Lewis, principal of London Contemporary Dance School, said that the school "prepares its students for lifelong careers in dance". She added that contemporary dance in the UK has "developed beyond recognition over the last ten years", meaning that students need to acquire a "greater breadth of artistic skills".

The school's chief executive Kenneth Tharp added: "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?"

Trinity Laban principal Anthony Bowne said: "Half of our dance students come from Europe and the rest of the world, and 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."

Janet Smith, principal of Northern School of Contemporary Dance, told WhatsOnStage: "There's always a bridge to cross between training and the profession. Through Verve [NSCD's postgraduate performance company], we work to help students cross this bridge."

Smith, who was formerly artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre, highlighted that the choreographers' comments come just ahead of tonight's opening of the annual Dance UK conference, at which Verve member Jamal Burkmar is performing.

"It's a huge challenge to prepare students for a profession that is ever changing and broadening," she added. "We're not complacent and are constantly evolving – our students are increasingly going out successfully into the profession."

She said that part of the issue is an "absence" of modern dance training in schools. "We notice when auditioning in Europe that there's a generally higher standard of young person ready to apply for conservatoire training," she added.