A documentary featuring Northern Ballet is to be broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday 26 May at 8.15pm.
‘Arts Troubleshooter’ is a two-part series which sees arts expert Michael Lynch at two unique English arts organisations facing serious challenges. The first programme in the series follows Michael’s work with Northern Ballet in Leeds.
Northern Ballet was founded in Manchester in 1969, the first national ballet company to be located in the regions, and has been based in Leeds since 1996. In that time it has grown to become one of the UK’s best loved companies and an important international cultural ambassador. It is renowned for creating new work and touring this throughout the UK and overseas reaching audiences who might otherwise not have access to world-class ballet.
In October 2010 after a wait of many years Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre moved into their new centre for dance at Quarry Hill in central Leeds. The building is the biggest centre of its type outside London and is the first to house both a ballet and a contemporary company of national standing.
Under the leadership of Chief Executive Mark Skipper and Artistic Director David Nixon OBE the Company continues to go from strength-to-strength. It has become one of the most important ballet companies in the UK – winning widespread critical acclaim, generating new audiences (during our autumn 2011 tour 35% of our audiences were first-time Northern Ballet attenders), and garnering numerous accolades.
‘Arts Troubleshooter’ was filmed during the course of 2011, both on tour and at Northern Ballet’s home in Leeds. It focuses on the Company’s efforts to address one of the immediate effects of the funding cuts: the potential loss of 10 dancers from the 40 strong Company .
On the threat of losing dancers David Nixon said: ‘Our dancers are at the heart of what we do. We are a small company with a big mission – we create more new work and tour more widely than any of the other ballet companies in the UK. To do this, and maintain the high standards for which we’re known, we need a full complement of 40 dancers.’
Northern Ballet’s initial response to the news was to develop the Buy Back a Dancer campaign, approaching major trusts and foundations. This was met with a positive response and quickly raised £150k from donors. With Michael Lynch on board the Company continued to hone and improve Buy Back a Dancer and an additional campaign – Sponsor a Dancer – was created. This is a public-facing campaign that is more hands-on in its activity and gives audiences the opportunity to get closer to the dancers.
The news of funding cuts in March 2011 cast a black cloud over what would otherwise be one of Northern Ballet’s most successful years to-date. The Company’s purpose-built home went on to win awards at the Civic Building of the Year and Leeds Architecture Awards as well as the Best Arts Project in the National Lottery Awards. Two new productions were created and premièred – Cleopatra and Beauty & the Beast – which generated unprecedented ticket sales and widespread audience and critical acclaim. In addition to Michael Lynch’s support in launching Sponsor a Dancer, Northern Ballet’s fundraising team secured funding for the Company’s next new production in 2013 – The Great Gatsby which will premiere in Leeds on 2 March– and a further new production for Christmas 2013. They also generated support for touring which means that Northern Ballet has not cut any of its regular tour dates in 2012.
The Sponsor a Dancer campaign has raised around £80,000 since its launch in October 2011, and has gone towards securing our full Company of 40 dancers for this year.
Chief Executive, Mark Skipper, said: ‘Northern Ballet has always received less government funding than any of the other major ballet companies in the UK, regardless of the level and range of work we do. Consequently, our fundraising and marketing targets are routinely high. With the cuts in government funding the pressure has been on us to further increase box office sales in a time of reduced spending, and to generate higher levels of sponsorship on top of those we had already planned.
‘We’re not a Company that takes bad news lying down: we’ve worked extremely hard in the face of the cuts and the results have been worth the effort. We have been heartened and delighted at the levels of support and generosity people have shown, from all sectors. Particularly, we have found that Trusts and Foundations have been much more open to supporting a range of activities which in the past they might not have been able to including dancers' salaries, touring costs and new work.
‘However, our concern is that this is not a sustainable situation. Although we have doubled our fundraising income through our own activity, which was a government objective for arts companies such as Northern Ballet, and have raised more than £1.2m towards our fundraising target of £1.8m for 2012/2015, we do not believe that private donations can replace public subsidy of the arts. The past year has certainly been tough, but the real challenge lies ahead.’