Dance Beyond Brexit

Javier Torres and Dreda Blow in Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre, photo Caroline Holden

Brexit risks seriously damaging Dance in the UK, says a new report published by OneDanceUK. Ballet Position unpicks its findings

Dance is a central part of the creative industries in the UK. If you look at numbers alone, at £92 billion per year its contribution to the economy is far from negligible.

Beyond that, though, dance is generally accepted to have a key role to play in education; and the prestige of British dance companies abroad, reinforced by regular touring, is important to burnish the UK’s international image.

Furthermore, dance in the UK attracts top international talent, be it to train at prestigious fee-paying institutions, such as The Royal Ballet School, English National Ballet School, or Rambert School, to mention but a few, or to contribute diverse performing and choreographic talent, views and approaches to the cultural melting pot.

All that, however, is at risk after Brexit, according to a report just published by OneDanceUK, the organisation formed to support the dance sector and be its collective voice.

Movement Beyond Borders is the result of extensive conversations within the dance sector, which started soon after the EU referendum of June 2016 and culminated in a comprehensive survey circulated to companies that range from the established big beasts of the sector to small independent outfits.

Brexit – The Uncertainty

The prospect of Brexit, even before it becomes reality in March 2019, is already having a profoundly destabilising impact across the sector, as Hanna Madalska-Gayer, OneDanceUK’s Advocacy Manager and one of the survey’s compilers, told Ballet Position.

“The main thing that’s coming across is the lack of certainty around what the arrangements will be post-Brexit. That lack of certainty is making it very difficult for individuals and organisations to do much planning now.”

To get a full picture of the UK dance sector’s deep integration with continental Europe it helps to look at some of the facts and figures pointed up in Movement Beyond Borders:

– at present, dance in the UK benefits from EU funding through programmes such as Creative Europe, Horizon 2020 and Erasmus +. There is no alternative UK source to fill the gap, should these inputs cease after Brexit;

– the average proportion of nationals from the EEA (European Economic Area, which includes the EU and non-member countries with reciprocal arrangements) employed as performers and creative/artistic staff across large scale dance companies is 25 – 33%. This rises significantly in the case of small companies;

– touring is a considerable income generator for UK dance companies. At the moment, touring in
most of the EEA is relatively easy, because sets and costumes can travel by road with no need for customs clearance.

Not surprisingly, then, the most damaging impact of Brexit would be if freedom of movement across EU borders were to cease, says Hanna Madalska-Gayer.

“The most important for our sector is the ease of movement for people and objects. I think that’s the one that not only we at OneDanceUK, but many other industries in the country are worried about.”

Brexit – The End of Free Movement?

Under current rules, EU nationals can reside and work freely in member countries.  They can travel visa free throughout the EEA. Should these provisions be terminated after Brexit, companies would be faced with escalating costs and bureaucracy. As Tamara Rojo, herself a Spanish national and currently Artistic Director of English National Ballet, told the survey:

“The dance world relies on free movement of creatives (…) we don’t have the resources to deal with hundreds more visas each year.”

Movement Beyond Borders estimates that an end to ease of movement could result in increased costs of more than £130,000 per year for some major UK dance companies, amounting up to 10% of turnover.

Consequently, the overwhelming majority of survey participants (86%) told the survey “Brexit will affect their UK-based work and productions (…) by reducing their ability to bring artists and organisations into this country.”

Movement Beyond Borders found that practically all of its respondents felt an end to free movement would also adversely affect touring, with new visa and customs requirements adding costs and delays to the whole process.

The same constraints would apply to European companies performing in the UK, where dance audiences have become used to seeing the best from continental Europe, be it Nederlands Dance Theater or Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, to mention but a small fraction of the artists that make up the bulk of programming for Sadler’s Wells, for example.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor

Konzept Arts and Ideas is a new performing arts management company, with offices in London, Turin and Berlin. Its producer, Natalie Richardson, told Movement Beyond Borders:

“I think we will see a stultifying and isolating trend in the artistic work that becomes too inward looking.”

Dance in Post-Brexit UK

Movement Without Borders provides the first official, wide-ranging assessment of the possible impact of Brexit on a key sector of the UK’s cultural life, and contains a number of recommendations to mitigate its effects.

Among them, “we urge Government to ensure a quick, easy and either no or low-cost, long-duration, multi-entry visa or work permit arrangement for creative and cultural workers, to ensure continued ease of movement for people and objects;’

and, “reciprocal arrangements must be put in place to enable cultural exchange without increased bureaucracy or cost to organisations touring in Europe, internationally or the UK.”

