2019 BAC Cataloguing Grant Winner

The judging panel for this years’ Cataloguing Grant for Business Archives was impressed with the variety of records of firms represented from across the UK. After individual scoring and joint deliberation, they decided to present the award to Northern Ballet Limited. The Northern Ballet Archive is a rare example with a wide range of record types. The organisation’s growth and development over 50 years is documented, from inception as a regional company to becoming an arts business of national significance. The records provide a valuable insight into social, cultural and economic shifts affecting the business itself and the wider arts sector outside London (where ballet companies have been traditionally concentrated).

Northern Ballet began life as Northern Dance Theatre when it was set up in 1969 by dramatic dancer Laverne Meyer. The Company launched with 11 dancers and a budget of £10,500. It strived to develop new audiences and quickly achieved a loyal following in the North of England. 

In 1976 the Company renamed itself Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT), with the focus being as much on the ‘theatre’ as on the ‘ballet.’ In a relatively small UK theatre circuit, which included a number of classical ballet companies, NBT held a unique role, and the Company’s theatrical and dramatic narratives attracted more new audiences to dance. In the 1980s and 1990s full-length productions such as, A Christmas Carol, The Brontës, Romeo & Juliet and Dracula won awards and were huge box office hits, making NBT one of the UK’s most successful touring companies.

Under the leadership of current Artistic Director, David Nixon OBE, the Company renamed itself Northern Ballet and moved to new purpose-built facilities in 2010, reflecting its 21st century vision to become a powerhouse of inventive dance. Today the Company continues to be committed to creating new ballets and touring widely, performing to audiences throughout the UK who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the highest quality ballet.

The archive comprises institutional records and personal collections of Northern Ballet. The collections tell the story of the Company from foundation to the present, covering a period of five Artistic Directors, four locations in Manchester, Halifax and Leeds and three Company names. The records relate to all aspects of the Company’s activities, from its 200+ production repertoire to its dance training Academy and Education work. There is a wealth of visual sources in photographs, posters, programmes, costume/set designs and audio-visual material.

The grant will enable Northern Ballet to catalogue its highest-level Governance records in detail, including Board papers and minutes dating back to the very first Board meeting in 1969, and Production Files detailing some of the Company’s most successful productions from the past 50 years. It will also help to make Northern Ballet’s archive more visible and accessible, for people both inside and outside of the organisation, creating a wider picture of the history of dance, ballet and the arts in West Yorkshire and throughout the UK.     

The Northern Ballet archive is a rich source for those interested in the Company’s development from humble beginnings to internationally celebrated arts company, as well as the many talented members and performers it has attracted and nurtured over the years. It offers a wealth of social and cultural history research opportunities, for instance how arts businesses adapt to shifting cultural, social and economic landscapes such as funding crises, ever-changing audiences and new technologies. The records also reveal the Company’s contribution to the economic growth of Leeds and the region.

The panel were impressed by Northern Ballet’s commitment to sharing the story of the foundation and development of the company through their archive and improving accessibility for those both inside and outside of the company. The catalogued and repackaged materials will be moved to Leeds University Library Special Collections, which will enable improved storage of, and access to, the collection. Plans for the use of the catalogued materials show a commitment to the development of projects run by their education department as well as strengthening links with the University of Leeds and their students.

With knowledgable volunteers already in place and an impressive list of associated outputs attached to the project, including creating lists of performers, identifying materials for future projects and identifying conservation and digitisation priorities, the judging panel concluded that the project will be a real benefit to the business. The cataloguing work will boost in-house archival activities towards the firm’s 50th birthday celebrations, as well as benefit the wider community. Overall the judges feel the project will provide good value for money.

Read the report in full here.