SOTA12 Will Gompertz interviews Arlene Phillips

Uploaded by artscouncilofengland on 20.02.2012

Arlene Phillips OBE.
Arlene obviously is well known as a writer,
as a dancer, oh, and also as a choreographer.
In the late '70s - she made that point to me, late '70s -
she founded Hot Gossip.
In the mid-'80s she choreographed Duran Duran
in Wild Boys, the video, which was...
Do you remember that? Wasn't that fantastic?
Has since choreographed numerous West End shows.
Has to leave here at five to three to go and help out with Andrew Lloyd Webber
on his Wizard of Oz show.
And, of course, is well known - no, famous, come on -
for being on Strictly Come Dancing,
and famous for leaving Strictly Come Dancing,
which no doubt we'll discuss in a minute.
The subject of our chat... It's going to be a chat, Arlene.
The subject of our chat is, is television any good for the arts?
Does television do good art, I think, is the big question.
We might be coming to you during the conversation.
But the first thing to ask you, Arlene, is, does television do good art?
Well, I think television is actually doing some fantastic art at the moment.
I was riveted by Anne Beresford's film of One Man Walking,
which to me is art, it's contemporary art.
It's using the dance of the day
and dance as a message.
And when I think back to the way
that locking and popping and everything was done in the '70s,
to what it's become now, an art form, I just think it's phenomenal.
So I think television does do good art.
I think, you know, Andrew Lloyd Webber, as you speak of him...
His programme on his passion for the Pre-Raphaelites was about art,
but it was spoken with such feeling and from the heart
that I think it reached out to a lot of people.
However, I do think television should be doing more art,
and whatever we call art...
What do you call art?
You know what, what I truly call art
is something that when I was growing up
was the reserves of the intellectuals and the middle classes
and, you know, art as in wonderful artists,
art as in classical dance.
Art was something that I aspired to,
but in my school I was the odd one out.
So I saw it as something that one had to step into
and if you came from a working-class family
and you came from someone that didn't have any money,
it was a big step to get into the arts.
I sat in the gods at the Palace Theatre
watching what was then Festival Ballet and...
But I really was a sort of an odd one out.
Now I think art is much, much wider
and people want to embrace it.
Take the Hockney exhibition.
And not only is the Hockney exhibition extraordinary
but it has that wonderful piece
of the dancers in his studio doing tap and ballet.
Now, that in itself is art but it's art for everyone,
it's art for the masses,
and I think that giant step that I used to take when I was small
has got smaller and smaller and smaller.
You mention the Hockney exhibition, a huge show,
and, of course, the Leonardo and the Freud will be a huge show,
and interestingly at the end of last year
the Turner Prize went up to the BALTIC and it did an enormously good trade.
And yet, put the Turner Prize on television and it dies on its arse.
Ah, but dies on its arse
is how television is done.
What makes television appeal to people?
Where do you go from an artsy programme
that appears to only be about art
and speaks to people that they know can understand art?
As opposed to reaching out,
finding the people who can talk about art with a passion,
not only with an intellect but with a passion,
and the words that reach a lot of people.
I mean, you take a letter from a lawyer
and most people cannot understand it,
and yet that's why lawyers are sort of held
in such high, great respect.
It's because they can talk in a language that few people understand.
Now, few people are the masses,
and the language that brings art to them,
even the Turner Prize, whatever it may be,
has to be spoken in a language that everyone can understand
and it's made to feel that everybody belongs.
So do you think too many arts programmes are pitched too high
or for too narrow an audience?
I wouldn't say too many, but I would say quite a number of them are,
or shown at times when people aren't actually watching television.
You have to be a specialist searching through your Radio Times
to find what you want on a channel that you want,
and I think it's important that all of the arts are crossing...
I know that Channel 4 is doing a great deal.
Recently BBC Four did the programme on the musicals.
I think they need to be on our main channels.
We need to stop sort of discerning that the arts will be, well, maybe on BBC Two
but, no, it really should be BBC Four.
ITV, fine if it's 10:30 on a Sunday night.
Reach out to people. I believe it's what people want.
But, you know, we've both talked a bit about Strictly in the past.
You've talked much more about it than I have,
but I wrote an article, I don't know, three or four years ago...
