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A Decade in the Arts


London's art scene has given us much to talk about over the last ten years

Brenda Emmanus
By Brenda Emmanus
BBC London's Arts and Entertainment Correspondent

BBC London's Arts and Entertainment Correspondent Brenda Emmanus takes a reflective look at the last decade and talks to key players in film, music, dance and art about the capital's performance.

I have a young daughter - a spirited, curious, witty little person; emotional and sensitive at times, and yet when she's ready Marley becomes an old soul on a youthful body - independent and hungry for adventure.

I only mention her because as I reflect on our city's artistic and cultural evolution over the last decade my mind is guided to one of my fondest memories. A day she craved creative stimulation.

I took her and her pal to the Saatchi Gallery when it re-established itself in its latest home in Chelsea.

So as we say 'TaTa' to another decade, its fair to say that the air kissing and celebratory raising of champagne glasses popular amongst the artistic and creative set is truly justified.
Brenda Emmanus

I watched with glee and amazement as 'mini me' and her sidekick weaved their way through the vast white walled spaces, fascinated by the scale of everything, attaching their own interpretations to what they saw: inspired, disgusted and sometimes scared by what confronted them.

As they sat on the floor in front of a large oil painted canvas with their books and pens, attempting to recreate the work (I can't at present remember who's art it was) I became aware of how much their lives had already been, and would continue to be enriched by such cultural activities.

Millions and millions of people have shared similar experiences as Marley and Kezia thanks to the wealth of opportunities afforded to us by our city.

As with previous decades, there has indeed been much to celebrate in the Noughties.

From the fireworks and cheers that greeted the millennium we have seen the development of some significant institutions that not only changed London, but revitalised and regenerated many parts of the capital.


Millennium Dome
The Millennium Dome in 1999 - now a world class venue

What has been great to witness is how the 'Oh no's' which accompanied the avalanche of criticism that The Millennium Dome attracted when it opened in 2000 has ceased with its transformation into the 02.

With a facelift befitting any tycoon's wife, London now boasts one of the most popular concert and event venues in the world.

The O2 Arena has played host to rock and pop royalty, and its sister venue the Indigo 2 has also allowed many a music lover to witness past and new stars, and break sweat at parties for all sorts.

Of course I, like many, was looking forward to seeing the King of Pop draw the world's attention to this North Greenwich venue, and was devastated by Michael Jackson's death.

I take solace in my numerous photo albums that hold fond memories of other great occasions such as Prince's record residency, Elton John singing in the New Year, and Babyface and Cameo helping me to relive my romances and youth….and that was just in one year!

Despite the recession theatre has thrived

Paul Stokes, the Associate Editor of NME has also shared his views on the magic moments in music over the last ten years. Watch the interview to hear his thoughts on festival fever, reality pop and how the music and lives of the likes of Amy Winehouse and Dizzee Rascal filled column inches as well as iPods.


On Thursday 4 May 2006, a rocket crashed in Waterloo Place. It smashed the tarmac and out of its smoky centre an oversize marionette emerged.

Such was our introduction to 'The Sultan's Elephant' - a show created by the French theatre company Royal de Luxe which provided the capital with the biggest piece of free theatre we have seen.

With its 40ft high mechanical time travelling Elephant and little girl - the fairytale played over three days in the streets, squares and public spaces of Central London. It was both enchanting and enjoyable - and as photo opportunities go - one of the best.


As an Arts and Entertainment Correspondent I am, of course, amongst the privileged and often cynical bunch of bods invited to be one of the first to attend premieres and launches of some of our city's great cultural and creative events.

Sultan's Elephant
The Sultan's Elephant wowed London

However, there is one major development over the past decade that for me has united us as communities, excited us as art lovers and been a first class reflection of what an ambitious cultural institution should and can achieve.

London was void of an established museum for modern art before 2000, and then came along a major new space that not only became a significant new landmark for the capital, but pumped life into an underdeveloped part of south London.

Since opening, four months after the Dome, Tate Modern has achieved the sort of ambitions now expected of the Cultural Olympiad.

Its impact on our cultural life is unprecedented. As well as creating new jobs and generating £26m per annum in its first five years of opening - this institution has proved its intrinsic and economic value beyond measure.

The vast space has been a platform for some of the greatest works of contemporary art as well as introducing us to new and exciting talents. But more significant has been Tate Modern's impact on our cultural life per se.

I will openly admit that it has won my heart for the mere fact that it has impressively, sincerely and successfully introduced the general public and the broadest of communities to modern art.

