Northern Ballet Theatre returning with Romeo and Juliet

Emma LeeNorthern Ballet Theatre's association with Norwich Theatre Royal goes back decades. And the company makes a welcome return later this month with its critically acclaimed production of the timeless romance Romeo and Juliet. EMMA LEE speaks to its chief executive, Mark SkipperEmma Lee

'Never was there a tale of such woe as this of Juliet and her Romeo'. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a timeless tale, which is re-told time and time again.

Northern Ballet Theatre's interpretation of the tragic story of the 'star cross'd lovers', which opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on June 23, is hailed as a classic.

With sets and costumes designed by the award-winning Lez Brotherston and set to Prokofiev's famous score, it's an intense theatrical experience.

'It's a very dramatic telling of the story,' says NBT chief executive Mark Skipper.

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'It's one of our most successful productions ever. There's great dancing, great fights, and great music - the famous one is the one that's used in the Apprentice.'

Mark joined NBT in 1987. His original career choice was banking, before he had a complete change of direction and worked as company and stage manager for several touring companies. How did the U-turn happen?

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'I had been involved in amateur theatre and I got to the stage where I thought I didn't like banking any more,' he explains. 'I had several jobs in stage management. Northern Ballet Theatre were looking for a deputy stage manager and I've been here ever since,' he says.

Mark worked his way up through the ranks, becoming company manager and head of planning, before becoming chief executive in 1996.

'To do the job I do now, it's invaluable to have had experience on the road with the company. You understand what the problems can be,' he says.

Northern Ballet Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Then known as Northern Dance Theatre (the name change came in the mid 1970s), it was founded by Canadian-born dramatic dancer Laverne Meyer

Following a feasibility study, Meyer, backed by the Arts Council, North West Arts and other supporters, got together a new company of dancers. And on November 28, 1969, they gave their first performance, at University Theatre Manchester, accompanied by musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music. There were just 11 dancers in the first company.

In 1976, classically trained dancer Robert de Warren was appointed as the new artistic director. He had worked with the Royal Ballet and to fix the new focus of the company firmly on ballet, he renamed the company Northern Ballet Theatre. His achievements included increasing the size of the company to 28 dancers and persuading the legendary Rudolf Nureyev to become artistic laureate and dance as a guest artist. He also enticed Princess Margaret to become NBT's royal patron.

Current artistic director David Nixon joined the company in August 2001.

NBT's association with Norwich goes back many years - its productions are hugely popular with audiences. Education is an important part of its work, so as well as performing at the theatre during its stints in the city, the company goes out to the community to give workshops and talks to schools and community groups.

'The company has been coming to Norwich for more than 20 years. I can't tell you exactly how long, but I've been going to Norwich with the company since 1987,' says Mark.

'I haven't been to the Theatre Royal since its revamp, but I'm really looking forward to seeing it.'

Despite the current economic climate, and staying in being dubbed the new going out as people try to cut costs, Mark, pictured left, says that NBT's experience so far is that people still want to go out to be entertained.

'I think people still want to come out and see productions of quality. I suppose at the moment audiences are playing a little bit safe with what they want to see, so they'll perhaps go to see productions like Swan Lake, the Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. Titles like Dracula and Wuthering Heights are slightly riskier,' he says.

t Northern Ballet Theatre's Romeo and Juliet is at Norwich Theatre Royal from June 23-27. Box office: 01603 630000 and A number of special events are being held, including a pre-performance talk by members of the company at 6.30pm on June 25 - admission is free, but tickets must be booked in advance via the theatre box office.

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