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Kenneth MacMillan's production of Romeo and Juliet for London's Royal Ballet (see story about the Royal's current U.S. tour, page 14) was at the center of a scandal that raged across the front pages of Great Britain's newspapers for several weeks this past winter. Jane Brown, headmistress of the poor, multi-ethnic Kingsmead School in Clapton Park, East London, was offered a heavily subsidized trip for her school's children to see the MacMillan classic at the Royal Opera House, followed by an opportunity for some of the children to work with "a professional choreographer" and to produce "their own version."

Ms. Brown, whose concern for political correctness had already raised community hackles when she banned the school's traditional Christmas Nativity play and Santa's visit with packages for the poor, as well as insisting that students call their teachers by their first names and that children not address male teachers as sir, refused the offer of a school trip to Covent Garden on the grounds that Romeo and Juliet was "too heterosexual." A fuller statement, released later, elaborated, "Until books, films, and theater reflected all forms of sexuality," Ms. Brown "would not be involving her pupils in heterosexual culture."

She made an absurd mistake, of course, and publicly apologized for what the London Times called her "blinkered political correctness," but the toothpaste was out of the tube. She was ordered by school officials not to comment further, but her private life was soon subjected to ongoing scrutiny in the tabloids, and she faced the unhappy prospects of dismissal and an investigation on charges of influence peddling. The dispute over her refusal to take children to the ballet resulted in a constitutional debate in Britain about authority in education. Parents who came to her support said that she was a good headmistress who got excellent results, particularly among underachievers just learning to read. One of her critics, however, complained, "This sort of silly example of political correctness can ruin years of good work and give our school a bad name."

Well. It's true that Ms. Brown became a victim of her own zealous nature, but the children are victims too. She had a general point about sensitivity to political correctness being part of the educational process, but what happened to reason? She practiced a kind of censorship on impressionable young children entrusted to her care that in America would have met with ferocious protest--if, for example, Sen. Jesse Helms, who is no friend of the arts, had prevented school children from going to a free dance performance on any grounds. Ms. Brown's worst living legacy is that some children now think that there is something terribly wrong about attending the ballet Romeo and Juliet. They may be confused and unable to tell you why it's wrong, but that's what they'll remember. Zealotry--political, religious, artistic--has costly, long-term, miserable consequences.

Awards. It's that time of the year, and around here there's always a buzz of anticipation and excitement: This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the first Dance Magazine Awards (in 1954, honoring dance on TV, a fledgling art form), although the magazine's editors occasionally gave awards, somewhat informally, as early in the magazine's history as the late 1920s. (See "Dance Magazine Makes Its Annual Awards," page 18.)

This year there were 110 nominations, covering an abundant variety of dance forms and personalities. Each year the panel selects only three recipients. The selection process takes into account many aspects of the artists' careers, and it is always difficult and frustrating. But that, I suspect, is the nature of many such awards when there are so many deserving nominees.

What do we consider? Continuity is important, as is the quality of an artist's output. Quantity is also considered--the sheer weight of numerous good works.

And talent.

But talent can be both a gift and a curse. It is nearly impossible to measure, although it can be guessed at. An artist's having talent is not as important as how he or she uses the talent that's been dealt. There are a great many talented people, but not all of them have the wits to nurse their talent, to submit it to the necessary discipline, or are willing to suffer the unknown consequences of risk, which could be failure. Creative growth demands risk, and the ability to get back up after failure and go on is even more important than the ability to succeed, although success carries certain burdens as well (see feature "Alessandra Ferri: View From The Top," page 54).

Artists who do not push their boundaries, who do not risk what is known to be safe, run into serious danger, threatening to extinguish whatever is vigorous and challenging in their work. Audiences always know when an artist engages the unknown territory; they can feel it like heat; it is as tangible as cold sweat, and its scent is a healthy fear. A creative life lived like that, at the edge, making the most of talent, is a rare and magnificent thing.

That tendency, that willingness to take risks, is probably the most important quality that our award recipients share. It sets them apart. Without risk, all you have are talented technicians, and there is no shortage of those. It is the rarer form, the riskier choice, that we honor.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes assessment of Dance Magazine awards and the challenge to recognize dancers' accomplishments; controversy over headmistress' refusal to let school children see the Royal Ballet's production of 'Romeo and Juliet'
Author:Philp, Richard
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1994
Previous Article:Ka Cho Fu Getsu.
Next Article:Royals to tour U.S.A.

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