12 September 2008

Visa Concessions

Contemporary dancers call for visa concessions to match ballet

Published Thursday 7 August 2008 at 11:05 by Lalayn Baluch

Leading figures from the contemporary dance world are up in arms after it was revealed that international ballet stars are in line for an exemption from stringent new visa regulations, but the concession is not being extended to non-classical performers.

According to officials at modern dance company Rambert, draft guidelines for the new points-based visa system reveal that the Migration Advisory Committee is considering classifying ballet as an occupation with a shortage of workers - a move that will make it easier for foreign classical performers to gain visas for the UK.

Now Nadia Stern, Rambert chief executive, is calling on the Home Office to urgently consider a similar concession for contemporary artists.

She warned that without such a provision, the organisation will struggle to bring in talent from overseas when the new rules are implemented this autumn.

She told The Stage: “This is the first indication we have had that there is going to be a distinction [between the dance forms]. It will be extremely difficult for Rambert to maintain its position if we are not able easily to continue recruiting dancers from around the world.

“The loss to the cultural life of this country will be devastating. When you are talking about internationalism, it is not just a question of bringing companies from overseas into Britain - 25% of our dancers are from outside the European Union. I am sure this is an unintended consequence of what the government is trying to do, but I would plead with them to listen to the industry, in terms of the impact that this could have if they don’t get it right.”

Stern is now calling for an urgent meeting with the advisory committee, in an attempt to ensure that contemporary dance is considered for a concession.

Meanwhile, Caroline Miller, director of advocacy body Dance UK, said she was “alarmed” by the news, and supported Stern’s call to action.

She added: “These companies attract the most exceptional dancers from across the world who specifically desire to work with leading British companies and artistic directors.

“Without their talent, Britain’s international status in dance will be diminished and the dance economy weakened.”

Sadler’s Wells director of programming Suzanne Walker added that it is vital to bring in “inter-national calibre” performers from abroad to keep up the “health and quality” of the arts.

“All dancers, whether specialising in flamenco, tango, ballet or contemporary dance, to name just a few, experience the same levels of rigorous training, and we certainly agree that contemporary dance should receive equal visa concessions,” she added.

However, a spokesperson from the UK Border Agency claimed that it had been advised by representatives of the dance world to categorise ballet separately.

He added that these representatives were working with Equity to define the code of practice for the system, which will be used to test its impact on resident artists.