It’s difficult to overstate just how fortunate fans of dance are in Yorkshire.
The artform is absolutely thriving in the region with Yorkshire Dance, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance and Northern School of Contemporary Dance all adding to an ecology that puts all forms of dance in an enviably strong position in Yorkshire.
This weekend Northern Ballet is bringing together a special celebration of the work of Sir Kenneth Macmillan, a choreographer who helped to lift the position of dance in the UK to the high international standing it enjoys today.
One of the leading choreographers of his generation, MacMillan enjoyed a close association with The Royal Ballet where he held positions as director and principal choreographer. With a career spanning nearly four decades he created almost 100 works, many of which are still in the repertoires of leading companies across the globe.
Performed tonight and tomorrow at Leeds Grand Theatre, the Northern Ballet celebration is a triple bill of the works of Sir Kenneth giving audiences in Leeds an opportunity to see three ballets by one of the masters of dance.
David Nixon OBE, artistic director of Northern Ballet said: “We were honoured to be asked to participate in the national celebration of Sir Kenneth last year and this collaboration between the Royal Opera House and Northern Ballet has been instrumental in bringing this rare treat to our home audiences in Leeds.”
While this weekend audiences can enjoy world class, Yorkshire-created dance created in Leeds, next weekend Bradford audiences will be able to see the same standard of dance, but this programme created in Canada.
Next week the Bradford Alhambra sees the internationally renowned Ballet British Columbia come to the Yorkshire stage for its first ever UK tour. The fact that they are coming is largely thanks to the Dance Consortium.
A group of 19 large scale venues, the Dance Consortium is an Arts Council funded organisation that provides an umbrella for the 19 member venues around the country to book world leading dance companies to come to the UK.
By its nature, touring dance internationally is an expensive business – all those bodies on stage cost money. By coming together as a conglomerate the members of the Dance Consortium, a group which includes the Alhambra, can use their combined financial power to mitigate the risks of bringing potentially financially draining dance work to UK audiences.
“Dance is an expensive thing to bring to the stage, none of the 19 members of the Dance Consortium would be able to afford to bring the likes of Ballet Columbia to their stages alone,” says Ros Robins, the chief executive of the Dance Consortium. “By working together, we can bring dance to so many more people across the country than if we were working individually.”
So why do it? Why take public funding and use it to bring dance companies from around the globe to Britain? “It shows people something different and gives them a glimpse into a world they are unlikely to have seen before,” says Robins.
“When audiences see Ballet Columbia, or (New York based) Alvin Ailey, another company we have brought to the UK, they are seeing a world they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Dance is an incredibly accessible artform, these companies from around the world can communicate with audiences from around the UK and that is something that is to be celebrated.”
Emily Molnar is the artistic director of Ballet Columbia and is excited to see her company touring the UK for the first time. When we speak, she is in Newcastle with the dance troupe ahead of next week’s visit to Bradford.
“The really interesting thing for us is to see how different audiences react to and engage with our work,” she says. “We are all human, but we live in different communities, different continents, so to see how the people here in the UK engage with our work and the different things they gain from seeing our work is really interesting.
“One of the great things for us is the intimacy provided by some of the venues here. It lends itself to a real honesty and genuineness of reaction from the audiences we see here in the UK.”
When BC comes to the Bradford Alhambra it will show work by three of the world’s most celebrated female choreographers, including Molnar herself who will be showing her piece 16 + a Room. The other pieces are Solo Echo by the globally renowned choreographer Crystal Pite and Bill by Tel Aviv-based Sharon Eyal.
It really is something that such world class work is being presented on the stage of the Bradford Alhambra, a venue which has shown great commitment to bringing dance to the city for the past decade and a half, steadily building an audience for an artform sometimes considered elitist.
Molnar says: “There is an enormous amount of really excellent dance work coming out of the UK and for us to share the work we are bringing with an international audience helps to provide a really strong discourse between countries and continents about dance and the work we create.”