Dance shows are 'too fluffy', says boss of Sadler's Wells

TV dance programmes dismissed as 'a fad' whose popularity will not endure
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The Independent Culture

As the director of one of Britain's biggest modern dance theatres, one might imagine that the chief of Sadler's Wells would be grateful for the popularity that celebrity-driven television dance shows have generated for the art form.

But Alistair Spalding, the artistic director and chief executive of the nation's premier contemporary dance venue, has launched a scathing attack on shows such as Strictly Come Dancing.

There is little doubt that such shows have done wonders for prime-time audience figures and amateur ballroom classes across the country, he said. But they represent the lighter side of the spectrum, and the public are bound to fall out of love with it, he added.

"Part of the problem with the TV stuff is that it has taken the fluffy end of [the art]. It's a fad and it won't last; people's interest will wane," he said.

In an interview with The Independent, he said that while these shows increased an awareness of dance, he wished there were also "programmes that look at dance as a process and show dance in performance."

He felt current shows had reduced dance to entertainment, whereas much of contemporary dance could be topical, even controversial: "It's not all fun and glitz. It also deals with the tenderness, sadness and darker side of human experience, and at the moment we're seeing only one aspect of it."

Spalding, 53, also questioned the artistic worth of the "ballroom" genre in shows such as Strictly Come Dancing. "It's strange [the producers] picked ballroom. It's a very odd form. For example, the tango is sexual but also subtle, but they have turned it into this thing which is bizarre," he said.

Spalding, who has been at the helm of Sadler's Wells since 2004, said he would like to see television channels championing more serious forms, such as his dance house's show Spirit of Diaghilev seen on the BBC in December 2009 by a modest 186,000 viewers.

"There should be more opportunity for serious stuff," he said. Spalding's version of a public vote forum was to invite dancers from around the world to post footage of choreographed performances on YouTube. A Taiwanese troupe won a recent heat.

But he said populist television shows did sometimes lead enthusiasts into more serious forms of art. "If someone starts to think about movement because of something on TV and they move into something deeper, it's a good thing."

As well as Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC's new show So You Think You Can Dance has gained a popular following. Dancing On Ice, another show in which celebrities learn choreographed sequences on an ice rink, is in its fifth series on ITV, and Sky 1 has launched a competition, Got to Dance, looking for Britain's top dance act.