Interview with David Nixon OBE, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet
Q: What is great about Northern Ballet as a Company?
A: Northern Ballet has a unique position being the widest touring ballet company in the UK and with a dedication to telling stories through dance. Our passion is to create work that is innovative and surprising, offering audiences something different than traditional ballet titles. In recent years some of our most successful productions have been The Great Gatsby, The Little Mermaid and Casanova which shows that audiences do have an appetite for something other than Swan Lake. We have a company of some of the most talented dance actors in the world who bring incredible energy and commitment to every character they portray on stage and this draws in the audience so they can come on the journey with us. We also tour with a full orchestra at every venue, so every show is performed to live music.
Q: 2017 was an incredible year for Northern Ballet, what were your highlights?
A: 2017 was a monumental year for Northern Ballet as we held an unprecedented three world premières of full-length ballets – Casanova, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and The Little Mermaid. Each of these ballets was special for different reasons. Casanova as it was the first full-length creation by choreographer, and former Northern Ballet Premier Dance Kenneth Tindall. To see and nurture his development from a young dancer into the established choreographer he is today has been incredible. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was the first full-length ballet choreographed by our Artistic Associate Daniel de Andrade who has worked with us for more than 20 years and I was delighted to give him this opportunity which he so deserves. Finally The Little Mermaid was my first creation for the Company in four years and to see the commitment and passion given by the whole company to creating this work was inspiring.
My main highlight of 2017 though has to be the Company making its mainstage debut at the Royal Opera House. We were invited to perform Gloria as part of a celebration of the choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan which saw all five large UK ballet companies coming together to perform work from his repertoire. The challenges and opportunities given to the Company to stage this, and two of MacMillan’s other works that we performed in a triple bill in Bradford, were a huge milestone in the development of the Company, and we were actually named the highlight of the MacMillan celebration in Covent Garden.
Q: Kleinwort Hambros is delighted to be sponsoring Northern Ballet’s spring 2018 production of Jane Eyre, choreographed by Cathy Marston. What can you tell us about the piece?
A: When I first commissioned Cathy Marston to create Jane Eyre in 2016 for our mid-scale tour, I knew this ballet would be the perfect vehicle for her celebrated talents. Cathy had previously created Dividing Silence in 2004 for Northern Ballet and A Tale of Two Cities in 2008. As expected, her return to working with Northern Ballet was a huge hit and Jane Eyre captivated the imaginations of audiences and critics alike on its world première tour. It was also nominated for the Sky Arts Dance Award 2017 which was a tremendous achievement. I am delighted that Jane Eyre proved so popular that we decided to upscale it and tour the production to larger theatres so that even more of our dedicated and loyal audiences can experience this powerful ballet.
Q: What else is coming up in 2018?
A: Our spring tour of Jane Eyre finishes in June and then we will have a bit of a break before the dancers return to the studios to start rehearsing for the autumn season. I am excited to start the autumn season with a new Mixed Programme which will feature all new works by Kenneth Tindall, Morgann Runacre-Temple and also a choreographic debut by our Soloist Mlindi Kulashe. I am also really pleased that my production of The Three Musketeers is coming back as it has been more than 10 years since we last performed it, and we will end the year with a tour of The Nutcracker which will bring our year to a close with a suitably festive feel.
Q: How is Northern Ballet developing the dancers of the future?
A: We have a fantastic Academy with a hugely talented and passionate group of teachers who work hard to inspire young dancers and give them every opportunity to pursue their dream. We are also in the fifth year of our Professional Graduate Programme which acts as a bridging course between the end of ballet school and a dancer’s first professional contract. The programme has been hugely successful and we’ve also taken on dancers into the Company from this programme every year since its inception. For our current company dancers we try to give everyone the opportunity to step up and take on roles that will challenge and develop them as artists.
We have also held choreographic workshops giving our dancers the opportunity to experiment with creating their own work under the guidance of mentors. Kenneth Tindall is an example of a success story to have resulted from this kind of choreographic opportunity and our current Soloist Mlindi Kulashe will be making his choreographic debut as part of our Mixed Programme coming up in September.
Q: Northern Ballet is approaching its 50th anniversary in 2019/20. How will the Company be celebrating this?
A: To reach our 50th anniversary is a huge milestone for Northern Ballet who has had to overcome so much to get to where we are now. We are looking forward to marking this achievement with a special calendar of events during 2019/20. We already have exciting plans to continue to create more new full-length ballets over the coming years as well as some fan favourites returning to the stage. I am also really looking forward to working with more digital platforms and technological collaborators to really experiment with the different ways that dance can be presented outside of the theatre setting. I can’t say too much about the specifics of these plans but watch this space, there are some exciting announcements to come!
Q: Northern Ballet is a Registered Charity. How important is philanthropic giving to the future of the organisation?
A: We are fortunate to be a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England, and to receive funding from our Local Authority. Like many UK arts organisations we are also reliant on financial support from companies and individuals to ensure our work can evolve year on year, and we continue to excel artistically.
The production sponsorship of Jane Eyre that Kleinwort Hambros has committed to this year is a great example as it has helped us to take a smaller production, increase it in size and take it on tour to more venues across the country, sharing this excellent work with many more people.
Our incredible individual supporters really are the life blood of the Company and part of the Northern Ballet family - in addition to their fantastic donations, they also support us by engaging with the Company, getting to know our dancers and being advocates for our work.
The continued success of Northern Ballet across our artistic programming, the development of our dancers and our extensive educational outreach projects, is only ever possible with the generosity and dedication of our supporters. By making a gift to Northern Ballet, donors are investing in the future of our Company and making a real and positive impact on communities across the UK.