Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Atkinson

Last Thursday I was the guest of QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter at a reception that they hosted at The Atkinson arts centre in Southport. I had already seen Ballet Theatre UK's Little Mermaid and Ballet Black's triple bill there and had seen at least some of the exhibits near the auditorium during the intervals but this was the first time I had seen the collection.

The Atkinson was established in 1875 by a gift of £6,000 from William Atkinson, a wealthy Yorkshire industrialist, to provide an art gallery and library for the town. The building opened in 1878. It is now Southport's home for music, theatre, art, poetry, literature and history. Over the years it has acquired a vast collection of works of art and curiosities that it has had to archive. Following extensive recent renovation it now has space to display its collection of Egyptian artefacts, fine art and archaeological and historical items. That part of the museum will open in October 2014.

At the reception I met The Atkinson's Director. I told her that I was a dance fan and that I had already visited the centre recently to see Ballet Theatre UK and Ballet Black. She replied that she had been told that the theatre had one of the finest surfaces for dance in the country and that the Atkinson hoped to attract more dance companies. I noted that there was no ballet at the One City One Summer arts festival which had accompanied the International Festival of Business though there had been other types of dance. I had drawn the absence of ballet to the attention of Paul Kelly of MurleyDance and suggested that might be an opportunity for his company to grow a following since Merseyside is a major conurbation with a massive hinterland that extends well into Lancashire, Cheshire, the Marches and North Wales. Mr Kelly did look into it but had found no suitable venues in greater Liverpool. The Director replied that she would welcome any company that wanted to perform in Southport. She gave me her card which I passed on to Paul Chantry and Rae Piper of the Chantry Dance Company when I saw them on Saturday (see "Chantry Dance Summer School" 2 Aug 2014).

Searching The Atkinson's website I see that Ballet Theatre UK will return on the 11 December 2014 with their production of Swan Lake and that the BalletBoyz will perform on 13 March 2015. The Atkinson will also screen performances of the Bolshoi streamed from Moscow and host the Sereno School of Dance's annual show Dance Matters on 6 Dec 2014.

Having sponsored Liverpool Sound City earlier this year QualitySolicitors Jackson & Canter have already demonstrated their commitment to the performing arts. I understand from Michael Sandys who heads the firm's commercial department that that commitment extends to dance but I must emphasize that there are far more worthy causes in the performing arts than any law firm could possibly support.

After speeches from Michael and the head of wills and probate of his firm and also from the Director of the Atkinson we were led off to tour of the building. We were shown samples of some of the rare Egyptian artefacts and paintings including a gorgeous portrait by Augustus John which will be on display from October. We were also taken around the current Walk on exhibition which actually had some choreography of a kind. There was a film of a a group of soldiers wandering aimlessly round the City of London one Sunday morning carrying firearms. When they met one of their number they formed a file which grew bigger and bigger until a whole platoon marched 8 abreast towards the Thames where they suddenly broke step and dispersed again. I watched it transfixed because there were some lovely shots of the Temple and the Barbican but I could not see how this exercise could be art or made military sense. I couldn't help wondering what one of the theatre companies that lost out on the recent Arts Council funding spree could do with the money but then what do I know about art or the military?

Anyway we all had a good day at The Atkinson especially my foodie friend who took all the delicious cakes and canopies that had been prepared in the centre's bakery off their hands. "It would only be binned if I didn't eat it" she explained. I am sure she will put the food to very good use.

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