‘The audience are getting short-changed’ says dance critic

Updated to include comments from Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell. 23 Friday 2015. 14:35 

The news and media only show ‘half the story’ about the state of the dance industry, according to Luke Jennings, a dance critic for The Observer.

The critic, among many others, has written about the gender imbalance between male and female choreographers in ballet and contemporary.

The Guardian’s dance section online has become one of the most viewed for dance news, reviews and comments in the UK. A simple search showed that in their up-to-date archive, Matthew Bourne was covered or mentioned in articles over 11,000 times, while Akram Khan was mentioned over 4,000 times.

In comparison, Jasmin Vardimon was mentioned or covered over 200 times, while Fleur Darkin was reviewed only over 60 times.

Performance of Jasmin Vardimon's 'Park'. Photo: Danilo Moroni

Performance of Jasmin Vardimon’s ‘Park’. Photo: Danilo Moroni

Luke Jennings, the veteran dance critic, thinks that it’s not the press’ fault that there is imbalanced coverage, they’re just ‘doing their job’.

“What that reflects is not any bias on behalf of the press, it simply reflects the fact that more male choreography is happening at a National press coverage level.

“Choreography gets examined by the press in different ways and for different reasons. What gets reviewed is not because of a male or female choreographer, it gets reviewed because it’s on.

“It’s very difficult, the press can’t really do that [report on a balanced gender]. Your job as a critic is a journalistic job. It’s to report what’s most significant.

“You can’t just ignore the best work and the most important work in favour of obscure work in order to correct a gender imbalance. Because that’s not doing your job as a critic or a journalist.”

Dance critic and journalist Luke Jennings. Photo: Luke Jennings

Dance critic and journalist Luke Jennings. Photo: Luke Jennings

Luke, an author and ex-ballet dancer, however thinks the press can contribute in a way to help the industry seem more balanced.

“The more this imbalance continues, the more we as an audience are going to be short-changed. We’re getting one side of the story. The female experience is under-represented in the stories that we’re told.

“It’s in all of our interest to try to make this industry more equal. It’s important to look hard and not necessarily make the obvious decision.

“Maybe to some critics although it would be easier to just do the big Opera House or Swan Lake, maybe they should look a little further and do something a little less obvious.”

The Guardian's homepage for dance and theatre

The Guardian’s homepage for dance and theatre

Judith Mackrell, a dance critic for The Guardian online, believes that newsworthiness comes above all else.

“In terms of reviewing, I can’t simply prioritise shows by women (though I always cheer internally when I cover one).

“There’s so much else to balance, between different dance forms, between London and non-London shows, between  small and large scale, and the newsworthiness of events is always going to dominate the thinking of the arts desk, who have ultimate say over what I review.

“Bourne will always take precedence over Vardimon, because his work is seen globally, and because it has had a much greater popular and critical impact.”

The Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell. Photo: Twitter

The Guardian dance critic Judith Mackrell. Photo: Twitter

Judith, an ex-dance teacher and choreographer, said that The guardian are beginning to be more balanced in reporting genders.

“The arts desk tend to have even greater control over what I cover  – but interestingly there has been a conscious policy here to try and get more women in general onto the arts pages. If Bourne was a woman, we’d never stop hearing about him!

“Overall, I’ve written more features and blogs about women as dancers and directors as well as choreographers than men. And since it’s an issue I care about I do try to draw it into my writing whenever I can.”

Kerry Biggin and Sam Archer in Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Kerry Biggin and Sam Archer in Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Luke agrees with this sentiment and thinks that although the imbalance is apparent, all journalists and critics are working to find the ‘next big thing’ to write about.

“You can only do that [report other stories] if there is an interest in unreported stuff to cover. The truth is we are all looking out for this stuff all the time and we do spot it and it’s not as if there are fantastic, brilliant female driven work that is being consciously ignored.

“We’re [critics] in competition; we’re all looking for the next big thing. It’s just a pity that the next big thing is so often a male as opposed to a female”.


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