Ozco cuts Leigh Warren & Dancers Funding

I just heard from Daniel Jaber that the Australia Council for the Arts have cut Leigh Warren and Dancers triennial funding.

Having dealt with the mendacity of ozco for years — and to be clear, I have absolutely no respect for this organisation — it doesn’t come as a surprise they would do something so utterly stupid, shortsighted, ill-informed, and useless.

If there was ever an arts organisation in Australia that is decades overdue to lose its funding, it would be ozco. They have for years single-handedly butchered the arts, promoted mediocrity, mouthed asinine middle-management slogans such as ‘innovation’, ‘excellence’, ‘international’ (apparently now the word is ‘sustainable’), taken the side of church, government, and right-wing pogroms against the very artists whom the purportedly represent, and spent much of the remaining time polishing their media image while making sure the entrance is solidly bolted against anyone unwilling or unable to play their smarmy game. Art?

It breaks my heart Adelaide could lose Leigh Warren. Though in truth, he doesn’t need to be there; he doesn’t need to struggle for years with disgraceful conditions and permanent insecurity. Neither do many of the choreographers in that city. They could all pack up, move to europe and with the same amount of effort they put in there for scant return, have proper support and be part of a huge community that respects art.

But they choose to be there. For whatever reason, they remain and devote their lives to making art in that small city. And having seen an awful lot of dance around the world, I can say — irrespective of my personal aesthetic interest — there is little as good as what comes from Adelaide.

Leigh Warren and ADT should be — should be — as acclaimed as Ultima Vez, Troubelyn, Akram Khan, Rosas, Les Ballets C de la B, names, more names … these companies that touch the firmament of dance, theatre, art. They should be there also, and should have the commensurate support, as should other companies in Australia. They should certainly not be begging for decades at the bottom of the ladder. The work they should be making remains forever half-done because of the parochial support in both dollars and culture Australia affords its artists.

There is no justification ozco can make for this funding cut. It’s a bizarre decision I can only understand if I image the panel completely intoxicated on those aforementioned buzzwords and self-importance. No one in their right mind would make such a decision, and it can certainly not be explained away by their usual dismissals of lack of funds to support everyone, patronising the artists that they should feel sorry for them to have to make such hard decisions.

I can’t even imagine how this could be political. Leigh has done so much for Adelaide dance, for Australian dance. He should be a national treasure. Yes, Leigh Warren is to Australia what someone like Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is to Belgium. And had he been given the support he deserved for the past twenty years, this would be self-evident.

Given the record of ozco and Australian culture over the last ten years or more, I am sceptical of a happy outcome to this. My opinion is that once a company and choreographer has established itself, it should be exempt from the humiliation of annual and triennial funding applications; there should be an expectation as an artist working in performing arts that at some point you can concentrate without distraction on making work, secure in knowing that provided one doesn’t make a complete mess of things, the bare minimum necessary to keep the company going can be depended on to be there. That it isn’t is yet another failing of the responsibilities of ozco to Australian artists.

I hope some of you will take the time to sign the petition to save Leigh Warren and Dancers.

everything that has been said before about dance

Lining the walls of Chunky Move’s foyer are vast placards of performances, and above the sofas, those shows are the Live Acts series from 1999. I was sitting there staring at them one day after class and noticed they serve as something of an epitaph of Melbourne’s dance scene. In eight years, the names of Melbourne’s choreographers haven’t changed. I was a student then, and since then … where are the new choreographers? And the dancers, it’s a trickle over close to a decade. Altogether, no great new explosions or earth-shattering debuts, a void of arrivistes and demi-mondes, just an absence we all pretend isn’t happening.

I was really hoping for a complete slamming of federal and state governments attitudes to supporting dance in Australia, and the title of the interview with Expressions Dance Company founder and current Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts dean of dance, Maggi Sietsma had me all gooey in expectation of the utter blasting Australia needs that everyone talks about in private but seem to come over all coy when the media is pointed in their direction.

Oh disappointment, how I adore you.

There are two things Australian dance – and generally all the arts – needs: One elegantly summarised on one sentence by John McCallum is “Any crisis the Australian theatre might be facing now is entirely a matter of money”. The other is for Australian artists to look at how a handful of Tasmanian loggers managed to hold state and federal governments in their thrall and behave accordingly.

“In theory I am supposed to come back to Expressions towards the end of the year, but having read the State’s development strategy for dance, I am not sure that I am wanted,” she says with a wry smile.

“I still have to check things out but it seems to be advising companies not to hang on to top talent for too long, which to me again demonstrates a lack of respect for quality artists.”

— The Courier Mail

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it’s all about the money #2

He could have ditched the first paragraph, stopped right at the end of the second sentence, and just copy-pasted that the length of the page, like so:

LET’S get one thing sorted. Any crisis the Australian theatre might be facing now is entirely a matter of money.

