|Centenary Square, Bradford|
When I go to the ballet more or less anywhere in the country and look around me I find that most of the audience look like me. Predominately middle aged. Predominately female. Predominately middle class. And overwhelmingly white.
That is odd because the dancers on stage are young. There are men as well as women. They come from all backgrounds, races and cultures. Maybe not yet quite in proportion to the population as a whole but they are a good deal more representative than their audience.
Why should that be? It's too expensive say some. Well the main stage of Covent Garden is a bit pricey and the Grand and Lowry are not exactly cheap but I've seem some excellent shows in The Linbury, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre and the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre for £20 or less. That's not much more than the cinema and it's a damn sight cheaper than Premier League football. Ballet is too remote say others. Well the Birmingham Royal Ballet has just finished a successful tour of the medium sized towns of Northern England, the Midlands and the South and Northern Ballet started a very similar tour in Doncaster. I think the problem lies with the audiences. It is after all middle aged, middle class white women like me who tend become justices of the peace and head teachers and generally represent petty authority.
So what can be done about it? One possible solution is offered by BP. It is sponsoring the transmission of La Bohème and Don Giovanni by the Royal Opera and Romeo and Juliet by the Royal Ballet from Covent Garden to big screens in parks and city squares around the country which the public can watch absolutely free. One of those screens is in Woolwich where little Vladimir lives. Another is in Centenary Square in Bradford where a friend's sewing class meets. All the members of that class save one are of Indian or Pakistani heritage. When my friend said that she was going to the ballet one night she was met with incredulity. None of the ladies in the class had actually seen any ballet but they were pretty sure that it wasn't for them. When asked why they replied "Oh they serve alcohol in the bar" and "it's too expensive." Well, consuming alcohol in public is banned in Bradford city centre and admission to Centenary Square is free and open to all. That does not mean that the members of the class and their families will come to Centenary Square but they have two less excuses for not coming.
Let's hope it is a warm autumn evening in Bradford (and indeed the rest of the country) on 22 Sept when Romeo and Juliet is to be screened. Let's also hope that the crowd will be a microcosm of the city, young as well as old and middle aged, male as well as female and of Afghan, African, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Kurdish, Pakistani, Polish, Ukrainian as well as Anglo-Saxon heritage.
By the way, if you do go to Centenary Square and feel a bit peckish after the show you should try the Kash (short for the Kashmir) at 27 Morley Street. That is a few hundred yards from the big screen. The Kash is one of the oldest curry houses in the city if not the country. It proudly states on its fascia board that it was established in 1958. It is a Bradford institution along with Salt's Mill, the Alhambra, National Media Museum, the cathedral and Centenary Square. The Kash may not be the best restaurant in Bradford but it is certainly the best value. A couple can feast on fish pakora, onion bhaji, a chicken curry, with salad and rice or naan and maybe a jug of lassi and still have change from £20. If you want to see what other people think of it take a look at the tripadvisor page.