Tate Modern
Tate Modern is a space to be proud of

Like it or loathe it, they came in droves to witness the likes of Anish Kapoor's 'Marsyas' and Olafur Eliasson's 'The Weather Project' in the Turbine Hall early in the decade, and to this day, schoolchildren, tourists, parents and toddlers and pensioners march their way through the layers of the building feeding their curiosity.

For Louise de Winter, Director of the National Campaign for the Arts, free admission into our national museums and galleries has been one of the most progressive and significant developments of the decade; and if ever there was a remarkable testament to this - voila! Tate Modern.

The other Big Mammas and Papas of our cultural institutions - The National Gallery, The Royal Academy, The Serpentine, The British Museum and The V&A found that blockbuster exhibitions and big names are a reliable way to attract mass visitors.

They had their critics but in a recession ridden economy one can understand the need to err on the side of caution. I wore down my shoe heels getting up close and personal with Tutankhamun and the Terracotta Army.

I discovered the best and worst of Russian art and joined the crowds of love-struck Monet fans. Of course the decade has seen some flops on walls and plinths but generally it feels like more sunshine than rainy days.

Speaking of plinths - a space traditionally reserved for statues of kings and generals - became a site of major public spectacle.

Artist Antony Gormley's 'One and Other' project saw 2,400 selected members of the public occupy the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, an hour each for 100 consecutive days.

We saw it all; protestors, performers, activists, job seekers, supporters of worthy causes and the outright boring make the most of their 60 minutes of fame.


Of all the banks in all the world - you can walk along mine! For since 2000 when the master plan for the Southbank was produced the area has strengthened its reputation as one of our cultural and artistic hotspots.

Royal Festival Hall
Royal Festival Hall auditorium. Photo Morley von Sternberg

The Royal Festival Hall, the only surviving building from the Southbank's days as the host of the Festival of Britain in the 1950s reopened in 2007 following a two-year redevelopment.

The ambitious project cost £117.9m and restored London's iconic Grade 1 listed building to its original glory while improving its acoustics and facilities as a concert venue.

In 2008/9 over 3 million people attended paid and free events and more than 18 million visited the site.

The insertion of new shops to the low level Thames elevation has added to the buzz of the place. The pull of the National Theatre, The London Eye and the host of other nearby tourist attractions have of course served their purpose also.

I, for one, have found that when the weather is great, and the street performers and skateboarders are out, this has become one of the coolest places to hang with friends, family and eat ice-cream.


Paul James on London's decade in theatre

It's been a generally healthy decade for the theatre according to Paul James, the Society of London Theatre's Commercial Manager. Despite the economic downturn, London's theatres have done relatively well.

It appears that when the going got tough - we dug deep into our pockets and sought solace in the bosoms of the stars on stage.

Theatreland was not without its casualties and both acts of terrorism and the recession had its impact on the capital and our entertainment venues.

Of course, the smaller ones suffered more but despite this, clever, risk-taking Artistic Directors found their ways to make a mark.

The Tricycle theatre pioneered a series of tribunal plays ranging from the Stephen Lawrence tribunals to the events of Bloody Sunday.

Their one act dramas chronicling the history of Afghanistan and their showcase season of work by three award winning black British playwrights affirmed their reputation for finding innovative ways of tackling difficult subjects.

Much was expected of Kevin Spacey when he took over as Artistic Director of the Old Vic. Despite early criticisms and high expectations the actor found his feet in the role bringing big names, great productions and therefore packed houses to the venue.

The Royal Court with its support for new writers and new work excited audiences and critics alike and was rewarded accordingly.

Donmar Warehouse
The Donmar Warehouse enjoyed many successes

We proved our passion for the good old musical and amongst the trends were the jukebox musicals. Mamma Mia, Billy Elliot and We Will Rock You were amongst the major successes breaking box office records and Hairspray joined them in accumulating a string of awards and rave reviews.

The Donmar became and independent production house in 1992 with Sam Mendes at the helm as artistic director. It was only a matter of time before the space was transformed into one of the most exciting theatrical venues in the capital.

Its classic revivals, and big name stars such as Nicole Kidman, Gywneth Paltrow and Sir Ian McKellan certainly helped.

When the artistic director baton was passed to Michael Grandage in 2008, the spark did not fizzle. The Donmar has been a consistent hot ticket so much so the end of the decade saw the Wyndham's Theatre host its four major new productions .

If you got to see Kenneth Branagh in the title role of Chekhov's Ivanov, Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night, Dame Judi Dench in Madame de Sade or Jude Law in Hamlet - you can afford to be smug.

For the outstanding production of the decade - the most serious contender had to be found on the South Bank. War Horse at the National captured our imagination with this first class adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's children's book.

With masterful puppetry this love story between a boy and a beast was awe-inspiring stuff. Following two sold out seasons at the National it is still drawing crowds at the New London Theatre.


