Arts Council dance policy 'falsely based'

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the leading figures in contemporary dance has broken a conspiracy of silence and accused the Arts Council's dance department of exaggerating audience figures and of bringing 'political correctness' into dance.

The council has switched pounds 700,000 into modern dance from other art forms including drama because, it says, audiences are burgeoning.

But yesterday, Michael Merwitzer, artistic director of The Kosh, claimed that the council had no up-to-date statistics and audiences were not growing at all. 'Indeed, it is obvious to everyone in dance that the current year is an all-time low.'

The council's dance department confirmed that it had last year's audience figures for only two of the 50 or so companies to which it gives money; its assertion that audiences are growing is based on the British Market Research Bureau Target Group Index, a general sample of the population, which suggests that audiences rose slightly between 1991-92 and 1992-93, but are far lower than in 1987.

Mr Merwitzer, whose company has just had its grant cut from pounds 194,000 to pounds 150,000 by the council, has taken its popular mixture of dance, theatre, acrobatics and narrative not just to conventional theatres but also to hospitals, factories and even the Post Office's Mount Pleasant main sorting office in London over the past 10 years.

Having researched bookings in contemporary dance, he says audiences for his company are at an all-time high, playing to 25,000 in the current year, while audiences for most others have been falling.

'The Arts Council can't show that there's a burgeoning audience for dance,' he said. 'They have no hard data, which is in itself quite astounding.

'We should be asking how many dates companies play and at what size venues,' he added.

The Arts Council disapproves of his company, he says, because of the sort of dance it performs - populist, narrative-based stories, with words as well as movement. 'We are seeing political correctness from the Arts Council dance department.'

Sue Hoyle, the council's dance director, denied that the department insisted on certain forms of dance. She said the decision to cut The Kosh's grant had been taken because council officers and advisers had reported adversely on standards in its latest shows.

The Independent described its most recent show, however, as 'a sinuous, mesmerising show performed with beautiful precision'.

(Photograph omitted)