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British dancers fail to take off in `Swan Lake'

The artistic director of the English National Ballet yesterday accused British ballet schools of producing second-rate dancers. Derek Deane said that he had no option but to recruit foreign talent for the largest production of Swan Lake ever staged in this country.

The 12 performances, to be presented in the round at the Royal Albert Hall next May, are expected to attract over 50,000 people.

The 120-strong company will be joined by 75 swans, fire-eaters, jugglers and acrobats. The cast will include the prima ballerina of the Kirov, Altynai Asylmuratova.

Deane is currently rechoreographing Swan Lake for the production and said that he would have to recruit 60 extra dancers to augment his company. He expected many of them to come from abroad. "I doubt I will be able to find 60 extra dancers in Britain," he said. "There is a lack of good English dancers, yet there are literally hundreds of dance schools. I find with the English National Ballet that we are having to repair bodies that have been trained badly. It is a very sad situation in dance in this country, from the very top to the very bottom."

The English National Ballet took 60 per cent of its dancers from overseas, said Deane. "The method of training and the lack of knowledge about dancers' bodies today is a big problem. I have to say that the standard of dancers who come to audition for my company is low."

Deane found support from Patrick Deuchar, chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall, who said: "What is needed is a wholehearted overhaul of the system. Here is an art form dying through lack of proper commitment."

Last month, the condition of dancers was criticised in a report entitled Fit to Dance? The report found that many of Britain's professional dancers were so unfit that they sustained more injuries than players of contact sports such as rugby. Of the 658 dancers, in various disciplines from ballet to jazz, who were questioned, 82 per cent said they had suffered an injury in the past 12 months. Many were only marginally fitter than the untrained person on the street. Traditional exercises, the study said, were not enough to improve fitness.

Dr Yiannis Koutedakis, a lecturer in sports science at Wolverhampton University who was involved in the study, called for ballet schools and dancers to adopt a more "open-minded" attitude to training. Advice which has come too late for the dancers turned down by Deane.