Exactly a decade ago the National Theatre screened the first NT Live broadcast, a way for people around the country to gather in a cinema and watch what was on stage in London.
The idea was that the theatre was producing work of such high quality – the first play to be screened in such a way was Phedre starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper – that it felt right that more people than those who could afford to travel to London for it, should be able to see the performance.
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That next week sees Leeds- based Northern Ballet screen its work live into UK cinemas for the first time, is a significant moment. It’s a manifestation of the confidence the company deservedly currently has. It is a confidence it will take into what will be its 50th anniversary celebrations next year.
The ballet that will represent Northern Ballet on the screens of UK cinemas will be Dracula, opening at Leeds Playhouse next week. It is the first full production that will appear on the stage of the newly refurbished Quarry Theatre following the multi-million pound facelift of the whole building.
First show on the Quarry stage, first time Northern Ballet has been screened to cinemas across the UK and Ireland: the opening of this show is a big moment for theatre in Yorkshire.
David Nixon, Northern Ballet artistic director, is the man at the helm of the organisation and of Dracula, the ballet.
He created the piece in 2005, one of many highly regarded ballets Nixon has created during his tenure of the company.
“We have revived Dracula several times over the course of the last 14 years and every revival seems to be inspired, with each new cast bringing something of their own to the performances,” says Nixon.
“There are some wonderful new changes in this 2019 revival, including a new opening sequence. New costumes used throughout the production have been created and for this special 2019 revival. I have taken the opportunity to reimagine some parts of the ballet and develop scenes based upon collaborations with the performing dancers.
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“This makes it a living work and relevant to the company today. It seems particularly fitting that Dracula will be the first production performed on the main stage of the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse, in what has essentially become this ballet’s home venue.”
With Bram Stoker’s themes of eternal life and rebirth, it really does feel like the perfect piece to open the Quarry Space, the final piece of the jigsaw of the £16m refurbishment of the Playhouse.
“This is the first time a Northern Ballet production has been live-streamed into cinemas, after pre-recordings of Victoria and three of our children’s ballets were shown in cinemas earlier in the year. We continue to grow our output in this area and I am excited to see what the future holds,” says Nixon.
The dancer charged with bringing Dracula to life, as it were, is the company’s premier dancer Javier Torres. He danced the role previously in the 2014 production. “For me as a dancer, the process of creating a ballet, or working on a new piece is very important and I don’t remember it being as good in 2014 as it has been this year,” he says.
It’s also going to be writ large on a screen.
“It’s very exciting because it’s the first time I will perform in a cinema broadcast. It’s going to be special. It’s live, it’s on Halloween and we are all really looking forward to it.”
It is difficult to overstate how important the screening element is. Phedre, the performance that kicked off NT Live a decade ago, was an experiment.
People went to their cinemas attracted not only by the show, but by the novelty of it all. It’s no longer a novelty, yet NT Live continues to this day, having now been seen by 6.5m people. The Halloween screening of Dracula might mark the beginning of something equally significant.
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It will also mark the start of the celebrations of Northern Ballet’s 50th year. Created by Canadian-born Laverne Meyer, it was the first British dance company established outside of London.
Another Canadian, Nixon has the honour of taking the company into its half century. Only the fifth person to lead the company, he was awarded an OBE for his work and has an aesthetic entirely attuned to that of the company’s most famous leader, the former dancer and film star Christopher Gable, who led the company for a decade from 1987.
It was Gable who turned the company from just another ballet company to one which put just as much emphasis on the ‘theatre’ of dance. Nixon continues this tradition with his works being as focussed on the role of the dancers as performers and actors as well as technically gifted ballet dancers.
Nixon says: “It’s an incredible milestone for the company which has overcome so much to arrive at this moment. Alongside our revival of Dracula we are also reviving Cinderella, which is touring through both our autumn 2019 and spring 2020 seasons. In addition, dancers from some of the world’s most famous companies will join us on stage in Leeds for a celebration gala on January 4 2020.
“Our anniversary year will also see many other exciting events, not least the world premières of two new full-length ballets, Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha and Drew McOnie’s Merlin.
“I think it’s going to be an extraordinary year.”
Dracula, Leeds Playhouse, October 29 to November 2. Tickets, www.northernballet.com 0113 2137700.