|The Riverfront Theatre, Newport
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After the State of the Art Panel Discussion: Narrative Dance in Ballet earlier this year I exchanged a few words with The Herald's dance critic Mary Brennan, Brennan had spoken very warmly of Peter Darrell whom I greatly admired and once had the honour of meeting. Darrell was artistic director of what was then Western Theatre Ballet and it was he who took the company to Glasgow shortly after I went up to St Andrews. "He gave us our national dance company" Brennan enthused. "But at the expense of the West Country and South Wales" I replied. Being a native Mancunian I know how it stung when Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines even though it never affected me personally as Leeds is no further away from my home than Manchester. The departure of Northern Ballet diminished our city even though we still have Northern Ballet School, The Lowry and Manchester City Ballet.
Well, South Wales and the West Country have had to wait a very long time but they now have a first class ballet company again in Ballet Cymru. Actually the company has existed for nearly 30 years but it is now receiving the recognition and funding that it needs to go places. It is still quite small. It reminds me very much of Scottish Theatre Ballet when I first knew it. Although James is very different from Darrell he has similar drive and similar sense of vision. Nearly half a century ago I envisaged Scottish Theatre Ballet as it is now - one of the world's great companies. I have the same feeling about Ballet Cymru and I hope that I live long enough to see it
On Saturday 3 Oct 2015 I joined the London Ballet Circle's visit to Ballet Cymru's premises in Newport. In order not to pre-empt the official write up I will say that we met James, Amy Doughty, Patricia Vallis and Mike Holden as well as the dancers. We watched the company class and a rehearsal of Cinderella. We toured the company's building which is on an industrial estate in Rogestone a few miles to the north west of the city centre. Darius James told us about the history of the company and his plans for the future which are very ambitious indeed.
The London Ballet Centre's transactions are subject to a a regime very similar to the Chatham House rule so I can't say too much about what was said and done during our visit. I will however mention two things that I knew already. The first is that there is now a magnificent theatre in Newport for the company to showcase its work. That is the Riverfront arts centre on the banks of the Usk. The second is that the company provides great opportunities to local dancers. It runs workshops, intensives and associates programmes in conjunction with the Royal Ballet and the RAD. On the 18 Oct it is hosting a "Creative Spaces" event in conjunction with the RAD and on the 30 Oct a Junior Associate Experience Day for the Royal Ballet School. It also offers body conditioning and ballet classes to the general public every Monday for a very reasonable fee. Details of these outreach programmes can be obtained from the education officer Mandev Sokhi on email@example.com.
Newport lies at the heart of the Great Western Cities with a combined population of 2.5 million and a GVA of £58 billion. This is South Wales and the West's answer to the Northern Powerhouse. The initiative aims to improve transport links and attract investment to the region. If it succeeds it will greatly expand Ballet Cymru's market. It will also provide opportunities for attracting sponsorship and funding of other kinds. After the visit I toured some of the city's landmarks and did a little shopping in a local supermarket. I got the impression that things are beginning to buzz around the Severn estuary.