Madonna dans 'The Place' en GB.
At 40, The Place Remains Crucial To UK Dance
The Guardian (UK) 05/11/10
Posted May 12, 2010 08:15 AM
"The rollcall of dancers, choreographers and performers who have trained, rehearsed, performed or simply fallen in love with dance at the Place is as eclectic as it is long: there's [Matthew] Bourne, Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies, not to mention Madonna, Kate Bush and Helena Bonham Carter."
Source: Arts Journal.
The Place: dreams in a drill hall
Founded four decades ago by a man who lost his legs in the war, the Place sparked a dance revolution. Stars who studied there explain its magic
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 11 May 2010 22.30 BST
The year was 1966 and a hotelier and art collector named Robin Howard was determined to introduce contemporary dance to ballet-dominated Britain. Howard had lost both his legs fighting in the second world war, but the injury only served to fire up his passion for dance. He was an evangelist, and his dreams took a step closer to reality when he opened a small dance school that operated out of a cramped studio in a down-at-heel area of London that smelled of cat pee.
Three hard years later, Howard found a new building that would allow his school to expand. He called it the Place, and in this converted drill hall just off the unlovely Euston Road, his fledgling school began to take proper shape. Now a much more respectable endeavour, it was christened the London Contemporary Dance School. It was here, too, that Britain's first modern dance company – the London Contemporary Dance theatre – was born.
In the four decades since, contemporary dance has grown from a minority art form into a serious industry. Work by Matthew Bourne, Wayne McGregor and Russell Maliphant can fill the largest venues, and the profession employs thousands of choreographers, dancers, teachers and administrators. But even after 40 years, most members of this thriving industry are still just a few degrees of separation away from the modest building where it all started.
The rollcall of dancers, choreographers and performers who have trained, rehearsed, performed or simply fallen in love with dance at the Place is as eclectic as it is long: there's Bourne, Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies, not to mention Madonna, Kate Bush and Helena Bonham Carter. (The artist Tracey Emin almost studied there, but decided against it for fear of being made to stop smoking.) This weekend sees the culmination of celebrations that began last autumn to mark the 40th anniversary of the Place. The festivities will include performances that recall some of the earliest experiments in British contemporary dance.
Initially, Howard's venture received only minimal state funding, and Howard's own pockets weren't bottomless. Anthony van Laast, an early student and now a West End choreographer behind shows such as Mamma Mia!, remembers being paid five shillings an hour to paint walls and shovel rubble to get the venue open on time.
The school's students were a raggle-taggle collective of art students, ballet dancers, film-makers and musicians. Alston, then 19, was among them, and remembers an intoxicating spirit of adventure: "I just loved the idea of being at the start of something new." His fellow student Siobhan Davies agrees. "The school took almost anyone, which meant there was an interesting mix of students, like [film-maker] Sally Potter and Diana Davies, an early feminist."
The students were also excited to be sharing the Place's studios and its tiny, 300-seat theatre with the LCDT troupe. Given the lack of trained dancers in Britain, the company's director, Robert Cohan, and several of its dancers had been imported from the renowned Martha Graham company in New York; to awestruck teenagers such as Davies and Alston, the Graham dancers seemed like celebrities.
But money remained tight. To stave off the threat of bankruptcy, the Place's theatre and studios were rented out to paying clients. "Monday evenings were always interesting," says Alston. "That was the night for the New Cinema Club, which was a bit dodgy, a bit blue. We always had to warn the girls to be careful as men in macs with slightly steamed up glasses had a tendency to 'get lost' and end up in the showers."
The Place was firmly international in outlook, welcoming all dance styles and all choreographers. Alston's most vivid memory is of an installation by Meredith Monk, doyenne of the New York avant garde, "which involved all these strange little campfires on the stairs". Davies remembers turning up to rehearse with the US choreographer Remy Charlip and finding "an enormous French picnic laid out from one end of the studio to the other. I think he was trying to relax us. We were all very intense in those days, because we felt we were working on such a new art form."
By 1978, contemporary dance was firmly established in the UK, a volatile mix of earnest experimentation, mainstream performance and fashionable Lycra – and the Place continued to be its beating heart. Mark Baldwin, now director of Rambert Dance Company, remembers arriving in London from New Zealand and finding that the building was "a concentration of everything that was young, exciting and cool". The school had expanded by then, as had the company – so in 1987, Howard hired a full-time programmer to build up a new calendar of dance performance.
John Ashford was as utopian a supporter of dance as Howard. Not only did he turn the Place into a vital showcase for young choreographers, he also opened up the building to give them office space. Shobana Jeyasingh and a very young Wayne McGregor were among the first to benefit: being part of the Place gave their careers a dramatic impetus. One year, a Belgian festival showcasing this new generation of British dance-makers excluded Jeyasingh because of her Indian-sounding name. "It was John who fought the battle to get me included," she recalls.
Another Ashford initiative was Resolution! – an annual open season that gives a platform to Britain's rawest, most untested talent. Baldwin cringes as he remembers his own first offering in 1991. "I had two TV screens showing a video, a composer reading out passages of Nietzsche in this very shrieky falsetto, and me and two dancers moving maniacally fast," he says. But it was still a career-making moment: "The great thing about the Place was that you felt you could do anything there."
Today, the Place no longer works solo: other schools, rehearsal spaces and theatres crowd the UK dance scene. But it's precisely because dance has become so competitive that the Place remains crucial. As Jeyasingh says: "Dance has got very glossy. We still need the Place as somewhere that choreographers can fight for the right to think and debate – and, if necessary, to fail."
Source: The Guardian.
Spirit of adventure ... London Contemporary Dance theatre rehearse at the Place.
Photo: Anthony Crickmay.