“Of course my editor funded my trip to Amsterdam to come and see Present/s. Nine world premieres in two days – that’s really special!” The journalist from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is looking forward to the performances. Equally enthusiastic, her colleague from Süddeutsche Zeitung suggests that we apply to the Guinness Books of Records. “What you’re doing has never been done before!” She too has come selbstverständlich to the Netherlands to write about Present/s. Reviews will likewise appear in the New York Times and the Financial Times. Although not (how odd!) in NRC Handelsblad.
Why are the international quality papers reporting on Present/s, but we can’t read a review in ‘our own’ NRC? The dance critic from the newspaper in question apologises. Her editor gave her the choice – a preview or a review. She chose the former, although she would rather things were otherwise. But why was there room in the NRC Handelsblad to cover the New York Philharmonic’s visit in the same week, with a long preview and two photos, as well as a serious review? Incidentally, if the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has a single world premiere on its programme, it’s a foregone conclusion that there’ll be an interview with the composer beforehand and a review afterwards. What would the newspaper do if the orchestra were to programme two world premieres, or three, or four? That would be celebrated as a wonderful, unprecedented sensation – and rightly so! The Dutch National Ballet is presenting no fewer than nine new works. And not just by any Tom, Dick or Harry of the dance world. Surely it must be significant that the event is attended not only by the international press, but also the directors of the Bolshoi in Moscow and La Scala in Milan, among others?
It’s not the first time the Dutch quality press has made choices like this. It may have something to do with the fact that most of the national papers actually employ their music journalists, whereas they hire freelancers to write about dance. And the freelancers are paid by word, so the shorter the pieces, the cheaper it is. That makes it easy to economise. But the real problem is not even the lack of money. It’s about what that money is spent on. In other words, the choices that are made. So it’s difficult to conclude otherwise than that dance is still taken less seriously in the Netherlands than music.
It’s exactly the same in Hilversum, incidentally. The media funds are paying for a whole Netherlands Broadcasting Music Center, including orchestras and a big choir. And besides that, many broadcasting companies record concerts by other orchestras. There’s even a radio station especially for classical music, and Hilversum makes recordings of opera performances for TV and radio as a matter of course. All in all, we’re talking millions of Euros a year. It’s only for dance recordings that there’s hardly any budget. Here, too, the dance correspondents apologise. They say they can’t do anything about it. It’s just how the system works in Hilversum.
It’s nothing to do with the number of viewers. Comparing recent ratings for classical ballet with those for opera or classical music gives no reason at all for the difference in treatment. On the contrary. And neither is the subordination of dance anything to do with audience reach. It’s no coincidence that objective research has shown that – despite the subordination in the media – the spontaneous reputation of the Dutch National Ballet is much higher than that of most of our fellow performing arts organisations. Let’s say there are plenty of facts that justify greater attention being paid to dance and ballet. But apparently they don’t count.
The dance critics can’t do much about it. They do want to write, but they don’t get the space from their bosses. So from their perspective, it’s understandable that they think we’re stupid to have planned Present/s in the same period as the Holland Dance Festival. “Can’t you plan around each other in the future?” On due consideration, of course, that’s nonsense. As if the Volkskrant asks the prime minister to postpone his press conference just because there’s so much news about the goings-on in the PvdA party. And in future couldn’t the NS rail company wait a bit with their icicles in the points until the news about the Elfstedentocht has died down a bit?
Meanwhile the media landscape is changing rapidly. Newspapers are losing ground every year, new television models are seeing the light of day and internet is rapidly taking over the role of information provider. So our dependence on the ‘old’ media is decreasing. It’s just a matter of time until the arts editors realise that they, too, have to move with the times. And until they in turn have explained that to those sharing out the money. And until those people in their turn have understood that they have to make different choices. But the question is – how long will it still take?< blog archive