With 2.9 million inhabitants the Greater Manchester metropolitan area is the second largest conurbation in the British Isles. It is also the largest conurbation without a resident world class ballet company. London has lots of good companies - the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Rambert, Ballet Black to name just a few. Birmingham has the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Glasgow Scottish Ballet, Leeds Northern Ballet and Newport Ballet Cymru.
It has not always been so. Northern Ballet began life in Manchester but moved across the Pennines first to Halifax and then to Leeds. It now has a magnificent home at Quarry Hill in Leeds with its own theatre in the same neighbourhood as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds College of Music, Yorkshire Dance, the BBC and the Grand. There is no reason why it should move anywhere else. Of course, we still see Northern Ballet in Manchester from time to time just as we see the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Rambert and many other companies. We also have the Northern Ballet School which performs a classical ballet every year at the Danceworks Theatre in Oxford Road. All very good but not the same as having our own world class company.
A few years ago there were plans for the Royal Opera House to establish a Northern base at The Palace with regular seasons for the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera in Manchester. That would have been wonderful but austerity put paid to that (see Rob Sharp Royal Opera House shelves move north 28 Oct 2010 The Independent). Although the news report says that the plans have been put on hold nobody has tried to revive them in the intervening time.
But maybe we can do so now. In his Autumn Statement 2014 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £78 million investment in a massive theatre and arts centre on the site of the Granada Studios to be known as "The Factory Manchester". It is part of a £7 billion programme of investment in transport, science and technology and the arts to transform the cities of the North into a "Northern Powerhouse" to serve as an economic counterweight to London.
An economic counterweight needs culture. As Manchester City Council recognizes in its press release "£78m for The Factory Manchester - a new large scale, ultra-flexible arts space" 3 Dec 2013
"The Factory Manchester will play an integral part in helping Manchester and the North of England provide a genuine cultural counterbalance to London, supporting the city and region's growth."Now Manchester already has The Hallé, The Royal Exchange and The Lowry which go a good way towards providing that cultural counterweight but it needs first class opera and ballet to be complete.
We could try to persuade an established company in another city to move to Manchester as Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds did but that would be resented by the city such company would leave behind and we Mancunians are too big hearted for that. We could also grow our own company but that would take years. Dusting off the plans that were put on hold only five years ago now seems a viable option. If the BBC can move to Media City why not the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera for at least part of the year? The second city of the nation needs and deserves nothing less.
The following paragraph appears in the Wikipedia article on the Royal Ballet:
"The Royal Opera House and Manchester City Council are currently in the planning stages of a new development known as Royal Opera House, Manchester. The proposal is for the Palace Theatre in Manchester to receive an £80m refurbishment, creating a first-class theatre capable of staging productions by both the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera. The Royal Opera House would take residence of the theatre for an annual 18 week season, staging 16 performances by the Royal Opera, 28 performances by the Royal Ballet and other small-scale productions. The proposals would establish the Palace Theatre as a designated base for the Royal Opera House companies in the North of England, as a producing house for new ballet and opera, and as a training centre for all aspects of theatre production. The proposals could potentially lead to the creation of 700 jobs for local people.More on Ballet in Manchester
The proposals have been approved by Andy Burnham MP the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and accepted by a number of public bodies. However the plans are currently being revised to address the concerns put forward by those who are opposed to the plans. Issues that have been raised include:
- How will the refurbishment of the Palace Theatre be funded?
- Will the proposals impact negatively on The Lowry, a theatre and arts complex in nearby Salford?
- Will the Manchester season present the same standard of performance as the Royal Opera House in London?"
13 Dec 2014 Alchemy
9 Nov 2014 A Mancunian Nutcracker
10 Oct 2014 What Manchester does today
29 Aug 2014 So proud of Manchester
More on the "Northern Powerhouse"
10 Dec 2014 Jane Lambert "Let's take this opportunity with both hands" IP North West
8 Nov 2014 Jane Lambert "Northern Futures Summit" IP Yorkshire (see the links to other articles)