— The Australian

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it’s all about the money

Slagging match of the week goes to Melbourne Festival vs. The Media, wherein Robin Usher tries to sound a rhetorical question and get us all wondering, “Hey, yeah, maybe the Melbourne festival has lost its touch.”

Is this shifty journalism trying to find an angle to cut down contemporary arts in Melbourne and put the big companies — Oz Ballet, Opera, and Melbourne Symphony — back in their rightful place as the upholders of culture? I’m not a great fan of Kristy Edmunds, the current Melbourne Festival director who, it was announced last week has been given and “unprecedented fourth year”. She does go for contemporary work, but I feel in the manner of a shopper, contemporary as commodity, and she isn’t really exerting herself in finding anything outside the safe avant garde. That is to say, if the rest of the world wasn’t raving about Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, and they hadn’t already been at Australian festivals this millennium, I’m not sure how probable it is Southbank would have been graced by the sound of falling truncheons.

It’s programming based on prior box office, support of the contemporary by relying on publicists’ copy rather than finding stuff on your own and be willing to say, “I think this is good art, even if no one else knows what I am talking about, and I’m willing to look like an idiot and take a beating in the press in my support of it”.

Though contra this, the international apprehension of a nation’s art is based on the commodification from within of a body of culture as representative of that nation, so from Taiwan we always see Cloudgate, even though within Taiwan there was a surprisingly low opinion of the company, and thus for an outsider to find interesting stuff not on the menu, and for there to be the funding and support to get this stuff to festival … it’s usually easier to go with Cloudgate.

Comparing Edmunds’ efforts with the execrable neo-colonial antics of Jonathon Mills, she at least is looking outside the cultural snobbery that often comes with festivals. Both though, and this is a general annoyance for me for Melbourne Festival seem to think art comes from Europe and its descendants, is of a certain size and weight (i.e. medium to large companies), and there is a striking lack of engagement with Asia, by which I mean everything east of Pakistan, south of Mongolia and north of Antarctica. The inclusion of plenty of Japan stuff, coming on the end of two interminable years of Australia-Japan-Art-Freundschaft in my mind doesn’t count, for the same reason touring Cloudgate from Taiwan doesn’t.

But Robyn Usher’s extra-suss controversy-mongering and reductionist bottom-line dollar-dollar-bill-y’all art-as-finance in The Age is disingenuous.

A few days ago also, dance reviewer Hillary Crampton remarked, “Ideally such debates should take place in the mainstream media, but sadly they do not, owing to the lack of commitment by publishers to cultural debate”. The context of this, within a commentary on critics vs. artists becomes another mediocre ‘old vs. new media’ trope or ‘blogs vs. newspapers’. When the critical and intellectual position of the arts in mainstream Australia is represented by people like Robin Usher and Andrew Bolt, why should such debates take place where these pseudo-critics get a paycheck for intellectually feeble drooling?

More importantly though is the assumption that such debates find a natural home in traditional media. It’s been a long time since I have paid more than cursory attention to the arts columns in old media. Even RealTime, which is by far the best arts periodical in Australia suffers from press-release-plus-advertisement-as-journalism. It is impossible to engage with old media without the suspicion of being on the receiving end of manipulated publicity, and there is a singular untrustworthiness in mainstream media that precludes exactly this presence of integrity.

Or to regard it from the perspective of a debate, old media is bereft of dialogue in any meaningful respect. A review, opinion piece, column, whatever, is a statement in which response is not part of the deal. Does the inclusion of a ‘have your say’ pretend-blog comments box at the bottom of these constitute debate? More particularly, where is the community? Blogs as an ecosystem of communities have this as one of their primary attributes; the comments on blogs as diverse as Peking Duck to Theatre Notes all have regular commentators or guest writers whose erudition and passion for their interests make for inspired reading.

In this world, the writing of Usher et al is clearly seen for what it is: weasel words, comment spam and trolling.

Edit 2019-02-26

Periodically, I return to old posts and I cringe. I wrote this 12 years ago and there’s language there I’m deeply uncomfortable with using now. So, while trying to retain whatever it was I was pissy and performatively outraged about, I’m swapping out dodgy language. I made a couple of other changes also. You can probably find the original on the Internet Archive, or I can save you a trip and say the inserted changes replace two instances of the word ‘lame’, and one of ‘mentally feeble’.

Coincidentally, a few years after this, I ended up working with Roméo Castellucci (twice), and he was a joy — as a person and artistically.

Quoting my recent self here,

As for the rest, I remember why I wrote it, anger upon returning to Australia (and specifically Narrm (Melbourne)) and seeing something like a diffuse nepotism in who was getting the gigs again and again. I think today it comes across as much more misogynistic than I thought I was, and in that, misses a pertinent point about (white, cis) women recreating the power structures feminism purported to be all about changing (lol to that?). Misses also a huge point about Indigenous, Pasifika, trans/non-binary/queer artists in the (white) mainstream (or even fringe) at the time. Basically I’m calling myself an uneducated, opinionated pig.

Plus I slag off some big names.

I didn’t even know about my own history in 2006.