- 2008. - Was it? Yeah.
Yeah, fascinating. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, 2008, yeah.
Where I argued that Strictly Come Dancing
was a new form of arts programming
because it had driven the amount of people
going to places like Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House right up.
It engaged people in dance.
It was no longer seen as a fringe or silly thing or slightly camp thing.
It was something that everybody could get involved with
and the figures for dance as an art form
have risen hugely since Strictly came round.
I got a lot of criticism from people in the arts, maybe even one or two here,
to say that isn't an arts programme. What's your view?
I actually think of Strictly Come Dancing as entertainment,
and I will tell you why. Because it's based on ballroom and Latin.
Now, ballroom and Latin have always wanted to be seen
as an Olympic sport.
Therefore it is considered to be something...
let's say, dance but less of an arts form.
And they see themselves as really ready to gear up to the Olympics
rather than pure artistic dance.
- However, it did bring dance... - But how does it differ?
How does it differ? I think that...
It doesn't differ...
It's using your body to express yourself, to...
- Blah, blah, blah. - I'll tell you why and how it differs.
- (laughter) - And it is about the body.
It's taking shows...
I'm going to refer once again to this film, One Man Walking...
..where street dance, as it was...
I mean, I was doing a programme called Strictly Dance Fever
about... I can't remember how many years ago,
where it was all about street dance.
And everyone came along to audition wearing white,
mostly with gaps around the stomach and too much flesh,
flat trainers, bleached hair.
That was street dance.
It's only because you get people like Kenrick and different people
turning dance into an art form.
And, as yet, ballroom and Latin, there have been many, many shows
and there have been many, many uses of ballroom and Latin,
but it hasn't yet taken that step into an art form
because it isn't, and has rarely been, used for storytelling.
And I think when you think of classical dance,
when you think of contemporary dance,
yes, there are pieces that are just standalone,
but it's part of storytelling.
With Midnight Tango, that I recently produced with Vincent and Flavia,
there is a story and it is trying to take dance
and turn it into an art form.
But just splashing a minute and a half of dance,
a minute and a half of dance, a minute and a half of dance
is not yet in itself an art form.
So the issue here, I think,
is what is the difference between arts and entertainment?
So my argument with this Strictly article
was that it was driving lots of people to go and try dance in the theatre
who wouldn't have done so before,
who became more confident with that art form.
But what is the difference for people in television, for viewers?
Is there a difference between arts and entertainment?
- I believe there's a big difference. - Beyond just dance.
There is a big difference in arts and entertainment.
Entertainment on every level
is usually something that is instant gratification.
You see it, it's gone. You see it, it's gone. You see it, it's gone.
Art is something that you have to engage with
for a longer period of time than... if you don't like it,
that minute and a half's gone and you walk away from it.
And I think one of the interesting things on So You Think You Can Dance...
Another programme I did for the BBC, sadly cancelled,
because I think in itself it was groundbreaking
because it started to bring in art to an entertainment format.
There were many phenomenal choreographers.
But within that minute and a half,
as opposed to Strictly where you do a minute and a half of just dancing
to music that often doesn't belong to the dance you're doing at all -
it's populist music -
on So You Think You Can Dance there was a wonderful piece
that Rafael Bonachela came to do
that in a minute and a half had the most engaging story.
It was heartbreaking, and many, many people suddenly realised
and took to their hearts contemporary dance and that form of dance.
And there were others.
Matthew Bourne did a piece from Swan Lake,
which, although thousands upon thousands of people have seen it,
it hadn't yet reached the instant eight million on one programme
that suddenly saw the Cygnets from Swan Lake.
And so I think So You Think You Can Dance
was definitely the beginnings of crossing art and entertainment.
But it has to be more than just dancing.
- But it got cancelled, right? - It sadly has been cancelled, yes.
- Why? - Viewing figures.
We were on quite early, I guess. I mean, that's the question.
You know, you're talking about art and entertainment, where do they cross,
and should the BBC actually be going constantly for viewing figures?
You know, the BBC... should it have the same targets set
as other television programmes that aren't funded?
OK, let's see. Who thinks...
- (laughter) - Hands up.
Who thinks the BBC shouldn't chase ratings?
OK. And who thinks the BBC should chase ratings?
