Stage Review: Northern Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Gala - Leeds Grand Theatre

Northern Ballet 50th Anniversary Gala.
Northern Ballet 50th Anniversary Gala.

Northern Ballet is just one of the many reasons we have to be proud of the arts offer we have here in Yorkshire – and as a retrospective of the Leeds-based company’s five decades of making work of international renown, while remaining rooted firmly in the North, this gala evening was just perfect.

Innovation, imagination and a cutting edge approach to storytelling through dance, have always been at the heart of Northern Ballet’s ethos. That commitment to making ballet accessible to all came across loud and clear in the beautifully curated programme. (It lasted three hours, but never felt too long – in fact, I suspect many of the audience would have been happy to stay and watch more.)

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Hosted by artistic director David Nixon, who introduced each piece in a relaxed, informative style – the evening got off to a suitably celebratory start with the whole company performing the party scene from The Great Gatsby. There then followed a series of beautiful, intense and totally compelling pas de deux from some of Northern Ballet’s most iconic works including Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, Dracula, Casanova, A Christmas Carol, 1984, Jane Eyre and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It was a selection that flawlessly demonstrated the depth and breadth of the company’s bold choices and fearless artistic ambition – who else would have dared to think that a dystopian nightmare or a child’s eye view of the Holocaust could work as ballets? Many of the pieces were performed by guest artists – from the Royal Ballet, Central School of Ballet, English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet – and dancers from Phoenix Dance Theatre presented a duet from Sharon Watson’s Windrush: Movement of the People.

Every single piece was totally transporting – it was wise to stick mostly to the intensity of duets – and there were several moments where I had to remind myself to breathe, especially during a magnificent solo (from Five Rückert Songs) by Marge Hendrick of Scottish Ballet.

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Nixon, who has shaped the company in an exciting and forward-thinking way over his nearly 20 years in post, generously acknowledged the legacy of those who went before with short film tributes to founder Laverne Meyer and previous artistic directors Robert de Warren and Christopher Gable.

If ever proof were needed that the North can more than hold its own on the world stage in terms of outstanding creative standards and classy delivery, this was it. An absolute joy and a fitting celebration for a company that continues to go from strength to strength. Bravo.