Northern Ballet Theatre's fancy footwork

PUBLISHED: 12:06 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Linda Fenwick, Patrick Hibbin, Juliet Jowitt, Diane Hare, Linda Brown and Catherine Lawrence

Linda Fenwick, Patrick Hibbin, Juliet Jowitt, Diane Hare, Linda Brown and Catherine Lawrence

Chris Titley meets an 'elite squadron' dedicated to creating a dance centre of excellence <br/>Photograph by Justin Slee

They are gathered in the drawing room of Thorpe Lodge, a splendid Georgian residence set in 12 acres of gardens south of Ripon. Talk is lively and free-flowing, and the luncheon, served at a long, polished dining table, delicious.

There are only a handful of them, but their influence far transcends their number. Together they are helping to create a world-beating cultural centre in the heart of Leeds. Together they are the Northern Ballet Theatre Ambassadors.

Many an artistic endeavour has a group of supportive Friends, and most can boast some suitably well-placed patrons. But Northern Ballet Theatre has gone a stage further with the ambassadors, its very own elite squadron dedicated to raising awareness and funds for a cause they all care about.

'It's a group of very talented, very energetic, very committed, very creative people who are equally passionate about Northern Ballet Theatre,'
explained Patrick Hibbin, chairman of the ambassadors.

The group exists thanks to Juliet Jowitt, a former member of the Northern Ballet Theatre board, and the host of our lunch at Thorpe Lodge. Her passion for dance began in childhood when her mother first took her to the ballet. Today she is a staunch supporter of the talent and spirit of the Northern Ballet Theatre team.

'The company is about 37 strong which is incredibly small for a company doing full productions. They usually have four casts, which means that there are four sets of leading dancers - four people to do Cathy in Wuthering Heights, four people to do Heathcliff.

'Even the beginners can have the odd solo on stage. To me this is absolutely amazing and wonderful.'

The creation of such a singular group as the ambassadors is typical of a ballet company which has done things differently from the moment it was founded 40 years ago. Smaller in size and subsidy than its peers, the company which began life as the Northern Dance Theatre has had to be light on its feet to survive and thrive.

An emphasis on hard work and inventiveness remains at its heart. 'If you go to Covent Garden or any of the other southern companies, they're very heavily subsidised. Northern Ballet Theatre isn't,' says Patrick. 'They're an extremely talented company. They tour extensively, they do incredible outreach work, on a shoestring. That kind of talent needs to be rewarded and supported.'

Northern Ballet Theatre's creative team regularly stage productions which blow audiences away with their ambition, power and artistry. This achievement is even more impressive when you consider the limitations of the space they use for their rehearsals at West Park in Leeds.

'One of the reasons I became involved was when I saw their conditions,' said ambassador Catherine Lawrence. 'There wasn't any doubt in my mind that they needed a new home.'

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