Darcey Bussell to front BBC’s search for UK’s best young dancer

BBC is devoting year of programming to music and dance including how to make a pop song and ballet documentaries

The BBC is devoting a year of specially commissioned programming to the worlds of music and dance, from the arias of La Traviata to the acclaimed BalletBoyz and banjo-toting hillbillies, as part of director general Tony Hall’s promise to increase the corporation’s commitment to the arts.

Among the new shows will be the launch of a dance talent contest, BBC Young Dancer 2015, as well as documentaries examining everything from the origins of ballet, how to make a pop song and the story of contemporary dance. Footage will be broadcast of the BalletBoyz award-winning show at London’s Roundhouse last year.

Hall, who in March last year promised the “strongest commitment to the arts in a generation”, said the Year of Song and Dance 2015 was “bold, imaginative and it is exactly what the BBC should be doing”.

Launching the season at Sadlers Wells, he said: “I’m here because dance, song, art in its broadest sense, matter hugely to me and I know how much the BBC can offer the arts world and also our viewers when it comes to doing something really bold … The BBC acting as a creator but also an enabler, working with some of the really talented people in the arts and culture more broadly. It’s one of those things I love, which is all parts of the BBC coming together to do bigger things. This is about putting artists centre stage.”

Other commissions include Petula Clarke exploring the magic behind the French chanson, meeting artists such as Jane Birkin, while composer and musician Neil Brand will examine the makings of a pop masterpiece, including songs from Elvis Presley to The Beatles. American comedian Reginald D Hunter will embark on a road trip from North Carolina to New Orleans to journey through the songs of the American South.

BBC Young Dancer 2015, which will begin in April, will see future talent compete in four categories of dance – ballet, hip-hop, South Asian and Contemporary, with the final to be aired on BBC Two in May.

Retired ballerina, and current Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell was announced as a co-presenter and dance expert on the show, while others on the judging panel will include ballet Star Carlos Acosta and acclaimed choreographer and dancer Matthew Bourne. The contest is open to dancers under 20.

“Dance and music play such a significant role in people’s lives, and the BBC is unique in being able to offer such a fantastic platform to new young talent, which is why I wanted to be involved in BBC Young Dancer,” said Bussell. “It will let the audience, the world, see the work, the sweat, the passion, the extraordinary discipline that you need to excel in this art and I am very excited.”

She was echoed by Kenneth Tharp, chief executive of The Place who will also sit on the judging panel. Tharp said: “I believe we are fast becoming a dancing nation. One of the wonderful things about dancing in the UK is its richness and diversity and by putting the four categories of dance – ballet, contemporary dance, hip hop and south Asian – on equal footing, the BBC is helping to raise the bar of how dance is seen and understood within the UK’s diverse cultural landscape. I hope this year will help us all to appreciate that lives without song and dance would be very, very dull indeed.”Cassian Harrison, channel editor of BBC Four, said he wanted this year to make a strong statement about the BBC’s commitment to the arts.

“I think the BBC has a really big role to play in bringing the arts to the general public, I think it is a really important part of what the BBC is about” he said. “Song and dance are possible two of the most democratic art forms, we can all, and we have all, had a go. But I don’t feel our mandate is to try to persuade or popularise particular modes of art. The BBC isn’t there to try to engineer social change and attitudes, what we are there to do is to provide things that people have a real passion and an interest in.”

He added: “Inevitably, more people are interested in pop music and Rihanna than they possibly are in opera but that doesn’t mean the BBC shouldn’t not be doing opera in the same way it shouldn’t not be doing Rihanna. But beyond that, in dedicating a year to song and dance our goal is to try to make this content seems as accessible as possible.”

Amanda Vickery and Tom Service will present a programme about the real-life drama behind one of the world’s most popular operas – Verdi’s La Traviata – on BBC Four.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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