What does the prospect of a “hard” Brexit look like from the perspective of a British artist with an international profile?
“It’s Disasterville!” says the Stockport-born, London-based director and choreographer Wayne McGregor.
“The whole arts community in the UK is so disappointed by Brexit and all the rhetoric around it. It’s just really upsetting. I’m sure there will be economic and touring problems and problems for individual dancers in terms of their being able to work. Our whole model is predicated on touring in Europe. So it’s going to be very, very interesting to see how that plays out. But much more than that, it’s the Brexit state of mind I find so worrying.”
Brexit, McGregor says, is “a shutting down of the conversation”.
“Artists are always interested in breaking down barriers and exchanging ideas. Brexit is the opposite of that.”
Company Wayne McGregor is bringing its 2015 production Tree of Codes to the Sydney Festival in 2018. Originally commissioned by the Manchester International Festival, the Paris Opera Ballet, Sadler’s Wells and 2017’s European Capital of Culture, Arhus (Denmark), it is a product of European thinking.
“I have a very mixed, multiracial team,” McGregor says. “Many of our artists are from other countries, especially Europe, and one of the things we love about being part of Europe is having the freedom to move around and share our work with audiences.”
Dance is a form uniquely able to cross boundaries. “One of the wonderful things about it is that it allows us to talk about things in a way that is beyond politics and language,” McGregor says. “Through metaphor, you can provide alternative points of view and that can change minds.”
At a deep level, dance is about the freedom to negotiate. “It’s your body working with another body,” he continues. “It’s a very powerful thing having two bodies that don’t know one another sharing weight in the studio, working out how the energy of one person can be harnessed to do something really positive with the other. It’s one the things about dance I don’t think that will ever be eroded. Whatever the political rhetoric, dance is about keeping channels of communication open.”
With the British government uncertain as to how it will achieve its Brexit agenda, this is the time for artists to step up and be heard, adds McGregor.
“There is a real role for the arts to play in the debate and certainly a lot of UK artists are being very vocal about Brexit. If you think about an opera house or theatre in London and the amount of political weight that moves through the doors everyday, these are the ideal places to have those conversations.”