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Planning a tour

A question we are often asked is how do we choose the ballets which go on tour? Our Chief Executive, Mark Skipper DL, gives us an insight into the balancing act that is programming.

How do we choose what productions come back into repertoire?

Northern Ballet Chief Executive Mark Skipper DL. Photo Brian Slater.

Each year we aim to have 6 full length productions in repertoire including one new production. We have somewhere in the region of 20 productions we can select from with the oldest, Romeo & Juliet and A Christmas Carol, going back more than 20 years.

Choices can be influenced by many factors including how successful it was artistically and at the box office. We consider how many venues it hasn’t been to and how many times it has been to certain venues? We also look at the repertoire that other ballet companies have out on the circuit and, with certain titles, is there a pantomime, opera or drama of the same title in some of our venues in the same season?

Where possible we try to go to the same venues at pretty much the same time each year and then try to match the repertoire in blocks of the same title to reduce the need for additional dance and orchestra rehearsals, ease of touring and to keep costs down. We also aim for sensible geographic progression around  the country as it doesn’t make sense to go, for example, from Leeds to Canterbury to Newcastle and we are always mindful of our environmental impact. It doesn’t always work but there is a plan that we try to stick to.

Some venues are less risk averse than others so we are mindful of that when making choices. At the end of the day, we try and create a season of repertoire that has a mixture of styles and appeal with a range of commercial expectations whilst being mindful of the need for the dancers to perform a varied repertoire. It may also be that sometimes we are influenced by the dancers that we have in the company in any season. There is no point in performing Peter Pan, for example, if you have no suitable dancer to play the role of Peter.

It is not an exact science but we are pretty good at getting a good balance that meets most of the criteria. It is impossible to please everybody all of the time as we all have different tastes but we do listen to feedback from our audiences.

How do we choose a new ballet?

This is always a tricky task and never gets any easier.

Sometimes we get lucky and come up with a title like The Great Gatsby that somehow appeals and is of the moment. Our focus is nearly always on stories.

Audiences need to feel comfortable with the title and believe that the story can be told in dance. The choice can depend on what time of the year it is for. If it is Christmas then it will be something that appeals to families such as Cinderella this year – somehow these are the easiest to come up with.

Sometimes we produce something that is just for Leeds such as Ondine which lent itself to the West Yorkshire Playhouse although we could tour it too. In this instance the title was not a commercial choice.

Generally the new production at the Grand Theatre in Leeds in February/March needs to be a blockbuster, have mass appeal and be likely to be commercially successful. Our productions get a lot of exposure – we’ve given 60 performances of Gatsby between March and May this year to more than 52,000 people and taking £1.2M at the box office. We really can’t afford to fail which puts huge pressure on all involved.

We are fortunate in having our studio theatre (Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre) where we can be more experimental and are not constrained by commercial imperatives.

In summary, we try to come up with stories that appeal to David Nixon OBE and the creative team, are challenging to the dancers, are likely to be sufficiently popular with our audiences and that I have commercial confidence in.

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Mark Skipper DL, Northern Ballet's Chief Executive. Photo Simon Lawson.
Chief Executive

The views expressed in blogs are those of the author and not necessarily of Northern Ballet.