Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ballet Economics

Population densities of the UK from 2011 Census
Source Wikipedia

One of the questions that I would have liked to have asked David Bintley when he spoke to the London Ballet Circle on Monday but didn't was "Why don't we ever see Birmingham Royal Ballet in Leeds?" They come to Manchester twice a year but the nearest they get to Leeds, Sheffield or Bradford is York. I would also like to put the same question to the business managers of English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Ballet Cymru.

I suspect their answer may be that Northern Ballet is based in Leeds and the other great companies don't want to tread on their toes. That probably explains why Northern Ballet will dance in Edinburgh but not in Glasgow, Manchester and Milton Keynes but never Birmingham. It may even be a condition of their funding from the Arts Council or other bodies. I shall have to do some digging to find out.

But if that is the explanation I think it is flawed. Northern Ballet has cultivated an audience for dance in Leeds which is hungry for more. Cassa Pancho said something to that effect when I first met her. Ballet Black had been performing in Southport to an appreciative but not particularly massive crowd. Their show had been a sell out at The Linbury the previous February and they usually fill the Stanley and Audrey Theatre. Yet Southport is in Merseyside, which is itself part of a much bigger urban area. Though it is at the North-Western end of the conurbation it is well connected to the rest of North West England by road and public transport.

Manchester is one of our greatest cities but I have attended excellent performances at The Lowry where the auditorium has been much less than full. Manchester. Now Manchester has great cultural institutions such as The Hallé and The Royal Exchange but, sadly, no longer has a major resident ballet company and that seems to make all the difference.  I am told that the Birmingham Royal Ballet has created a massive audience for dance at the Hippodrome and I have seen and felt the audience at The Tramway in Glasgow (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015).

If major companies struggle to fill seats in Manchester it must be even harder to sell tickets in sizeable towns and cities in the remoter parts of the country. Maybe you could get a good audience for The Nutcracker but you might struggle for anything else.

I am not a great fan of public sponsorship of the performing arts. The Arts Council was the brain child of Lord Keynes (see John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet 3 March 2013) and on this matter as on many others I am no Keynesian. There seem to be all sorts of shadowy figures such as the National Dance Coordinating Committee which I heard about for the first time only the other day but have found impossible to google. So much better, indeed so much fairer, to let companies follow their audiences and perhaps to grow them.

Post Script

Janet McNulty writes:

1 comment:

  1. Quite right Janet McNulty. The Lowry is in the city of Salford one of the boroughs or metropolitan districts of the county of Greater Manchester which is itself part of Manchester City Region (or AGMA as it is sometimes referred to). As you may ave heard, Greater Manchester will soon get an elected mayor as part of the devolution settlement with central government. If Birmingham Royal Ballet can come to York or Greater Manchester they should be able to find their way to Leeds or Bradford.