THE first Briton to be a principal dancer at Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet says it is a “great honour” to be back in his Yorkshire home city tomorrow for a gala performance marking the reopening of Hull’s New Theatre after a £16m upgrade.
An audience of 1,200 people - and 5,000 in Queens Gardens - will watch the special performance presented by The Royal Ballet, featuring some of the world’s finest dancers, a surprising number of whom are from Hull.
Tickets for the show, a highlight of the City of Culture year which include excerpts from Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet have been like gold dust, after flying out of the door in under an hour.
Those lucky enough to get a seat will see Xander Parish, from North Ferriby, who was talent-scouted for the St Petersburg company seven years ago, perform along with younger sister Demelza Parish, a first artist of The Royal Ballet.
Both trained at the city’s Skelton Hooper dance school, along with Royal Ballet soloist Elizabeth Harrod and Joseph Caley, a principal at English National Ballet.
The performance - the first by The Royal Ballet in Hull for 30 years - will be curated by its director Kevin O’Hare, who also trained in Hull,
Mr Parish, 31, who started dancing aged eight, after becoming “incensed” at seeing his sister on stage in a show at Skelton Hooper “while I was down below” told The Yorkshire Post he would love to bring the Russian company to Hull.
“Usually we only perform in London. We need a very large theatre because our scenery is enormous.
“Maybe now there is some more back-stage space, hopefully one day, even if it is too small for Swan Lake we could bring a smaller programme.
“It is a dream of mine to bring the Russians to Hull.”
He added: “It’s a massive honour.
“It is really special not just for me, but Mum and Dad, and dancing with my sister in the same performance, which is the first since leaving The Royal Ballet.”
Vanessa Hooper, whose mother Vera Skelton founded Skelton Hooper after World War Two, hopes tonight’s performance in the upgraded theatre mark a turning point, which will see major dance companies beating a path to Hull.
She said: “Northern Ballet is coming with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - they used to come every year. Scottish Ballet hasn’t been for decades.
“There’s a huge demand for dance and it is not being embraced at all. People do want culture - they don’t want just rugby and football.”
Her dancers will be performing a 10-minute piece in the gala which she has choreographed called A Dancer’s Story.
She said: “It’s a tall order to ask the children to attend after school, to compete with The Royal Ballet. We are trying to do something that will stand up on its own and not look like poor relations. They have definitely risen to the challenge, and are brimming with excitement.”
Hull Council spent £11m on making the theatre a “world-class venue”, with £5m from the Arts Council.
Tonight’s performance of Opening the New heralds the start of a top-class autumn season including National Theatre productions of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Hedda Gabler and the Opera North residency The Little Greats.
Council leader Steve Brady said the city was already reaping its investment in cultural venues, with record numbers of visitors.
He hopes work on the theatre proves a “catalyst to ensuring it is in the best possible position to cement its reputation as one of the best receiving theatres in the UK.”