Russell Maliphant’s most recent choreographic work, Vortex, is due to be broadcast on BBC4 this Sunday—the culmination of an unusual twelve months, which has seen the dance artist awarded an OBE for services to dance. His company, Russell Maliphant Dance Company, has also just lost its Arts Council England funding status as a National Portfolio Organisation.

Where a broadcast of an artist’s work might usually denote that coveted seal of approval from the cultural establishment, Vortex could also represent a swan song, or at least a huge loss.

Loss is, of course, a theme for arts and culture in this early stage of 2024—100% funding cuts have been confirmed in several constituencies and more are threatened, with a revolutionary axing of at least 50 million of investment from London, creating a shift of provision towards the Midlands and North. While the ENO will head to Manchester, numerous other performance and community outreach venues will shut their doors.

Maliphant says, "there used to be a circuit, a marketplace for the work; that doesn’t exist anymore."

As all industries flail to build resilience during this economic slump, the reliance of new theatre on public funding makes it an especially fragile gem in our national crown. But Maliphant has been making works of significance for over twenty-five years, and the fact that Vortex was filmed in-house by his producer / collaborator of six years, Martin Collins, perhaps signifies a resilience that will ease the course of what is to come.

Having been awarded National Portfolio Organisation status for five years in 2018, Maliphant built a team of practical support for his work, while enjoying the greater eco-system of organisational collaboration that comes with it. He says, "for some time in the pandemic, we were looked after by Sadler's Wells… we only really had two years of the NPO."

And this is a point worth exploring: that while companies experiencing hundreds and thousands of pounds of NPO funding in previous rounds could anticipate how to be agile in a fickle industry, those who were hit by the pandemic adapted to something wholly unknown.

"You are at home and desperate to get into the studio to play! In 2021, we did an R&D with one dancer in the studio at a time… it’s what we could do," says Maliphant, in testament to the resilience of his career.

At sixty-one, Maliphant has what he describes as a ‘protected characteristic’—age—and is a proponent of an era in which more was available to those with talent in the UK. He attended the Royal Ballet School with a government grant and, in the early days of his career, he and Olivier Award-winning artist Michael Hulls used to make work for free. His second job was as a painter-decorator.

"When you are young, you do part-time jobs, maybe you are on Universal Credit and you can make work, but it’s not sustainable."

When asked what he would say to a young dance artist starting out on the path of a sustainable career, Maliphant says, "now? I really don’t know."

It is interesting that Vortex, this latest work, features a single swinging bucket as a visual element that, along with flumes of ethereal sand, helped shape the creation process. Dancers in humble clothes reach for it as they contend with a tilting wall on which they make footholds and climb—sometimes gracefully, sometimes with effort.

This expression of lack may not be intentional, Maliphant believes that dance touches people "more deeply than words" or causal explanations. Yet, it is remarkable that such a total image of insecurity has been developed during the pandemic years and toured during this cost-of-living crisis.

The significance of Vortex’s wall and bucket is matched by other tangible objects in Maliphant’s canon of work. While Vortex was inspired by the ‘action paintings’ of Jackson Pollock, other notable works such as The Rodin Project and Afterlight drew light and movement choices from sculptures. "People think it’s freedom not to have any confines, but there is liberation from confines," he says when describing the benefits of a tactile stimulus and the wider implications for sustainable creativity.

However, Russell Maliphant also extracts storytelling from people—ways of being demonstrated by the dancers he works with. "You notice things in them," he says. This was no more evident than at the height of his pre-pandemic success in Silent Lines, when a strikingly strong ensemble comprising dancers such as Associate Artists Edd Arnold and Grace Jabbari appeared consummately synergised with the interplay of light and sound.

Pollock’s action paintings, made by throwing paint on canvas, capture an immediacy of movement in time and space, and it is this multi-dimensional quality that first attracted Maliphant to them. ‘Vortex’ by definition is "a whirling mass of fluid or air in a whirlpool or whirlwind."

It is appropriate that Russell Maliphant is sharing Vortex with us at a time of heightened flux and impermanence, both for himself and the system which has facilitated his substantial career. I ask him what he might do in the event of a new government and funding influx. He says, simply, "I would make more work."

Vortex will be broadcast on BBC4 on Sunday 21 January 2024 at 9PM.