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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THIS SITE

is a selective, partial and alphabetically indexed filing cabinet of my observations of the British and visiting international dance and ballet scene, published in The Daily & Sunday Telegraph 1992-2008, The Arts Desk from 2009, The Spectator 2014-16, and other dance press. 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. See the Index in the menubar.

     With hindsight, my reportage of the dance waterfront was loosely defined around the emergence 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 and Matthew Bourne.  

     In art-historical context, this was a conservative era, signposted by the deaths of Fonteyn (1991), MacMillan (1992) and Nureyev (1993), and by the march of internationalism and co-production towards broader consensus. Creative content was constricted by the grip of box office performance and socio-cultural and institutional politics, and by problems with defining 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 the great foreign modernists was being shaken by economic winds. The toll of the dead over the period includes the creative giants of modern dance, headed by Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch, and the final survivors of the birth years of British and US ballet.

     Still, although many threads of performing history were stretching thin or snapping, 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.

     The sheer volume of my coverage (only about a quarter is linked here) also reflects the Telegraph's unstinting attitude to communicating performing arts as part of its reader package in much of the period. That in itself marks a passing era – independent of the Covid pandemic's ominous effects. 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.


BACKGROUND     

I am an arts journalist and Russianist historian of news background and musical training. 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 the BBC Radio 2 Friday arts show, and a Radio 4 documentary on Mona Inglesby's International Ballet.

     I trained as a pianist, singer and violist at the Royal College of Music, London, and gained an MA in Russian Studies at University College, London in 2014.

     This year I was awarded the degree of DPhil 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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