Blame it on the huge success of Strictly Come Dancing, our increasing health awareness and desire to keep fit, or the sudden urge for lycra and sequins, we have become a nation completely obsessed with dance and dancing.

Be it on ice, on the street, in a ballroom or over the Millennium Bridge we all indulged in the art and had fun.
Brenda Emmanus

The massive audience figures for Brucie and Co is just the tip of the iceberg. Other reality television shows have revealed the fact that every kid in a hoodie can bust a cool breakdance move and when its choreographed with a cute little 'un upfront - whatever our age - we are seduced.

On a professional level it was equally exciting. There have been some magic moments and some outstanding performances on our stage.

Caroline Miller, the Director of Dance UK was one many dance fans overwhelmed by the return to London of the leading light of modern dance, German choreographer and dancer, Pina Bausch. She shared her opinion on this and the other significant moments for the dance world:

"Pina Bausch returning to London after an absence of 18 years with the opening of the new Sadler's Wells had a huge impact on dance in the UK in the last decade.

"Bausch was a giant in dance and has been a huge influence on both established and the new generation of dance and theatre artists. The significance of her company returning to perform in the UK over the last decade was important because many British artists knew her legendary name, but had not had the chance to experience her amazing performances.

The Royal Ballet's Chroma. Photo John Ross

"My personal favourite moments were her company's performance of Masurca Fogo at Sadler's Wells in 2002 which showed the uplifting, joyous side of Bausch's creativity, and also the chance to see her perform in her seminal work, Café Muller, alongside her astounding version of The Rite of Spring, at Sadler's Wells in 2008. Sadly, this took place less than eighteen months before Bausch died in 2009."

Bausch was just one of many leading choreographers and dancers that graced London's dance stages inspiring professionals and general dance fans alike:

"Wayne McGregor's Chroma for the Royal Ballet which premiered in November 2006 was a major step-change for the British ballet world," claims Miller.

"You knew you were at an event when the next day it was not only given a rave review by The Guardian's dance critic, but also by the newspapers rock critic as well! McGregor brought the Royal Ballet roaring into the 21st century and the audiences and dancers loved it."

Following Chroma, McGregor was announced as the Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet.


You Tube has been a massive development for dance in the last decade - it's an unbelievable resource and treasure trove if you enjoy dance as an art form.

It's a library, an encyclopaedia, an international dance tour guide, the talent spotter's delight and an information forum.

It offers clips of famous performers and choreographers captured at the height of their artistry over the last 80 years, a chance to check out a dance show before you buy your tickets, or a window on the latest young dancers filming each other in the studio or in their bedrooms!

The Noughties has also witnessed the move of hip hop and street dance from the margins to the mainstream.

When street dance became a massive crowd puller for the big theatres and artists like Jonzi D and ZooNation began to create whole evening theatrical shows they created a new dance experience for mass audiences.

The impact of this development can be seen this Christmas on the stages of the South Bank Centre and the Barbican which are both presenting major street dance Christmas shows.


We end the decade with a handful of world premieres taking place in one week in the capital this December.

Avatar is rich in London post-production creativity

Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Where the Wild Things Are chose Leicester Square and its eager film fans to showcase to the worlds press - a reflection of the rise and rise of our city as a popular destination for filmmakers and Hollywood stars.

It has been a truly impressive decade for film. We've had the box office domination of a boy wizard and a bunch of Hobbits but audiences have remained faithful to cinema despite the increase use of the internet.

Independent and small budget films have added fresh faces and talents to the mix of big names and broadened the range of stories and voices to hit our screens.

The world has flocked to the capital to promote their films and discovered both Central London and suburbia as ideal film locations. From Bond to the stars of Slumdog Millionaire - London can take credit for showing off its broad range of on screen and creative talent to the world.

Adrian Wootton on London's decade in film

Adrian Wootton confirms our reasons to be cheerful. The Chief Executive of Film London believes we are now strong competition for the Hollywood studios, and the mega budget films have been hugely reliant on the extraordinary abilities of our production houses.

From Avatar to 2012, Bond to Harry Potter our post production houses have proved crucial to the success of these films.

So as we say TaTa to another decade, its fair to say that the air kissing and celebratory raising of champagne glasses popular amongst the artistic and creative set is truly justified.

Even in a recession!

London: The world in one city
26 Nov 09 |  People & Places
In Pictures: London's Decade
26 Nov 09 |  People & Places
In Pictures: A changing landscape
26 Nov 09 |  People & Places
Avatar gala takes place in London
11 Dec 09 |  Entertainment
Choreographer Bausch dies aged 68
01 Jul 09 |  Arts & Culture



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