The campaign to protect the future of the Academy of Northern Ballet

PUBLISHED: 14:25 06 October 2014 | UPDATED: 14:25 06 October 2014

Academy of Northern Ballet students

Academy of Northern Ballet students

©JustinSlee 2012

An urgent appeal is being made for funding to protect the future of the Academy of Northern Ballet. Lauren Godfrey explains

Ballet Mistress Yoko Ichino. Photo Justin Slee.Ballet Mistress Yoko Ichino. Photo Justin Slee.

A leading ballet academy which has turned around the lives of many young people faces an uncertain future because of a lack of funding. The Academy of Northern Ballet based in a state-of-the-art purpose-built centre in the heart of Leeds, offers professional training for young people across Yorkshire and the north of England but struggles to win the funding it needs. ‘We receive minimal government funding for the academy whereas schools in London get so much more,’ said ballet mistress and academy associate director Yoko Ichino. ‘At the moment the government only covers the cost of eight hours of training but each student trains for an average of 12 hours per week so we have to make up the shortfall. It’s a terrible shame because there is a huge pool of talent in the north of England which is being overlooked. Just because you’re not in the south doesn’t mean you’re no good.

‘A lot of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds or difficult family situations and we’re providing them with a family here and can offer them real direction. We cover the costs of transportation, uniforms and shoes for students who otherwise couldn’t come to us and we also offer bursaries. Pointe shoes, for example, last a couple of weeks at best and cost around £40 a pair so many of these students could never afford to achieve their full potential without this assistance. The academic performance and sense of commitment of our students also improves noticeably once they start ballet. It gives them a focus which is useful even if they don’t become a dancer. An investment in their dance training is an investment in their education too.

‘We desperately need to raise £60,000 to ensure that we can continue to offer the same level of support and training to students in the north. The money goes directly to covering their costs and without this help they would not be able to afford to reach their potential. Every contribution counts.’

Yoko Ichino performed across the world in a professional career which spanned three decades and saw her dance with some of ballet’s greatest dancers including Rudolph Nureyev. She first began teaching ballet as a teenager to pay her way to ballet school in New York and developed her own method of teaching, the Ichino Technique. ‘In ballet schools they tend to categorise everyone the same but they’re not the same. They’re from different backgrounds, different schooling, they’re all different sizes, shapes and heights and they’re all different mentally and emotionally so in order to get the same result it isn’t always the same type of progression that is needed. It depends on the individual’s strengths. The Ichino Technique promotes healthy minds, nutrition, cross-training and strengthening to prepare students for the demands of a professional career.’

Academy of Northern Ballet studentsAcademy of Northern Ballet students

In 2001 Yoko’s husband David Nixon OBE took up a position as artistic director of Northern Ballet and so Yoko followed him to Leeds where she took up the reins as ballet mistress and associate director of the Academy of Northern Ballet. ‘When I arrived at Northern Ballet there wasn’t much of an academy. Certain things were in place but we had an old building in the suburbs of Leeds with only two studios so there wasn’t much we could do with it. Moving to our new building in Quarry Hill has allowed us to take the academy to the next level and create much more of a focal point for dance in the north.’

In 2004 the Academy of Northern Ballet became the first and only Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) in the UK specialising in classical ballet. The academy’s revered CAT programme is the professional training scheme for young people with the potential to pursue a career as a dancer. ‘A lot of young children who want to pursue a career in ballet have to move away to vocational schools at a young age because their local area can’t offer the facilities they need. It is very expensive for the parents and can be daunting for the child especially if they’re not emotionally ready. That’s why it is vital that the Academy of Northern Ballet exists so that young people in the north can access the same level of training that can only otherwise be found in London. The syllabus, method and demands of the CAT programme are all professional level, the only difference is that it’s not residential and 100 per cent of our CAT graduates get into top vocational schools,’ added Yoko.

To find out about becoming a Friend of the Academy from as little as £25 per year or for information on other ways to help the academy please contact Jo Clayton on 0113 220 8000 or jo.clayton@northernballet.com.

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