Interview: David Nixon Q&A

Thursday 14 May 2009

David NixonPhoto: Richard Moran Canadian born David Nixon has been Northern Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director since 2001. He worked extensively as a dancer in North Amercian and Europe, before becoming Artistic Director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio USA in 1994.

This year is the 40th anniversary year of Northern Ballet Theatre and the company bring two programmes to Sadler’s Wells next week (19 – 23 May 09) – a mixed bill and the full length classic, Romeo & Juliet.

Northern Ballet Theatre 'A Simple Man'Photo: Richard Farley What did you have to take into account when devising the programme for 2009?
This programme was about capturing a celebratory spirit and representing in some way the 40 years that the Company will be celebrating. One of the key elements was the revival of Gillian Lynne’s A Simple Man (from 1987) as it was a hugely important piece for the company, a groundbreaking piece of work that put the company on the map and put in motion the artistic direction that would define its identity. It also introduced Christopher Gable to the company who then became its most significant director to date.

A lot of the other repertoire from before Christopher is no longer licensed to the company and many of the sets and costumes were lost in the fire the company’s temporary headquarters in Leeds were destroyed in a fire in 2001. So I chose to revive work that has been successful since A Simple Man and to capture the spirit of the present and future. To this end I am very excited about the UK premiere of Mark Godden’s Angels in the Architecture. The mixed programme, alongside Romeo and Juliet, reflects the capability of the company to perform diverse styles while retaining our dramatic identity.

Northern Ballet Theatre 'Angels in the Architecture'Photo: Bill Cooper What appealed to you about Angels in the Architecture?
What Mark Godden has put it together is just beautiful to watch because it captures the beauty and dynamics of contemporary dancing at its best. It’s inspired by the Shakers and their spirit is reflected through the design: nothing’s on the floor, everything’s hanging up, the simple use of chairs and brooms and dresses. It’s great dancing
for the company in a way that we have not often done, and of course Appalachian Spring is a wonderful piece of music and wonderful to dance to.

The piece reminds me of very early Jiri Kylian work. (Choreographer and ex Artistic Director for Nederland Dans Theatre). Mark Godden had been with NDT prior to creating the piece, and I think it retains some of that influence.

Northern Ballet Theatre 'Romeo Why do you think the story of Romeo and Juliet is such an enduring one?
Well it is one of the most famous love stories of all time, and one of the greatest tragedies. But it is also a story that everyone knows and relates to. It endures
because it deals with themes that are still relevant today: our world is still full of conflict and jealousy; people still fall in love with people they shouldn’t, for whatever reason.

What sets Massimo Moricone’s version apart from the many other versions of this ballet?
The simplicity and the passion, and the physicality of the story means it translates very well to dance. Romeo & Juliet is one of Massimo’s and Christopher Gable’s finest works. Although it is now part of the company history it reflects a new approach, an experiment with the possibilities of narrative dance and theatre at the very time it was conceived. It has become a long lasting production for NBT supported by Massimo’s fluid choreography, the power of Prokofiev’s music and the brilliant work of Lez Brotherston’s design.

NBT has a lot to be proud of – what are the key achievements in your opinion?
I think the key achievement is the survival of a small company that was started 40 years ago in what was considered the provinces, and the fact that it has built
up this ability to perform up to 180-200 performances in a season with such a diverse repertoire and at a high standard. Through the work across the company, from Learning & Access to Marketing, we reach people in a way other companies don’t and in a way that we can be proud of.

Because the company isn’t so specifically classical it has been able to attract people that would otherwise not go to dance, and they have perhaps gone on to see the other companies, so we have been a great starting point. And I think we retain creation through thick and thin. Whether people like it or appreciate it is another question, but without a doubt the company has continued to be creative.

I think that the company is probably the best it’s ever been in its history. I reckon pretty much any choreographer could come in and make a ballet with us. So the future can kind of be written on its own. We attract a different kind of dancer now to what we used to. The young dancers coming into the company now are more physically gifted. They watch the dancers that are already here and they come to understand how you interpret a roll and how to be creative. So there’s constant evolution.

My biggest wish is that we can retain the environment we work in because it’s pretty perfect. There’s such a sense of fair play and generosity, and the studio
is a very positive place to go into.

See Northern Ballet Theatre at Sadler’s Wells next week

Tue 19 & Wed 20 May Mixed Programme: A Simple Man, Angels in the Architecture & As Time Goes By
Thu 21 – Sat 23: _Romeo & Juliet
more details/online booking

Special ticket offer - best seats for £15 on some performances!

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