Wednesday, 13 March 2013

SKY arts...awards. Ballet and Opera

I am naturally suspicious of the Sky Arts Awards: it's something to do with TV, which I don't like (the fundamental difference between live performance and representation on a screen is that the latter fails to create a shared experience, except in virtual, anonymous terms and denies the immediacy of a critical moment). It is supported by a network that hasn't exactly shown itself to be honest and proud. The two Scottish winners have more credibility than the awards body, suggesting that the association of the artists does more for the TV network than it does for the winners - although there is a subtle interplay there. The winners get exposure, the network gets credibility and...

Enough of the doubts for the moment. It's wonderful that two of the three Scottish National Companies have won awards. A Streetcar Named Desire from Scottish Ballet got the Dance Prize: Ghost Patrol won the Opera for Scottish Opera (with Music Theatre Wales). That's the second award for Streetcar this year.

In both cases, the works are not typical of their media. Ghost Patrol was a short opera, something that SO have been working on for the past few years (their 5:15 programme was made up of new quickies). SO are slightly obsessed with getting younger audiences - they have a special price for anyone under 26 - and getting an audience in and out in an hour is a strong strategy. Meanwhile, Streetcar had both a director and a choreographer. This isn't uncommon in contemporary dance, but reflects Scottish Ballet's interest in new approaches.

On the surface, this looks like a vindication of the policies of both companies. They get in new artists - composer of Ghost Patrol MacRae is a child of the 1970s, Streetcar choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa had not worked with a ballet company before - and give them access to the support a large company can give. Streetcar was especially intriguing: despite having a pas de deux, which was possibly the most brutal use of elegance seen on stage on 2012, it owed much more to contemporary approaches,and placed SB's discipline at the service of an almost dance theatre style.

It's also a vindication of the smaller companies who have supported artists before they arrive at the National Companies. The awards might seem to celebrate large names (their popular music section is, unsurprisingly, a joke, having Plan B on the list, a good five years after he was vaguely interesting), but the two Scottish companies gave a platform to voices not usually heard on this scale.

I am still suspicious of Sky Arts - the development of a modern canon is too important to be left to a media organisation that has not been a force for good in the UK's political media. But it would be ungracious not to celebrate the success of MacRae and Louise Welsh (who wrote the libretto), Eve Mutso and Tama Barry (who danced Blanche and Stanley), Nancy Meckler (who directed Streetcar) and Lopez Ochoa.

Or maybe Sky are just cuddling up to Scotland before independence?

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