Is that Mark Bell at the back there?
OK, well, there you go. So the BBC shouldn't chase ratings.
But then what happens... OK, that's the general feeling.
And I think there's a lot of sympathy for that
throughout the media and people who watch telly.
But Friday night, Saturday night, BBC One,
if you're the controller of BBC One, Danny Cohen,
and you put a show on at seven o'clock in the evening,
which is your show, Strictly I Can Do Art or whatever it might be,
and it gets 200,000 viewers,
and ITV have got something a little bit more commercial, say,
and it does ten million, you're going to get everybody saying,
"Why are we paying a licence fee for television that nobody watches?"
Yes. You know what, I absolutely can't knock that.
You know, you do have to get viewers watching programmes.
You do have to draw the audience to watch your programmes.
But how do you do that?
You need not just your programme. You need the media involved.
But people have to be brave.
I mean, you know, I remember I watched Sherlock.
Now, I thought that was one of the most riveting programmes
that's been on television today.
Now, who knew that something like that
could bring the vast audience to it?
The BBC, ITV...
I don't think anybody knows what will bring an audience to it and why.
If we did, everybody would have that magic potion in the glass
and they would just pour it out whenever they wanted.
I think the media have a lot to do with it.
I think the media can, quite frankly, possibly make or break a programme.
I think they can talk about it.
They can make people feel that if they don't watch something
they're not part of a club.
And I've often sort of looked at something in a newspaper,
not necessarily a review, it can be an article about something,
and I go, "I've missed that. I have to see it." And you're drawn to it.
And I think, you know, hand in hand, the media and the broadcasters
must try new things, must try to develop programmes.
Of course, everybody's got to go for things,
but I don't think anybody ever knows what will bring ratings
or why ratings rocket and why they disappear.
- It's that unknown thing, isn't it? - It is. It is.
Arlene, can you give me an example of television doing bad art?
Bad art? Oh, goodness.
Bad art. Well...
A rubbish television programme covering the arts.
Well, I can't think of a rubbish television programme covering the arts.
However, I do think there's a way
to have an entertaining way of covering the arts.
Now, I would love to do The One Show for art and dance.
The One Show attracts a lot of people.
There is so much going on all over the UK
that people don't know about.
There are the most fascinating dance communities.
There's a Brazilian form of dance called Zouk
that people are living and breathing.
There are hundreds and thousands of people all over the country
doing Zumba and salsa,
and there are many, many forms of dance and art
that people don't know are going on, where to find it...
Talking about it, making it entertaining,
letting people know, a vast audience.
Not only has Sadler's Wells got the most amazing programming,
but many of those pieces go out
and they need to reach and be known about to everybody,
not just the people who are searching for the arts,
who are looking in the newspaper to find it.
Because it's proved by giving this to people, they love it.
They love art as entertainment.
And I think we can build art into entertainment.
Let me ask you, then, a tricky question.
- Go on, trick me away. - It's quite tricky.
How would you get a big audience to watch the Turner Prize?
Oh, I would absolutely find
the most popular... the Brian Cox of the art world.
- That's, you know... - Or just get Brian Cox to do it.
Or Brian Cox to do it, yes, absolutely.
Find people who just, by the way that they speak,
the way they can express their passion...
And it may come, as you say, from a different...
I wouldn't put Jeremy Clarkson there to do it, but...
Why not? Why not? Maybe that's exactly what it needs.
Well, maybe, but there are people who are interesting and entertaining,
and they should cross-platform them.
It doesn't mean somebody that is knowledgeable about the arts
and can spout every fact
would necessarily make the most entertaining person
to host the programme.
But, goodness knows, there are so many fascinating and riveting people.
Give it to them and turn that into entertainment.
Talking of fascinating and riveting people, Arlene, of which you are one...
Thank you.
You are saying quite clearly, I think, to all of us
that you think for arts to make a big impression on television
it's really about the presenter bringing an audience with them.
Do you think within the arts coverage on television
that the breadth and type of presenters is correct?
Do you think, Arlene, for example,
there are enough mature women on the box?
- (laughter) - Ooh!
One, two, three, four...
You know what, I...
This issue of mature women,
I think personally, starts in the home.
And if you...
At the moment I think we are, in 2012, 2011,
in awe of clever children.
