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Musicians’ Union Extremely Concerned as Funding Crisis Deepens at Northern Ballet

The MU has today expressed its concern at the situation that has arisen for their members in the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and for the Company of Northern Ballet (NB).

Published: 29 September 2023 | 10:43 AM Updated: 10 October 2023 | 5:34 PM
Gold ballet shoes in half shadow on a wooden floor
The MU is deeply concerned about the diminishing use of live musicians in UK ballet productions. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Northern Ballet has acted to make as many savings as possible to minimise the loss. This has included redundancies in the Company and a substantially reduced headcount.

Crucially, the Company has been driven to schedule notably less touring work, which has had a direct impact on MU members’ income – who are only paid for the work that they undertake – unlike the rest of the Company who are salaried. The result of the loss of work for MU members has been devastating, with some not only having to diversify their work to survive but even calling on the support of food banks.

This position means the Company is being forced to consider the use of recorded music instead of the live orchestra for some of their touring work. It is proposed that doing so would allow the Company to remain sustainable.

Using recorded music would be an unacceptable state of affairs for the Union and its members.

Funding status of the Northern Ballet

The current funding status for Northern Ballet is that:

  • Despite a necessary uplift of its core grant from Arts Council England (ACE) in 2015 there has been little change in grant income against the significant impact of rising inflation for quite some years.
  • In the last ACE funding round, the total amount the Company received was reduced overall as the Childrens Ballet Tour project was merged into core funding.
  • In the last financial year, Northern Ballet’s UK touring performances made a significant operational deficit, resulting in the unwelcome use of Company’s reserves.
  • With costs related to touring an artform predicated on large numbers of artists soaring in the last two years particularly, inflation makes current funding levels unrealistic for the artform.

We urge ACE and the Northern Ballet to collectively find a solution to the funding shortfall

Morris Stemp, MU Orchestras Official, said:

“It is unthinkable that Northern Ballet should be in a position to even consider using recorded music in place of a live orchestra during live performances. Whilst we appreciate that doing so is a last resort, our members are the product and an integral part of any ballet.

“They deliver world class music and dance in partnership with the performers on the stage. It would be no different to replacing the dancers with a video screen.

“The work Northern Ballet do across the UK brings immense joy and pleasure to thousands every year, from those experiencing the artform for the first time, to those that know and love the Company well.

“We acknowledge that Northern Ballet are in emergency discussions with Arts Council England today, and we urge them to collectively find a solution to the funding shortfall. It is vital for all in society to have access to this incredible artform, with the dedicated live music as an integral part of the experience.”

Ballet is a live medium and audiences demand live musicians

Naomi Pohl, MU General Secretary, said:

“The MU is deeply concerned about the diminishing use of live musicians in UK ballet productions. Most ballet companies appear to be offering less work to orchestral musicians, even those who have players with ongoing contracts.

“There is no doubt that this is a direct result of funding cuts and the situation at Northern Ballot is particularly stark. Ballet is a live medium and we know audiences demand live musicians. We urge the Arts Council and Northern Ballet to work together urgently to avert this cultural vandalism and ensure the company can keep doing what it does best: live performance.”

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