This morning I rose while the wilis were still abroad and drove 26 miles to meet some of these lovely people. They are the staff of Northern Ballet and this morning they invited us to breakfast and a show at their magnificent premises at Quarry Hill in Leeds.
Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre for the show.
As you have often been told, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Well we learned from Leanne Kirkham that there is no such things as a free breakfast either. "You can't come to a ballet school and not expect to move" said Leanne, "especially after a free breakfast." So she had us sitting up straight in our seats, reaching for the ceiling and stretching our arms. "Eight to the right! Eight to the left" "Then four and four." "Two and two," And finally "Four singles to right and left." Just as in glissés. "But I only had a bacon butty and a cup of coffee" I said to myself.
Leanne was followed by Mark Skipper, the company's Chief Executive Officer. who belted out an impressive list of achievements. Taking London by storm with Gatsby. The best ballet centre in Europe with 7 studios. Tours in every part of the UK and many overseas,. And a remarkable return on investment for Ugly Duckling.
Next we had interviews with Pippa Moore and Matthew Topliss who demonstrated some of the lifts that we see in a pas de deux. Moore is one of my favourite dancers and she was wonderful in Midsummer Night's Dream. I can't think of a better way to start the week than watching her and Topliss.
Last on the bill was the Technical Director Andy Waddington who took us through the 2 year long process of building a ballet in 10 minutes.
At the end of the presentations we got an opportunity for questions. In my review of Midsummer Night's Dream I mentioned a video in which the dancers acted one of the scenes that they were about to dance. As Moore was one of the dancers in that sequence I asked her whether that dialogue was a one off or whether they exchanged a dialogue in every ballet. "Oh we do that all the time" said Moore. "We act it first and then dance the steps."
Someone suggested that Leeds should seek to become European capital of culture on the proposition that it was the second cultural centre after London. As a proud Mancunian I am not letting anyone get away with that. Yes Leeds has Northern Ballet and Opera North but we have the Hallé, the Royal Exchange, Media City, The Lowry, The Royal Northern College of Music, Chethams and more museums and theatres than most can shake a stick at. I imagine that Glaswegians who host Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera and the people of Birmingham with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra might also have a thing or two to say about Leeds's pretensions.
The title of this company is not Leeds Ballet, nor even Yorkshire Ballet but Northern Ballet. It is an institution in which everyone north of the Trent and south of the Cheviots can take pride. I have often argued that the communities along the M62 corridor should think of themselves as a regional city just as those along the San Diego Freeway do in Southern California. After all the Coastal Range is much higher than the Pennines. Cities like Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Bradford should learn to integrate for that is the only way to counter the pull of London. In that regard it should never be forgotten that Northern Ballet started as Northern Dance Theatre in Manchester.
After the presentations we were invited to tour the building starting with the top floor with the familiar Studio 7. We were taken from there to a board room with swan wallpaper and panoramic views of Leeds. Then to more studios on the floors below with wardrobes, meeting rooms and the technical department.
Finally, some of us had one to one interviews with Mark Skipper, Laraine Penson, head of communications or Jon Ingham, head of fundraising. I was allocated 10 minutes with Mr. Ingham. He told me about some of the ways to help the company such as sponsoring a dancer and becoming a friend or patron. Northern Ballet has given so many people so much pleasure over the last 44 years or so. Would it not be nice to do them a good deed in return?