Entertainment & Arts

Akram Khan criticises quality of UK dance training

Akram Khan
Image caption Akram Khan is concerned about the standard of training in the UK, calling it 'an obstacle'

Three top choreographers have criticised the quality of contemporary dance training in the UK, and said they have to recruit dancers from abroad.

Akram Khan revealed that just four of the 51 dancers his company has employed since 2000 were UK trained.

Hofesh Schechter said UK dancers were "consistently outclassed by fitter, stronger and more versatile" dancers trained internationally.

He called on the industry to work together to "level the playing field".

In a joint statement with DV8 Physical Theatre's artistic director Lloyd Newson, the trio of choreographers said they struggled to find British trained dancers "of sufficient calibre" and had decided to "go public" after witnessing "declining standards" at UK auditions.

Newson said many dancers studying in the UK "lack rigour, technique and performance skills".

'An obstacle'

Khan said he felt UK contemporary dance training was now "an obstacle", unlike his dance training which was "like an old friend... who helps me through many obstacles."

He said: "I am concerned that somewhere, somehow, the training the young dancers go through in the UK is not supporting them in the rigour, technique and discipline that I am looking for in a dancer.

"Instead the training of the UK dancers today has become the very obstacle that the training was meant to overcome."

Khan's dance company receives £225,000 Arts Council funding every year, which Arts Council England said "supports its core costs - enabling them to produce the thrilling artistic work that delights audiences in England, and beyond."

Director of dance, Cate Caniffe said: "It's vital that our own education and training system produces world class talent but it is also important that companies work with international talent too - for the excellence and inspiration that can bring."

She added: "What we recognise, is that dance is an international career and the training - and professional - opportunities reflect that. This is part of a healthy, and no doubt lively, debate for professionals and trainers to be having at the Dance UK conference which is on at the moment."

UK-based Israeli choreographer Shechter, who runs Hofesh Shechter Company, called on the sector to address "the widening gap between our requirements as employers and the skills with which UK graduates emerge".

Khan - who performed at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony - said 57% of his dancers at his company were trained at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios in Brussels.

The choreographers also claim they have statistics proving that less than 35% of graduates from the three main contemporary dance schools - the London School of Contemporary Dance, Trinity Laban and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance - go on to work as dancers or choreographers.

'Lifelong careers'

However the dance schools have disputed the figures and defended standards, with London School of Contemporary Dance principal Veronica Lewis insisting students would graduate prepared for "lifelong careers in dance".

Lewis said many students went on to work as professional dancers in companies including DV8, Jasmin Vardimon Company, Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and Hofesh Shechter Company.

Trinity Laban principal Anthony Bowne said half of the school's dance students had travelled from abroad to study there.

"They come because we provide a world-class contemporary dance education. We're a bit baffled that these choreographers would be in any doubt of this - particularly as they are choosing to employ Trinity Laban graduates in their current productions," said Bowne.

Janet Smith, principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, told London's Evening Standard: "As an Ofsted outstanding institution we constantly strive to address the ever-increasing demands of an ever-broadening profession.

"They've made these comments but actually placed our dancers in their companies. I proudly say we have graduates from our school and current students are performing and have performed with these companies and I'm proud to say that Akram is a graduate of our school."

Khan, Shechter and Newson's comments coincide with the beginning of the UK Dance Conference.

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