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Stan About Town: Northern Ballet

Stan About Town: Northern Ballet

Words by
Stan Graham

I think it is common knowledge that Northern Ballet is based in Leeds, the fact that I am writing about it for this website is a bit of a give-away, but it started out life as the Northern Dance Theatre in 1969 in Manchester. It was the brain-child of Laverne Meyer, a Canadian dramatic dancer and the company’s first performance was on 28th November that year at the University Theatre, Manchester. In 1976 Robert de Warren took over as artistic director and renamed the company Northern Ballet Theatre. On 6th September, 2010 under the Artistic Directorship of David Nixon CBE (no, not the 1950s tv magician) they dropped the word ‘theatre’ and became Northern ballet. At the same time they moved into their purpose-built headquarters in Quarry Hill which acts as a dance and teaching facility boasting seven dance studios and is one of the largest dedicated dance space outside London. It shares these facilities with Phoenix Dance Theatre and is the only building to house both classical and contemporary dance companies.

Ability at Expressions 2019. Photo Brian Slater Ability at Expressions 2019. Photo Brian Slater

Although best known for their high profile productions; I was lucky enough to be asked if I would like to see a rehearsal session for their Christmas offering of The Nutcracker, which was an incredible experience, they cater for all levels of dancer.

The Northern Ballet offer classes for 8 year-olds upwards although there are sessions for those below that age, including the ‘Mini Movers’ i.e. 18 months to 3 years! There is a clear progression from these early life participants through the more formal training during the formative years. Things continue after the age of 16 where those who wish to pursue their development can do so in a safe and friendly environment whist, at the same time, receiving some of the best teaching in the country and benefitting from the same world-class facilities as the professional troupe.

Northern Ballet house the only Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) in the UK specialising in classical ballet. A CAT helps identify and assist young people with exceptional potential in a particular field, regardless of their personal circumstances, to benefit from specialist training as part of a broad and balanced education.

Academy - Over 55s Photo Justin Slee Academy - Over 55s Photo Justin Slee

The company have also recently piloted a pioneering programme called Rise across five schools in North Yorkshire, addressing issues affecting confidence, communication, self-expression and self-esteem through dance, storytelling and movement. The programme works in partnership with schools to introduce pupils to elements of Northern Ballet’s on-stage productions such as Merlin, The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and Cinderella within a classroom setting before bringing them to see a live performance in Leeds Grand Theatre.

They also stage children’s ballets with troupes of 5 to 10 dancers in bright and appealing 40 minute long children’s ballets which tour to schools, community centres and small scale theatres across the North with tickets from just £5.50 (venue dependent).

It isn’t just the younger people who benefit, as there are classes for all ages, including one for the over 55s. I am preparing for mine by typing this on pointe. I am having no trouble yet, but may struggle when I have to get out of the chair and stand up.

Expressions is an annual 2-day Festival celebration of inclusive dance with performers from all over the UK who have disabilities, including their own In Motion group. It used to be Europe-wide until the travel restrictions imposed by COVID. There are also music and movement sessions called Dance for Parkinson’s, which are specially designed to alleviate some of the symptoms of that particular condition.

If you feel inspired to join in with what is on offer please go to for general information it is where you can see what productions are in the offing. Information, a trailer and tickets for The Nutcracker, choreographed and directed by the aforementioned David Nixon CBE, which will be staged at Leeds Grand Theatre from 20th December, 2022 until 6th January, 2023, are at 

I take it back, he is a magician!


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