Charlotte Murray, Archive & Records Manager, Northern Ballet, writes:

In 2021, Northern Ballet strengthened their ties with Leeds by donating their archive to Special Collections. The Northern Ballet Archive tells the story of the organisation from its foundation in 1969 to the present, covering five artistic directors, four locations and three company names. Here, we look at items relating to our current touring production – David Nixon’s version of ‘The Nutcracker’, showing at Leeds Grand Theatre 20th Dec 2022 – 7th Jan 2023 – and how they reveal the value of the collection for a wide range of disciplines and researchers.

text and images from the Northern Ballet production of 'The Nutcracker' 2007
MS 2239/3/5/2/34 – The Nutcracker (Nixon 2007) programme, pp. 13-14 . Image courtesy of Northern Ballet.

In the 2007 ‘Nutcracker’ programme, dance critic Jeremy Taylor places Nixon’s choreography and approach to his role as Director within its wider social and economic context. As well as students of dance and stage management, this analysis is of interest to historians, providing insight into cultural and economic shifts affecting the arts sector outside London. It shows how organisations have adapted to funding crises, changing audiences and new technologies. Taylor’s assessment of the decisions made when adding new productions to the repertoire sheds light on the wider social and political preoccupations of the time.

The graphic design, typography and advertisements included in the programme can be used by researchers of popular culture through the decades, as well as students of marketing and of art and design. This is true of other ephemera, such as this signed poster from the World Première of Nixon’s ‘The Nutcracker’.

poster for 'The Nutcracker' showing a dancer in a pink dress and another in a black, red and gold jacket and browny red pantaloons
MS 2239/13/P134 – Poster for the World Première of The Nutcracker, 11th Oct 2007, Palace Theatre Manchester, choreographed by David Nixon. Signed by the dancers. Image courtesy of Northern Ballet.

The production was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews: Debra Crane in her piece ‘Pulling off a cracker’ for ‘The Times’ describes Nixon’s ‘traditional approach’ as ‘stylish, lucid and most enjoyable’. Through these press reviews, researchers can discover audience and establishment responses to performances, uncovering society’s changing values and political leanings. Box office statistics and data analysis show that 2007’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is one of the Company’s bestselling productions and demonstrate the Company’s contribution to the economic growth of the local area.

Dancer dressed as the Nutcracker in a blue and silver jacket, white trousers and black boots from 'The Nutcracker'.
Ashley Dixon as the Nutcracker. Image courtesy of Emma Kauldhar and Northern Ballet.

Show reports and stage management records including technical diagrams for ‘The Nutcracker’ were used by Northern Ballet staff and dancers when creating the current revival. However, a wider application lies in their ability to document new developments in technology and shifting priorities for the same production that provide clues to wider transformations in the Performing Arts sector and society.