ISMENE BROWN

dance and arts journalism

An archive of 25 years of British dance


"What to some is splendid entertainment, to others is merely tedium and fidgets"

MERCE CUNNINGHAM

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NEW: ONLINE INTERVIEWS

Dance Legends at the Vyne Theatre: Adam Cooper, Sarah Wildor, Matz Skoog and Tory Dobrin talk with me about their careers and lives - a series of filmed interviews for the Vyne Theatre and Dance Academy, Berkhamsted. YouTube @dancelegendsvynetheatre

THIS SITE

is a filing cabinet of my published observations of the British and visiting international dance and ballet scene, during my 25 years or so as the dance critic of The Daily & Sunday Telegraph 1992-2008, The Arts Desk from 2009, and The Spectator 2014-16, and elsewhere.

     It consists of selected interviews with major performers and creators, features and commentaries on arts issues, reviews and previews of shows that seemed significant above the usual run (including premieres of some now-famous events), and obituaries. All articles are linked from the alphabetical Index in the menubar above.

     With hindsight, my reportage of the dance waterfront was loosely defined around the emergence into our taste-formation of the ballet dancers Sylvie Guillem, Tamara Rojo, Uliana Lopatkina, Irek Mukhamedov, Johan Kobborg and Carlos Acosta, and the contemporary choreographers Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant and Matthew Bourne, whose arrival added new distinctive presence to a landscape already richly characterised by the Ashton-MacMillan and London Contemporary Dance Theatre eras.

     In art-historical context, this was a conservative era, signposted by deaths of its giants - Fonteyn, MacMillan, Nureyev, de Valois, Cunningham, Bausch - and by the march of internationalism and co-production towards broader consensus. Creative content was affected by an increasing insistence on box office performance, by socio-cultural and institutional politics, and by debates about dance heritage and the rationale of curation. Most of the innovators who had enriched and diversified the landscape in the previous quarter-century were finding the road harder, and Britain's standing as a primary host for major foreign modernists was being shaken by economic winds.

     Still, even if many threads of performing history were stretching thin or snapping, the sheer volume of my coverage (only about a quarter is linked here) reflects the Telegraph's unstinting attitude to communicating performing arts as part of its reader package in that period.

     My cuttings indicate the continuing blizzard of variety in dance-going up and down Britain - classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet, modern dance, physical theatre, dance theatre, flamenco, hip hop, mime, folk dance, circus, jazz, cabaret, installation dance, video and digital work, with all their merging and mixing reflecting/prodding increasingly eclectic training systems, creative options, cultural tastes and employment realities, inflaming the traditional rows about standards.

     I know myself how important in my enjoyment of dance other chroniclers are, with their opinions and eyeviews on points in time, and it's in that spirit that I have assembled this archive. All views were mine at the time – I wonder what I would think now.

     I hope you find something to enjoy. If you want to republish or extract anything, or find a missing link, kindly email me.


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MY BACKGROUND     

I am an arts journalist of news background and musical training, and now also a Soviet Union historian. I was the Daily Telegraph's dance critic for 15 years (1993-2008), and their dance obituarist to this day, and The Spectator’s dance critic for two years (2014-16).     

     In 2009 I designed, launched and site-managed the award-winning critics’ site The Arts Desk (named Best Specialist Journalism Site in the 2012 Online Media Awards), spending three years as a founding director and its dance editor, and I remain an occasional reviewer. My broadcasting includes a dozen years as the dance critic for BBC Radio 2's longrunning Friday night arts show and for LBC's Big City, a Radio 4 documentary on Mona Inglesby's International Ballet, and interview films and presentations for English National Ballet, New Adventures, the London Symphony Orchestra, The Place, and other arts companies.

     I trained as a pianist, singer and violist at the Royal College of Music, London, where I was much inspired by visiting Russian musicians. Later, after developing a wider interest in Soviet culture as a result of my ballet journalism, I taught myself Russian. In 2014 I gained an MA in Russian Studies at University College, London, and in 2021 I earned a doctorate at the University of Oxford for research on the Soviet politician and USSR Culture Minister Ekaterina Furtseva, on whose biography I am working.


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