For the Scottish Ballet
26 September 2001
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Scotland is a small country, relative, say, to India, or China. Being a small country, as Ninette de Valois so aptly remarked about Denmark, does not, however, mean thinking small thoughts.
The Board of Scottish Ballet has apparently decided that Scotland can no longer afford a classical troupe. Its classical dancers will be sacked, or recycled like so much used Fax paper, into a "modern" troupe.
But "modern" dance is no longer modern. It is, like Eric Satie and Antonin Artaud, a shop-soiled relic of the jazz age of the 1920s. The turned-in feet, the stuck-out elbows and arses, the falling, the writhing, the eructating, the erotics... We have seen it all, and far too much of it at that.
Classical ballet, the child of music, will never be old. Its basic technical features, the turn-out, épaulement, and the mime gestures, are several thousand years old, older than Homer or Aeschylus. These features have survived in the Indian sub-continent, and they have come down to us in the West in the form of what we call classical dance. It has survived, because it is extremely good.
Classical dance may be good, but it is, like many good things, not cheap. And it will be expensive even if we do away with décor and costumes, and hold concert programmes draped in old curtain materials, with faded tutus and squashed pointe shoes, whilst the men don cast-off cycling shorts. Sprung floors are expensive. Dancing shoes are expensive. Heating and ventilating rehearsal rooms properly is expensive. Neither do lighting specialists, stagehands, and safety arrangements for the artists and the public come free.
According to the Glasgow Herald, Allan Wilson, Scottish Arts Minister, has just described the Scottish film industry as "the fastest growing industrial cluster in Scotland in terms of employment opportunities..."
And he added:
"We need to sustain film productions in the development stage, when the challenge is at its greatest. In doing that, when we have a developed script, the infrastructure is there.
"The film studio comes in at the end of the process. I am supportive of a studio and have set aside about £2m from our budget to sustain that or to support it in conjunction with Scottish Enterprise and the private sector. The level of private sector interest is critical..."
Here we have a Minister who finds it a matter for rejoicing that the "fastest growing industrial cluster in Scotland" be the film industry. Quid shipbuilding ? Quid steel ? Quid public works ? Film is NOT an industry. It produces nothing. And it is certainly not an art form. It is a skill, a craft that involves manipulating images and thereby, the mind. It is entertainment, generally of the most feral variety. The fact that many Americans initially thought they were "just" watching a film on television, when the events of September 11th broke, tells you everything you need to know about the movies.
Secondly, if we are to go by the Minister’s own words, there does seem to be money about, indeed, millions, for celluloid. Goodie ! Over the last thirty years, the number one industry in the United States, both export and domestic, has become, not steel, not ships, not machine tools, but the entertainment industry. Now look at the state of the American population ! Its mind ! Shot ! Is that where Scotland’s political leaders would like the people to go?
Rather than wrecking Scottish Ballet, the Scots Ministers were better advised to look to rebuilding Scotland’s heavy industry, and facing down the Thatcherites who have strangled the country.
Remember England before Thatcher. Remember when a few pence took one into the classical theatre, when miners and railwaymen’s sons read books, real books, and went to plays, and I do mean Shakespeare’s plays. I remember that time, because I was there, and knew men like that. The last thirty years have destroyed the work of two centuries, the work and political ideals of men like Keats and Shelley. That is the background to the battle over Scottish Ballet today.
Nothing is too good for the people. Classical ballet, which is a branch of classical music, is an art form. Its exponents are among the most highly-trained and idealistic people in Western society. It must be defended, in every nook and cranny of the country.
Last month, in an article on dance for an American publication, I wrote the following, which I would ask the reader to take to heart, "The importance of the issue, is that like a fish, society rots from the head down. Destroy classical music, destroy the ballet, destroy speech as poetry, and that process will radiate down and out through an entire people, and turn us into slaves. Therefore, to save these art forms is not a matter of taste, but a necessity."