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Société Auguste Vestris - For the House of Commons C Session
  Auguste Vestris


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For the House of Commons C Session
May 2004

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Culture Media and Sport Committee
House of Commons C Session
For the Hearing to be held on May 11th 2004



To the House of Commons



Ladies and Gentlemen,


As a private citizen who has been involved with the dance world for over forty years, allow me to respectfully salute this Parliamentary initiative, and the hearing you are to hold on May 11th 2004 on the future of dance in this country.


Might I begin by responding to your statement that "the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has agreed to inquire into the development of dance as an art form."


1/ What do we mean by the words ART FORM ?


What matters is the reality behind the words. All the terms that Western languages use to express the concept of concern to us here, "Kunst" in German, "Art", refer either to a notion of knowledge, i.e. science, or to a notion of method or means, the Greek "tekhne". Thus, the language itself does not recognise a fundamental difference between what we now call science, and what we now call art, although the mind does most certainly recognise a difference in quality.


What we think of as "Science" refers to matters where exact measurement is of the essence, and what we think of as "art" are matters where exact measurement becomes a means to convey to one’s fellow man a higher form of ideas, that lie in the realm of spiritual beauty, a realm that Christians would call "Caritas".


In what we think of as "art", it is this intangible communication of ideas that lies in the foreground, and in what we think of as "science", what lies in the foreground is the coming into being, as a tangible and material fact, of the means to change and intervene upon the laws of nature.


The two - the tangible, and the intangible - are closely interwoven, but what we think of as "art" is the spur, the motivation, for science. It is what makes explicit to man, the joy in being a human being.


All these notions, however, relate only to classical art, in other words, art that rests upon principles, the discovery of principles and change to those principles in an intelligible, lawful way.


Whether that be European classical dance, or Asian, our subject is what the French call "dance savante": dance that requires a deep study of principles.


The classical dance is accordingly not ideological, but idealistic.


It is a form of intellectual and musical activity that, rather than using the hand and arm alone, uses all the limbs. Although it is no more a sport than playing the violin or writing a book, the fact that it deploy, and shew, the entire body, is an apparent paradox, that compels both the artist and the public to break with the currently-prevailing notion of the body as an erotic toy.


There are indeed, other forms of dance, but the classical dance is the tuning fork for everything else.


That this be recognised even on the continent of Africa, where European classical dance is still in the pioneering stage, is shewn in a recent and most unexpected piece from M. Ahmed Aydoun, a musicologist who directs the National Conservatory for Music and Dance at Rabat in Morocco. He writes that the classical dance :


" permet de développer ou d’enrichir les principales qualités physiques et morales, et tout particulièrement la beauté corporelle, la vision et la perception juste des formes, le sens du rythme, la coordination des forces, la souplesse, l’endurance, l’élévation, l’équilibre, enfin l’imagination et l’expression "


("allows one to develop, or to enrich, the principal physical and moral qualities, most especially bodily beauty, vision, and a true appreciation of forms, a sense of rhythm, the ability to coordinate different forces, flexibility, stamina, elevation, balance, and not least, one’s powers of imagination and expression.")


Ahmed Aydoun, "Whither the classical Dance", Le Matin, Rabat, April 30th 2004


2/ Ideology, or idealism - one, or the other !


Even as we write, in most European countries, the classical dance is being swept aside to be replaced by ’modern’ or ’post-modern’ troupes, that are very much cheaper to maintain. Pointe shoes alone, as we know, can cost a large troupe several hundred thousand pounds a year.


In this doing-down of the classical dance, the true matter for concern, however, is that behind the explosion of ’modern’ dance, are ideological considerations that go beyond mere cost-cutting.


Whether wittingly or unwittingly, certain persons and institutions have chosen to put forward - a full century past their supermarket Sell-By Date - the very forms of extreme nihilist ideology that prevailed in the early years of the Twentieth Century, and from whose consequences Europe is not yet recovered.


Here in England, there exists an institution that in recent years has gained - one knows not how - something of a stranglehold on the dance world. It is known as the Laban Centre, after the late Rudolf von Laban. His life’s work, ideology and political background have been discussed in great detail by Mlle. Laure Guilbert, in a recent scholarly work, Danser avec le Troisième Reich (Editions Complexe, Brussels, 2000).


The conclusions arrived at by the aforesaid historian should, I believe, be taken into account in any informed debate - whether Parliamentary or otherwise - on the future of dance.


My own belief is that there is a coincidence of interests between circles with a private political agenda, and who intend to make the population every bit as vile and brutish as it was in late Roman times, and the short-sighted cost-cutters in every Ministry and Government, for whom every penny spent on the nation’s mental and physical well-being, is a penny that had better been spent on debt service.


We cannot have it both ways. Either we shall educate, through science and in classical art forms, an intelligent, profound and informed population that cares enough about this country to change it for the better. In which case, we shall have constitutional government. Or we shall allow the so-called ’entertainment’ industry to go on creating mass psychosis. In which case, we shall have political dictatorship.


One presumes that the very raison d’être for this Parliamentary Committee is that its members oppose the drift towards dictatorship, and are aware that the classical dance, though now decayed, may be a weapon in the battle for the mind that is politics.


To caress the notion that the State need no longer educate artists, and that this might be left to the Grace and Favour of private agencies and private individuals, is as much an irresponsible pipe dream in the arts, as it is in the economy. Private agencies and individuals respond to private, often short-term impulsion and the profit motive, and they may, and often will, demand graces and favours in return.


3/ Classical dance - An art, or a branch of the gambling industry ?


Classical dance is neither a sport, nor a branch of gymnastics, and accordingly should not be dealt with, as though it were yet another way to combat obesity, by a ’Ministry for Youth Affairs & Sports’. It is not physical culture, nor is it a matter for youth alone.


Under the aegis of the curiously-named ’Department for Culture, Media and Sport’, we find, inter alia, Gambling & Racing, and on the Department’s Website, one discovers that "the British gambling industry has achieved a world-class reputation". The same Department is in charge of "reform of licensing law relating to the supply of alcohol, the provision of regulated entertainment and the provision of late night refreshment in England and Wales." It is also in charge of "designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software, music, the performing arts, publishing, software and computer games", and so on.


This is all very fascinating, and so forth, but what it speaks of, is a very confused set of priorities.


How classical music and dance, viz., intellectual activities critical to the future of this, or any nation, might fit in amongst business activities such as gambling and racing, alcohol and entertainment, makes the head spin.


What it does shew, is that we have been seized by the mercantile, pragmatist mind-set that is typical of a nation gone adrift, and that lacks a high ideal.


In modern times, the most advanced treatment of the more general issue at stake here is probably to be found in Frederick Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), written by a republican dismayed at how the Terrorists, under the French Revolution, had come to deny the reality of the soul. In the 27th and last letter, referring to the various forms of potential Statehood and society, Schiller writes of the third, the aesthetic form of Statehood :


"To makes others free through the play of freedom, is the fundamental principle of its empire (...)


"Only the aesthetic State makes society real, accomplishing as it does the will of all, through the very nature of the individual... beauty alone makes man a social being... only relations founded on beauty unite society, because they concern what all men hold in common. In beauty alone do we joy both as an individual and as a species being, that is, as representatives of the human race. No privilege of rank, no tyranny, will be borne ...


"In the aesthetic State, every man, be he the humblest of labourers, is a free citizen, his rights equal to those of the noblest born, while judgment that would otherwise bend sternly to its will the groaning masses, must here, ask their consent."


May 3rd 2004


Katharine Kanter
Editor,
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