by Zeina Hechme
Ballet usually evokes contrasting reactions: you’re either an ardent lover of the dance genre; or you’re indifferent to snowflakes, firebirds and pointe shoes that have changed little since tsarist St. Petersburg. Perhaps you consider ballet to be an outdated and inaccessible art form.
However, Northern Ballet, one of the U.K’s foremost dance companies has the ability to enthrall both seasoned aficionados and ‘balletskeptics’ alike. The company places an emphasis on storytelling, resulting in ballet productions that take audiences on a journey Whether it’s the consummate talent of the dancers, the opulent visual effects, or the live music played by Northern Ballet’s very own 27-member orchestra, onlookers are guaranteed an absorbing performance. Like a dream worth recounting, places and personalities will linger in the mind long after the curtain falls.
Northern Ballet, now based in Leeds, was founded in 1969 by Canadian dancer and choreographer Laverne Meyer. Formerly known as the “Northern Dance Theatre,” the company began with only eleven dancers. In the ensuing years, the company grew in size and stature to attract Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, as its Royal Patron, and the legendary Rudolph Nureyev as Artistic Laureate and regular guest artist.
Today, Northern Ballet is headquartered in a glass and pewter-grey building that gives dancers a bright space in which to practice. The company is currently under the artistic directorship of David Nixon, the former Artistic Director of BalletMet in Ohio, and a former principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada.
Since his appointment to the position in 2001, Nixon has expanded the scope of Northern Ballet’s repertoire, creating over ten new full-length ballets for the company, such as Cleopatra, Beauty & the Beast, and The Great Gatsby, as well as impressive remakes of classics. Nixon was awarded an OBE for his services to dance, and has twice been voted Director of the Year by readers of Dance Europe.
No ordinary ballet company:
Over the years, Northern Ballet has developed a unique and varied repertoire of full-length productions, including enduring ballet classics, such as the Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake, as well as world premiere dance works. The company’s clever and distinctive versions of beloved ballet classics are capable of whisking audiences away to another time, as well as to landscapes drenched in magic and otherworldliness.
However, Northern Ballet deftly challenges the perception that some stories may be too complicated to choreograph. The company has adapted a number of stories and famous literary works into ballet, creating original productions, such as the ground-breaking 1984, based on George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, the recently-unveiled Casanova, and the dazzling Great Gatsby, amongst others.
As a result of Northern Ballet’s artistic and out-of-the-box brilliance, the company has won a host of awards, including the Best Company at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards in 2014, the Best Dance Award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2016, amongst others. Recently, choreographer Jonathan Watkins won the Best Classical Choreography Award at the National Dance Awards for Northern Ballet’s 1984.
While a fantastic score and expert choreography are among the essential ingredients for a successful ballet, the dancers are the vital elements that bring the production to life. In this connection, Northern Ballet is known for its spectacular and expressive dancers, who have been lauded by Dance Europe as the best ‘dance-actors’ in the world.
The company includes homegrown U.K. talents, as well as professionals from countries all over the world, including Italy, Cuba, Japan, Canada, and South Africa, amongst others. Many of the dancers have trained at well-known schools, like the Royal Ballet School, the Escuela Nacional de Ballet de Cuba, or the Académie Princesse Grace.
Ballet for everyone:
Northern Ballet is deeply committed to broadening its reach, and making high-quality ballet more accessible to the public. The company tours extensively in the UK, accompanied by its orchestra, the Northern Ballet Sinfonia. In 2015-2016 alone, Northern Ballet toured eight ballets to fifty-three venues, bringing the joy and beauty of ballet to new audiences, and expanding interest in the art form. Northern Ballet has also toured overseas to Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Milan, Barcelona and Miami.
In the digital age, a live, world-class ballet performance nurtures the spirit and the imagination. In the same vein, Northern Ballet understands that exposure to ballet at a young age can build a life long connection to the arts. As a result, the company has created works especially for children, including short-length productions like the Elves and the Shoemaker, choreographed by Daniel de Andrade, and the Tortoise and the Hare, created by Dreda Blow and Sebastian Loe. In addition, the company’s Academy offers quality classical ballet training, and aims to nurture talent, so that students reach their dreams.
Whether you’re a ballet lover, or a balletskeptic, indifferent to layers of tulle and arabesques, one thing is for certain: Northern Ballet is guaranteed to amaze regardless. Northern Ballet’s focus on world-class ballet, innovative storytelling, and inspiring outreach makes it a refreshing company, poised for even greater things on the horizon.
Three Northern Ballet world premières are on tour in 2017: Casanova (April – May), Boy in Striped Pyjamas (May to October), the Little Mermaid (September – December). See northernballet.com/whats-on for details.