Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Richard Trinder
3:23 PM 1st December 2023

The Nutcracker, Northern Ballet, And A Controversy

Northern Ballet dancers in Nutcracker. Photos by Bill Cooper
Northern Ballet dancers in Nutcracker. Photos by Bill Cooper
A mini-picket on the door of Leeds Grand is not the usual reception we might expect as Northern Ballet's Nutcracker returns this winter. Like a true perennial, the ballet itself pops with colour, joy, vivacity, and downright goodness. Unfortunately, a proposal to use taped music rather than a live orchestra at next year's inevitable rendition of the ballet left the Musicians' Union, and members of the orchestra, little choice but to hand out leaflets protesting the plans.

We talked to 'Tracey the Trumpet', who, like all the members of the orchestra and its conductor, was wearing a 'Keep Music Live' tee shirt. The threat to reduce the use of live music by the splendid Northern Ballet Sinfonia is obviously a direct challenge to her income, as it would be for the entire orchestra. It seems such a shame that Northern Ballet is even considering such a move; surely art requires artists. Speaking personally, I would never go and see a ballet performed by robots - apart for a once-only novelty, perhaps - so why would I go for a big night out in Leeds to listen to a tape machine?

To be fair to the management of Northern Ballet, they have huge financial pressures and are facing a substantial hole in their budgets. Northern Ballet’s funding has hardly changed since 2015.

Artistic Director Federico Bonelli took to the stage before the performance to make clear their support and love of live music and that they are making great efforts to avoid this happening. I suspect that some spirited conversations with Arts Council England are happening right now.

A petition created by the musicians of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia can be found here. For the sake of the future of live music I would encourage everybody to sign.

The Nutcracker

Always a delight, this year's Nutcracker is every bit as charming and colourful as ever. Kaleidoscopic costumes, glorious dancing, and beautiful stage sets make this a perfect family outing for the Christmas season. It is in fact a perfect 'starter ballet', but be warned, this is something of a gateway and can lead to a lifetime of addiction.

The Northern Ballet Sinfonia was in fine form and ripped through Tchaikovsky's music with great gusto. Obviously Tracey the Trumpet was my favourite player, and it was good to see that the rest managed to keep up with her.

Rachael Gillespie as Clara and Harris Beattie as the Nutcracker Prince
Rachael Gillespie as Clara and Harris Beattie as the Nutcracker Prince
Dominic Larose is a magnificent Sugar Plum Fairy and Rachel Gillespie returns for an entirely justified fourth time as the little girl Clara, whose imagination makes this whole fairy story happen.

The Nutcracker has plenty of opportunities for children to be involved, and students from Northern Ballet's Centre for Advanced Training and Northern Ballet's Open Programme added a delightfully Christmassy feel to the whole occasion. 

Yet again, Northern Ballet managed to field a huge cast of talented performers. You can support world-class ballet and live music simply by going along to the show. And do take the family; why not?

Remember: Tracey the Trumpet is for life, not just for Christmas.

Northern Ballet has a 'Big Give' fundraising campaign running until the 5th December. It can be accessed here.

The Nutcracker continues at Leeds Grand from the 29 November - 10 December 2023.