Hanna Mandalska-Gayer says that Movement Beyond Borders is one of the key tools for OneDanceUK in its ongoing contacts with government departments and individual politicians:

“The report was sent while it was still in its interim version, before it was properly published, to the Department for Culture [Media and Sport] and others, so they will have seen a lot of the content.

“We’re also over time sharing a lot of its content with policy makers as and when they need it; (…) and it has been shared with MPs and peers.

“We actually have a meeting of the all-party parliamentary dance group – OneDanceUK actually manages the secretariat for this group – and we’ll be meeting on the 11th September and we’ll be sharing the report with them as well.”

Like so much of what surrounds Brexit and its terms, it’s hard to tell where, if anywhere, such efforts will lead. One thing is certain, though: as Movement Beyond Borders makes clear, “when making creative work, it’s all about finding the right person for the right role – no matter where they are from.”

Curtailing ways of “finding the right person for the right role” will inevitably lead to an impoverishment of the work, with all its deleterious implications for the health of cultural life as a whole in the UK.

by Teresa Guerreiro

Movement Beyond Borders can be accessed in its entirety on the OneDanceUK website


"These Young People Need to Dance"

Ernst Meisner, Artistic Coordinator of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, talks to about the job he loves and his young dancers.

Ernst Meisner is a man on a mission.

Still only 33-years-old, he carries a huge responsibility: to prime 12 exceptionally talented young people for a life as professional ballet dancers.

And he loves it.

“I teach class at least three times a week and then spend most of my days working with them, rehearsing them, which is wonderful – the best part of it! – and also creating my own work.”

Meisner spoke to in the artists’ café at the Royal Opera House, the day after the triumphant premiere of his company’s recent visit to the Linbury.

“The dancers were very nervous,” he said.  “It’s funny, they’ve performed in all sorts of different places, but when you get to this House….”

He, of course,  knows all about “this House,” having been a dancer with the Royal Ballet for 10 years. He moved on to the Dutch National Ballet as a First Soloist, but then they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“This job came up. I was always interested in organising and choreographing.  When I was 23 I organised a gala with some principals from the Royal Ballet and the Mariinsky. I did everything from taxi receipts to the programme –everything!

It almost killed me… I slept for four months afterwards.”  He laughs.  But then, more seriously,“It was such good experience to do it all, though.”

Following a short stint studying management, he shadowed the Dutch National Ballet Artistic Director, Ted Brandsen.  And when the idea of setting up a Junior Company came to fruition in 2013, Brandsen approached Meisner.

“Ted and I had a long conversation.  Did we want six boys and six girls that are all the same height and all look the same?  And that’s exactly what we decided not to do.

We decided to choose 12 talented individuals with physical talent, musicality, coordination…”


Young dancers stay with the junior company for two years and Meisner plays a key role in their selection. There are auditions, of course; but he also talent-scouts at international youth competitions.  Does he zero in on the winners?

“Absolutely not!  As a matter of fact, at the recent Youth America Grand Prix I picked a wonderful girl, Melissa Chapski, who’s coming next season.  She was a finalist, but she didn’t win a prize.  I think she suits the Dutch National Ballet, what they’re looking for for the main company.”

Preparing young dancers to join the main company is, of course, the first aim of the Junior Company.  Its members take class with the main company three times a week and dance in some of its productions.

Beyond that, though, they have their own repertoire, including pieces created specifically on them, and their own touring programme.

“I think these young people need to dance and dance a lot.  We take them to cities the main company doesn’t go to, they dance in all kinds of stages, museums, parties, dinners…  

They gain experience.  And because of that, the ones that have now gone into the main company, they’re not afraid of anything – you can throw anything at them.”

The junior company is not only for young dancers, though.

“My belief is that the junior company is also there for young technicians that we bring on tour every year, young composers, young designers, young choreographers.”

Meisner himself is also an accomplished choreographer and has created works for the main company as well as the juniors.

He is, in short, having the time of his life – and is justly proud of what the junior company has achieved in its short life.

“Last year we had seven out of 12 that went straight into the main company and three remained in the Junior, so we kept most of them. One went to the Birmingham Royal Ballet and another to America.  So, it’s working.”

And with this, we came to an end. The afternoon’s rehearsal was about to begin.

“I must give them some notes!”

And off he went to do what he likes best – spend time in the studio with his young dancers.


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