CN D Magazine

#6 june 24

Four Years After Brexit, British Dance Is Turning over a New Leaf

Katie Kheriji-Watts

From England with Love by Hofesh Shechter in Théâtre de la Ville in the frame of Royaume-Uni/France Spotlight sur la Culture 2024 © Todd MacDonald

British dance is in the spotlight across France this year, especially in spring and summer festivals such as Montpellier Danse, the Festival de Marseille, and Chantiers d’Europe at Paris’s Théâtre de la Ville. These performances are part of a multi-disciplinary cultural program led by the British Council in France that aims to breathe new life into Franco-British relations, four years after Brexit. While the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has had very real consequences for the cultural sector in Britain, recent attention to Brexit’s impact on touring has distracted from the many obstacles to international mobility faced by artists worldwide.

“The future of the performance arts is plural,” predicts renowned English choreographer Wayne McGregor in the announcement for his new piece Deepstaria, performed on stage and in the metaverse. “This slippery new landscape is emerging now,” he adds, “and a new frontier is in sight.” Though he’s speaking of the profound technological revolution of recent years, McGregor’s words could just as well evoke a new era in relations between the UK and its European neighbors – the raison d'être of the current ‘UK/France Spotlight on Culture’ in which Deepstaria will have its world premiere. As part of the multi-disciplinary cultural program taking place across France between March and November of this year, British dance is being prominently featured with works by some of the biggest names on the London scene, as well as a diversity of more emerging artists such as Colette Sadler, Kesha Raithatha, and Kwame Asafo-Adjei.

This Spotlight is “a response to Brexit, Covid, and our current situation” explains Sarah Bagshaw, Head of Arts at the British Council in France, which is organizing the event. Surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of professionals in the cultural and creative sectors were against Brexit – the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on January 31, 2020 following the 2016 referendum – the consequences of which in terms of international circulation have most affected those who are the least  structured. The “impact on an independent dance artist or company is much greater,” says Bia Oliveira, Head of Producing and Touring at the Sadler’s Wells theatre in London. “They’re having to deal with more bureaucracy, without necessarily having more administrative support since the rules changed.”

Indeed, British artists generally are now finding themselves in a situation that many of their peers in other countries have been in for quite some time: the need to access an international market in order to survive financially, despite significant logistic and administrative barriers. A June 2022 report by Perform Europe (an umbrella organization for several major cultural networks including  the European Dance Development Network and IETM, the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) examined the current state of cross-border performing arts distribution in 41 countries, including the UK, and details the reasons for this necessity to tour abroad.

Dancers Naia Bautista and Salomé Pressac in Deepstaria by Wayne McGregor © Ravi Deepres

“This especially concerns artists and companies that are based in countries with a smaller internal market for the specific type of artistic work or disciplines they engage in,” states the report. “For instance, for a contemporary dance company from Portugal, Belgium, or Slovenia, it will be very hard to develop a sustainable career without engaging in cross-border touring because of limited opportunities for domestic presentation.” According to Farooq Chaudhry, Producing Director with the London-based Akram Khan Company, this is a situation that also affects British artists. “Ask any British company – touring in the UK is an absolutely tragic loss leader,” he told The Guardian in 2021. “If we were only touring in the UK we would run out of money.”

However, British performing artists are much better endowed in terms of public economic support than their peers from places like Serbia, Armenia, and Iceland. Perform Europe’s report places the UK in a category of countries with “strong support” for “cross-border distribution” as well as “strong national cultural policies and infrastructures,” a category in which other affluent European nations such as France, Germany, and Sweden can also be found. The report also states that dance, circus, and street-art professionals “have a slightly more international reach than their theater counterparts” – probably because, according to Oliveira, “dance has the advantage, in most cases, of not having a language barrier.”

From England with Love by Hofesh Shechter in Théâtre de la Ville in the frame of Royaume-Uni/France Spotlight sur la Culture 2024 © Todd MacDonald

With regards to applying for temporary stays, “artists around the world frequently face issues with visas and taking their work abroad. We are now in a similar situation when it comes to touring in the EU,” explains Oliveira. “Although it is far more difficult for UK artists working with the EU now than before Brexit, we are still more privileged than many.” Indeed, for African artists in particular “travel to, and transit through, Europe is difficult for Africans,” states a January 2023 Guardian article on the subject. With rejection rates of up to 50% for certain African countries, applying for a visa remains a process described by at least one artist from the continent as one of “ritual humiliation.”

Shouldn't Brexit’s damage to the UK arts scene be weighed against the - often greater - difficulties faced by artists in many other non-EU countries? “As painful as it is with the end of free movement and all these new rules, we've accepted that it's what we're dealing with,” says Oliveira. “I still get a lot of condolences, comments, and questions from EU colleagues about Brexit, but from my perspective we have moved on here.” In France, the current spotlight on British artists will perhaps contribute to this awareness and willingness to move on.

Katie Kheriji-Watts works in the arts and is a culture journalist based in Paris. She is originally from California and has been working internationally for fifteen years in visual arts, performing arts, media, design and education. She is the creator and host of Points of Entry, a podcast seeking to imagine new cultural organizations in a rapidly changing world.

Royaume-Uni/France: Spotlight on Culture 2024
Learn more

Choreography: Wayne McGregor
June 22 & 23, during the Montpellier Danse festival, Opéra Berlioz / Le Corum

After Kinte
Performance by Tako Taal
Until June 22 in CAPC de Bordeaux

The Violet Hour and ARK 1
Choreography: Colette Sadler
June 24 to 28 during the Marseille festival, SCENE44 . n + n Corsino

Theater of dreams
Choreography: Hofesh Shechter
June 27 to July 17 in Théâtre de la Ville, Paris

From England with Love
Choreography: Hofesh Shechter
July 4 to 13 in Théâtre de la Ville, Paris
January 6 to 18 in Théâtre de la Ville, Paris