Should dance be marketed as theatre?
I was browsing a newspaper just now and I came across a rather puzzling ad. At first glance, it appears to show three actors in some sort of playful love triangle; the girl in the middle looks familiar, might have been in some BBC drama. The one on the right looks a bit like Dervla Kirwan. The bold title underneath: 'IF PLAY IS PLAY...', seems to silence any doubt that this is a work of acting.
But then I examine closer, and spot - in tiny lettering, no doubt - 'Headspacedance' and 'The Royal Ballet Presents'. It's a piece of dance. But with an intimate photograph of faces, a list of four performers under the title, and a 'Choreography by' subtitle in the vein of a 'Directed by', it is clear what's going on here.
The Royal Opera House has done something very, very clever. It is promoting Headspacedance's new work in the vein of exciting new theatre, big name stars. It is implying that these dancers are already household names (and might I add, I am ashamed to say I do not recognise any of them, let alone should the general non-dance-watching public).
Why is this clever? Because the public want to know who these dancers are, and to boast they have seen them; to name-drop the way we seem to do with actors. Theatre is fashionable like that. Citing in conversation the name of a dancer who isn't Darcey Bussell or Wayne Sleep leaves you highly likely of being met by a blank stare. (Both of whom, we should note, have made regular prime time TV appearances - Sleep on Channel 4's'Big Ballet' and Bussell on BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing').
But, hang on a moment - a few pages back I was baffled again.
A striking image shows a young man with his splayed fingers in the foreground, gripping a cello by its neck, his fingers poised as if to slide into position ready to play. The name above the image? 'Akram Khan'.
The last time I checked, Khan was a world-renowned choreographer. Oh yes, now I see - 'National Youth Dance Company' is printed at the top. Khan is creating a work with them. Why then, is this youngster playing a cello? What does that have to do with anything?
Again, there may be some sly marketing going on here. Sadler's Wells have chosen an image which has nothing to do with dance at all, instead borrowing from music.
Or is it not as shrewd this time? Perhaps Sadler's is simply trying to reach wider audiences; to grasp the attention of music fans instead. I for one would be far more intrigued by a poster for a concert which featured a choir embracing contact improvisation, or mid-pirouette, than one simply... standing still.
And this is not to say music and dance haven't collaborated on-stage before: take Vincent Dance Theatre's 'Motherland', for example; or bgroup's 'The Lessening of Difference'. Both featured live singing and stringed instruments a-plenty. But their advertising campaigns did not feature these at the expense of the dance; in fact, the themes were most prominent, with bgroup showing a couple of dancers entwined on a bed and VDT dancer Aurora Lubos staring disturbingly, naked but for a bundle of produce in her arms. For these reasons, they intrigued.
It is one thing to blur the art discipline as these two campaigns did; to show images haunting enough to draw a reader's attention, regardless of the art form. It is another to market dance as something it is not. I'm sure Khan's 'The Rashomon Effect / Vertical Road' features a cello at some point, yes; but why not instead portray the young aspiring dancers at their most passionate - dancing?
It is saddening to think that we must mask dance in order to sell it.
That, or it is a darkly progressive step forward for dance marketing, which may just prove a genius move.