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Alea iacta est

Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre – a Six Month Review, After Eight Months

Ballet Master, Daniel de Andrade talking to a rapt audience in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre

Alea iacta est. So said Caesar before he crossed the Rubicon and led his troops on Rome. With this pronouncement, the annals tell us, did Caesar march against the might of Pompey. Alea iacta est, he said, let the die be cast.

But the Rubicon is more than a river in Rome, dear readers. It has come to be an imaginary line drawn in the chaos of history, an isobar of certitude in a climate of uncertain things. It refers to threshold which, once passed, permits no return. It is a landmark moment and, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our own Rubicon at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre. Why? It’s been six months and that means, at Northern Ballet, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre is due for a review. Alea iacta est indeed.

So let us stop, Caesar-like (not Caesarian) on the banks of the Rubicon, and take stock of what has been before throwing ourselves into the slings and arrows of what is to come. Where are we? Where have we been and where are we going? What does it all mean?

Many readers may ask themselves this last question about this blog so far. And I can tell you, dear reader, it means little and much. Little, because your author has been reading rather too much of his previously-untouched university-edition of Romula (your author has been moving flat and the only book not packed was the one keeping the washing machine on enough of an angle to stop the water running out). And much, much because I felt a bit of rhetorical unction was in order to commemorate what is a milestone in the life of the Theatre.

So, to the six-month review

Well, let me start out by saying I think it’s gone well. Very, very well. So much so that in the imaginary section entitled Overall Performance, I’m going to put an imaginary tick in the imaginary box that says, Exceeded Expectations.

Members of Northern Ballet, Phornix Dance Theatre and their Acaemies taking the stage after the grand opening.

The reason I’ve ticked this mind-box is that I’ve been genuinely excited by what the Theatre has been able to become. Nestled in the crook of Northern Ballet’s arm the space can become two large studios, one enormous studio or a 230-seat studio theatre within minutes. This feat is achieved by an esoteric tradition of wall-moving and seat-distending passed through generations of gifted caretakers.

The studio theatre laid out and carpeted for the &co conference. Photo Neil G Jarman.The result is brilliant. The space can go from carpeted conference suite to company rehearsal space, to open studio, to fully-equipped theatre within a day. Since it’s opened the space has entertained a full-scale opera with orchestra, a series of concerts from pioneering Indian fusion musicians, it’s even become a labyrinthine theatrical narrative for a self-reflexive journey about free will (Lecture Notes on a Death Scene). The space has also extended its tendrils into the peripheries of Northern Ballet’s foyer and car park, becoming a locus for Leeds Met’s Mezze performance last month.

Last weekend Deborah Coultish Academy held their end of year show here and the Theatre entertained all three performances, each comprising 170 students involved in 40 separate routines. Over 800 audience members attended the sold-out event and the potential of this little space was once again realized. Amongst all this it’s worth remembering that the space is constantly used as a dance studio. It was on its floor that Cleopatra was created and on which Beauty & the Beast will be born in time for Christmas. Equally it is the same floor on which hundreds of children and adults pursue and perfect their dancing every week, on which a group of dancers over-55 meet every Tuesday for a specially-catered class and on which wheelchair dance sessions are held with members of the local community. All of which can go rather splendidly under the section on my imaginary form which asks 'What Has The Employee Brought To The Role?'

Ah yes, we say, but 'What Are the Employees Ambitions/Objectives for the Future?' To answer this I stand at my vantage point at the reception desk, like Caesar, gazing over the dominions with one leg heroically poised upon the marble-effect counter – as I am want to do of an evening – and look at the future rising up to meet me. Springing up like theatrical poplar on the verdant banks of Rome, I see further installments from our Northern Ballet Sinfonia, performances from the legendary Wayne Sleep, the premiering of new choreography by Northern Ballet and Phoenix dancers, and the coming of the International Jewish Performing Arts Festival. And that’s just June.

The second installment from the Northern Ballet Sinfonia Season will showcase the String Trio from our famous orchestra playing Mozart’s Divertimento in E flat and Dohnanyi’s Serenade in C (read orchestra leader, Geoff Allen’s, blog about the concert). There’ll be two more of these in September and December respectively with a Violin/Piano performing a mixture of Faurés, Milstein and selections from Porgy and Bess. The December concert will display the considerable talents of the alliteratively-minded Brass Quintet who threaten to perform everything “from Biber to The Beatles and Beyond.”

Following the Sinfonia, Northern Ballet welcomes the legendary dynamo, Wayne Sleep. He’ll be performing a visual retrospective of his career so far. His walk down his own memory lane will probably be a clicky, West-Side Story sort of walk, with twirling and the kind of all-round virtuosity that has earned him his unique standing in the world of dance and the wider world of popular culture. Joining Wayne on his hop, skip and an arabesque down memory lane will be two ex-Northern Ballet dancers, Keiko Amemori and David Paul Kierce, who I’ll be having a word with next week.

Finally, for June, there’s the International Jewish Performing Arts Festival. Difficult to say with grapes in your mouth, most things are, but don’t let that put you off. This is a special series of events to which Northern Ballet are delighted to play host. They will celebrate everything that is most exciting on the international Jewish performing arts scene now - who can resist the vanguard fusion of The Kosher Gospel Singers? – whilst bringing a number of events which look at the history of the Jewry in Leeds. They Came to Leeds and The Last Tribe are searching pieces which seek to dramatically tell and record a marginalised and vital history which is integral to the fabric of Leeds’ cultural heritage.

There’ll be more from the International Jewish Performing Arts Festival in July, and there’ll inevitably be more from me about that. But before all that, I’d like to sashay back to thinking about the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre - because that’s what we’re here for after all - and ask, leadingly, What Future Does the Employee See for Themselves Within the Company?

It may be that by responding to the challenges of compromised funding Northern Ballet will search even deeper into the spectacular resources of this building to make sure the vision of the Company reaches as many people as possible. In this, with more personalities than The Saint, the schizoid brilliance of the Theatre can bring a huge amount to the Company and the building. Over the last six months we’ve seen how versatile and exciting the venue can be and over the coming six months it’s time for us to start cementing a profile in Leeds and further afield.  We’ll continue to program exciting things and, if you’ve been and enjoyed yourself, please continue to check what’s on. Or tell a friend. Or tell us the sort of thing you’d like to see here in the comments box below. So, as we wade senatorially on to our future, we can do so with the right arsenal of theatrical delights.

I’ll stop effulging about the Theatre now. I’m not in love with it or anything. So ... yeah.

Your author will return shortly with interviews from the burgeoning choreographers working on the Choreographic Showcase and from Keiko Amemori and David Paul Kierce. Hopefully by then your author will have stopped referring to himself as your author, stopped reading Romula and the realities of studio apartment in LS9 will have rid him of his Romanesque grandeur. Also, there will be absolutely no mention of Rubicons. Promise.

Until then, your author bids you good night and bona fortuna, the dice have been cast and the fates have smiled on the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre. Onward to Rome!

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