Northern Ballet’s decision to cut live music described as 'cultural vandalism'

The Northern Ballet’s decision to cut live music from some of its performances has been described as “cultural vandalism”.

The dance company, which is based in Leeds, said it has already cut back on touring and made redundancies as it is struggling with a “drastic uplift” in production costs.

It has now decided that live music will no longer be played at certain venues from April 2024, according to a statement released today.

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The Musicians’ Union (MU) said it is “deeply concerned” about “this cultural vandalism” as there will be less work for orchestral musicians.

Northern Ballet dancers performing in The Great Gatsby. Photo Johan PerssonNorthern Ballet dancers performing in The Great Gatsby. Photo Johan Persson
Northern Ballet dancers performing in The Great Gatsby. Photo Johan Persson

The union has also urged Arts Council England to come forward with a new funding offer for Northern Ballet.

The latest accounts for the dance company, which is a registered charity, show it recorded an overall loss of £338,573 in 2021/22, when it spent £7.5m on touring.

Its operations accounted for less than half of its income (44 per cent) in that year, when it also received £3.9m of grant funding from Arts Council England and £1.6m from charitable donations.

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Morris Stemp, MU Orchestras Official, said: “It is unthinkable that Northern Ballet should be in a position to even consider using recorded music in place of a live orchestra during live performances.

“Whilst we appreciate that doing so is a last resort, our members are the product and an integral part of any ballet.

“They deliver world class music and dance in partnership with the performers on the stage. It would be no different to replacing the dancers with a video screen.”

He added: “It is vital for all in society to have access to this incredible artform, with the dedicated live music as an integral part of the experience.”

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MU said Northern Ballet has already “substantially reduced” the number of staff it employs in recent months, but did not provide an exact figure.

Northern Ballet said the industry has been “heavily impacted” by the rising cost of energy, transport and set materials.

In a statement, the company said: “We have had to take certain steps: there have been redundancies within the company, and a reduction in touring over the past year.”

“However, it has become clear that we can no longer continue with our traditional touring model.

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"We will need to explore different options if we are to continue to bring world-class narrative ballets to audiences throughout the country.

“We fully believe in the power and importance of live music and where we can, it will remain an integral part of our productions, but with deep regret we cannot maintain it at every venue.”

It added: “We are currently in discussion with the musicians, the MU and Arts Council England to explore what a new touring model could look like for Northern Ballet.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Northern Ballet recieved £5.7m in charitable donations in 2021/22.