Children that can write, that can sing, that can do things, you know,
as an adult would,
forgetting that for clever children eventually the gap closes
and they're not children any more.
And, I think... Do we even respect older people?
We are not a nation that actually really embraces the old.
The old, as we look at television and television news, are outcast.
And it has to start in the home.
It has to start in every family
so they start to love and embrace people as they get older,
not think that every wrinkle means they're outcast.
And it has to start so that, as young people are growing up
and young people come into television or wherever they are,
they are looking out and embracing older people
and what they can bring and their insight.
And at the moment I think it's everywhere.
It's just like, you know, older people are being sort of slightly crushed,
and I don't think it's particularly just on television.
I don't particularly think it's just with women.
I just think we are in, at the moment,
a situation where youth is admired
beyond almost any time before.
So you think that if some personalities,
who are on television, who are more mature, were presenting the arts,
that would be a good thing?
I think we should have a complete mix.
I think there are many young and fascinating people
and there are great, great young presenters on television.
But I think there should be a mix.
I think there should be a real mix on every programme of young and old.
I think it makes it interesting.
I don't think there should be programmes that are particularly led
by, you know, a mature team.
I think a mix is great.
The other thing, I suppose, about arts and television
which is increasingly becoming an issue is,
if you've got something quite fringe or quite difficult or avant-garde,
which is going to get a small audience, why not just put it out digitally?
Why not just put it on YouTube?
What's the role of television within all that?
Well, I think the role of television has to know
that everything will be seen eventually digitally, but...
There's no question there are young people
who only watch television via a computer,
and constantly use it.
It hasn't as yet reached...
That's why sometimes when they have television award programmes
this obscure programme will actually win an award,
and that's simply because people are voting online.
But why not do the show the BBC cancelled, why not do that online?
I think that the cost at the moment of doing something online...
That was a very expensive show.
They were bringing choreographers, extraordinary choreographers in,
and dancers and artists in.
You could not yet put that money to do something online
and create it for online,
unless you get support of some huge financier.
It just isn't possible.
I don't think it's possible at all, as yet.
And as media, you know, in a way, doesn't...
It proliferates, which makes finding audiences harder.
TV audiences even now are half what they were a few years ago.
What do you think the prognosis for arts on television is?
It is an area which does struggle to get an audience.
It's not like motor racing or sport or whatever.
How do you see sort of that tension evolving?
I think that all television companies
will find themselves presenting arts.
A, because it's what people want,
and, B, because they have a duty to do it, they really do.
They have a duty to bring to people
more than just cheap entertainment.
And I have to say, I've been asked to do something
and I don't even know whether I will or not.
But I have to say I was asked to do something by Channel 5,
and I'm not a big Channel 5 watcher - this is coming up -
and I was really quite surprised because it is...
- We're intrigued, Arlene. What is it? - It is to do with theatre.
And it sort of took me aback.
First of all I sort of looked at what it was and I was thinking,
"My goodness, well, that's really interesting."
And I do think that television companies
will look at the various art forms, including theatre,
and start embracing them even more.
Was this a reality sort of idea?
No, it's sort of a mix.
It is a slight reality idea.
But everything has to move on.
I love at the moment that English National Ballet
are creating a ballet with Flawless, the...
- Street dance people. - Street dance.
And bringing that kind of street entertainment
and the pure art of classical dance together,
it's trying to look and engage and embrace using new ideas,
and I think that, as dance and the arts is all about new ideas,
television will have to embrace it. People will want it more and more.
I know for a fact that when Strictly Come Dancing began on television
dance shoe companies were going out of business.
They had high rents, they were in Covent Garden.
They couldn't any longer exist.
Now they can't make dance shoes fast enough.
They've expanded, they've expanded into dancewear, dance clothes.
So that's widened.
That's definitely where art and industry and entertainment have all collided,
and although it isn't the most artistic programme in the world,
it is about dance.
And, you know, more of that,
more of the coming together,
then I think the arts are going to be all right.
And I pray they're going to be all right.
So before we finish, I want to ask the audience,
hands up if you think TV does good art.
And hands up, people who think TV does not do good art.
So marginally less. Arlene Phillips, audience, thank you very much indeed.
- Thank you. - (applause)
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