Britain fails to choreograph its talent as fourth leading ballet director quits

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The Independent Culture

Classical ballet doesn't have a World Cup. If it did, England's best dancers, like the country's top footballers, would be going to the finals under the guidance of a foreign manager.

A quiet revolution is taking place in British ballet, a revolution that has seen the future of dance at the highest level entrusted – almost entirely – to overseas choreographers.

Now the nation's ability to fill one of the top positions in British dance with home-grown talent will be tested again, with the news that Christopher Bruce, the artistic director of the Rambert Dance Company, is stepping down after nearly 40 years in the job.

If the example of other domestic dance companies is anything to go by, his replacement will not be British. The Royal Ballet, led for many years by celebrated figures including Sir Kenneth MacMillan and, most recently, Sir Anthony Dowell, now has an Australian, Ross Stretton, at the helm. Northern Ballet Theatre has a Canadian in charge; English National Ballet has a Swede.

Britain, it seems, can no longer supply choreographers of a high enough standard to lead our top companies.

Prue Skene, who chairs Rambert, said yesterday: "We would love to get a British choreographer but we are keeping an open mind, and we will be looking abroad as well. A number of the top choreographers in Britain, such as Sue Davies, like to run their own companies and programme their own works. But big repertory companies such as Rambert need artistic directors who can put on works by a variety of choreographers. There is a shortage of classical choreographers in Britain. I wish I knew why."

One reason may be that today's choreographers tend to look more to modern dance, where there are more varied and certainly more lucrative opportunities. Matthew Bourne from the contemporary dance troupe Adventures in Motion Pictures is currently working with Trevor Nunn on the National Theatre's production of South Pacific. He also choreographed Nunn's My Fair Lady.

Gillian Lynne, who choreographed Cats and is working on the new musical of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is, like Bourne, able to negotiate percentages of the West End shows that she choreographs. Even the smallest percentage of Cats would dwarf a salary at a top classical ballet company.

At English National Ballet, the company's nationalist name does not extend to its new artistic director, Metz Skoog, from Sweden. ENB's managing director, Christopher Nourse, who was formerly executive director at Rambert, says: "Remember, that there is no university for choreographers. They just tend to emerge. So they are never easy to find. The funding system in this country does make running a dance company a very demanding business and artistic directors can run out of steam relatively quickly."