TAITMAIL Age should not weary us

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Next month the Arts Council publishes its annual diversity report, offering a series of webinars on how to do diversity. 


“Diversity and equality are crucial to the arts and culture because they release the true potential of our nation’s artistic and cultural talent – from every background” ACE says on its website. 
 
Quite right. The arts of all pursuits should be blind to everything not associated with the creative process – colour, disability, gender. Sadly, there is one category that represents 18% of the population that won’t come into consideration.
 
That percentage is our over-65s, more and more of whom are expected to work into their 70s and beyond because of their good health and well-being, and to relieve the burden on the state. But not in the arts.
 
Artists don’t stop being creative as they age. When he was old and too ill to paint, Henri Matisse turned to paper cut-outs, and invented a new medium. 
 
My friend Philip Sutton (pictured here) is 90. He has recently moved to a new studio with better light and new vistas, and is revisiting a theme he worked on 25 years ago and finding new aspects, enough for a whole exhibition that will open in March. It will be a success because he is still popular, his paintings selling steadily.

Opening at Southwark Playhouse in February is Bodies, produced by a husband and wife team, Tricia Thorns and Graham Cowley, as Two’s Company. They are both what we used to describe in our fey British way “senior citizens”, but every year they seek out and present a play from the 20thcentury that they think will have a resonance today. 
 
Cowley and Thorns have been unearthing forgotten classics since 2003. The first one, John Van Druten’s London Wall of 1931 about sexual double standards in office politics, got a West End transfer and was revived again five years ago when The Guardian’s Michael Billington wrote: “What strikes me is how the commercial theatre of yesteryear acquires an archaeological fascination over time”, a play “that reminds us of a lost era – when middlebrow drama had a social purpose”. But there is no subsidy support for what they do.
 
The new play is the minutely constructed Bodies by a one-time popular and prolific playwright, James Saunders, now more or less forgotten, which examines infidelity and friendship in marriage.
 
Last year one of our most influential choreographers, Richard Alston, announced he was leaving his job as artistic director of The Place, and that he was disbanding his dance company after 25 years. The reason is negative: Not so much his age, he’s 70, as the fact that he isn’t young.
 
ACE have let it be known that they would rather fund touring young companies and dance-makers. Alston, knighted in the New Year honours, is philosophical about it. “I’ve worked quietly here (at The Place where the Richard Alston Dance Company is ending its residency) with my company for 25 years, and the work that I do now has more knowledge behind it than when I first started the company”. 
 
He is far from retiring and believes he is doing his best work, because of his experience. He has been commissioned by a festival in Virginia to make a piece commemorating the arrival of the first Africans in 1619, and he is working with music from the time, by Monteverdi, as he did for a piece at the start of his career. “Now I can see how musically naïve that was compared to what I take the trouble to do now. And that’s maturity”.
 

 

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