Back in January, it seemed that the theme song for 2012 would be David Bowie's Ch-ch-ch-changes.
Within months, both of our national dance companies – Scottish Ballet and Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) – would bid farewell to artistic directors whose tenure had brought renewed vigour, vision and world-class standards of excellence. The performance art scene in Scotland – and indeed the UK – had been whammied by the loss of Nikki Milican's New Territories season, while small independent companies working in dance, physical theatre and the children's sector were facing funding uncertainties under the structures and strictures being introduced by Creative Scotland. The months ahead seemed tainted not just with change but decay.
By mid-summer, however, it was possible to sing snatches of the Beatles' Hello Goodbye without a sinking sense of dread. New kids on the block Rosana Cade and Nick Anderson (aka Buzzcut) had – with no budget beyond goodwill donations, very little lead-in time and hardly any admin experience – curated a remarkable pop-up showcase of over 50 events that embraced the diverse forms that cluster under the flag of performance. Video, live action, installations and hybrid media crammed into every available space at the Old Hairdressers in Glasgow before expanding into the warren of possibilities at Glue Factory. Much of the work was by emerging artists who might not otherwise have found a public platform. Buzzcut had a raw, energising optimism that somehow harked back to the heady, can-do momentum of Glasgow 1990. Its presence is ongoing: the call-out for Buzzcut 2013 is already online.
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London 2012 – and the Unlimited commissioning fund for professional artists with disabilities – surely helped to change public perceptions of what Scottish practitioners, in particular, aspired to create if given proper access to resources. This wasn't simply about cash in hand: choreographer/performer Claire Cunningham's exquisitely funny, bitter-sweet dream-scape about relationships – in which she constructed her "ideal man" out of her crutches – was backed up by the supportive expertise of the National Theatre of Scotland. At the time, Cunningham (who was used to flinging her entire set, in a couple of golf bags, in the back of her car) had no idea that the ideas she sketched out at early meetings would be realised on-stage. For her, this was professional development of a truly liberating kind – for her audiences, it was dance-theatre that spoke from, and to, the heart of that elusive life/work balancing act.
Caroline Bowditch and Marc Brew both benefitted from Unlimited commissions, and again they both delivered dance works that channelled their particular life experiences into fresh choreographies that offered insights we could all recognise and share. Tucked away in Arches Live!, Peter McMaster's quirky, affecting all-male Wuthering Heights went where few pieces of performance have gone for a long time: he looked at the changing roles and preconceptions of men in a post-feminist society. Clearly times have been a-changing, and work like this brings cogent debates centre-stage. And of course, there were the August highlights on Edinburgh's Fringe and Festival, with the Summerhall team deciding that once-a-year wasn't long enough to make interesting art visible and accessible: their programming now runs throughout the year. Scottish Ballet's ground-breaking Streetcar Named Desire drew glowing feedback wherever it played and there were glorious showings for young people by our globally-acclaimed children's companies, Catherine Wheels, Visible Fictions, Frozen Charlotte and Shona Reppe among them. Their resilience, commitment, resourcefulness and talent makes the heart sing.
So cue that rallying cry chorus from the BMX Bandits's I'm so happy - Go back? I can't go back! Go forward? I must go forward! To which I would add: book early, book often folks. There are already goodies on the horizon of 2013.