Whilst Theresa May flexes her Brexit plans in the face of Michel Barnier, the young graduates of Britain’s dance schools warm up for their daily classes all over Europe. Half of the 2018 graduates of Elmhurst Ballet School, a British, elite, classical ballet training academy, are in jobs across Europe. Just five years ago, twelve out of sixteen graduates made their way to Europe’s glittering stages. British trained dance artists, and particularly choreographers, are paving the way into experimental choreography and gaining fame on international platforms. In a previous interview, Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, sings the praises of both Wayne McGregor and Chis Wheeldon.
“In Britain, we’ve got choreographers that people around the world want.”
British dance is acclaimed globally, but particularly in Europe. Highly skilled individuals, from choreographers to lighting technicians are employed in Britain, and are often seconded around the world to educating others. The British arts scene itself employs more than two million people nationally and in 2016, contributed nearly £92 billion to the UK economy. In 2017, 45% of UK creative industries service exports went to the EU, 8,744,590 people (including several million European tourists) watched performances of British musicals, and British orchestras made almost 100 visits to EU countries. The decision to leave the European Union has led British and European artists into a state of confusion. For some, like English National Ballet director and prima ballerina, Tamara Rojo, the loss is even greater. “On a personal note, I am for the first time considering leaving the UK, which has been my home for more than 20 years. As yet, I do not know what my rights will be post-Brexit.”
On the other side of the English Channel and gulf of Brexit strategies, Rachael, soloist with EuropaBallett speaks of her fears for the future.
“We just don’t know what is going to happen.”
Having begun her dance career in 2016, she sees this as a limit to future possibilities for British dancers. “Last year it was so easy. I just booked flights and flew over for my audition. I am worried about how complicated it will be when Brexit comes into play”.
Uncertainty plays a key role: work permits, leave to remain and travel visas will inevitably affect how dancers move around the industry, however, it is not clear how this will occur. Others are more willing to take events as they come. Damani, 2013 alumnus of Elmhurst Ballet School, is currently a ballet soloist at Moravské Divadlo Olomouc in the Czech Republic. “Where I work there are many Brits. We all have an attitude of ‘we can’t do anything, so we can’t worry yet’. It doesn’t stop us speculating though.”
The effect on the arts industry is broad, from individual work opportunities to EU copyright law. After 29 March 2019, government will have to, according to the House of Commons library, investigate “between 15% and 50%” of English Law that involves EU obligations “of some sort”. This includes laws that affect the arts. Arts Council England have recommended a review into maintaining and reviewing EU laws around intellectual property, copyright and tax. However, it is unlikely that this will be high on the government’s agenda.
The British ballerinas abroad are left waiting in the wings: with just five months to go before the official exit date, they remain unsure about where they might go, or be able to go in the future. One thing that is likely, is that their plight might be further exacerbated by a government that tiptoes around the issue.