London City Ballet, a company that dissolved almost 30 years ago, is set for a reboot, just as other British performing arts groups are cutting costs and reining in their ambitions.
On Monday, the British choreographer Christopher Marney, who will direct the reincarnated ensemble, announced that the company would begin touring in Britain and internationally in summer 2024, before presenting a fall season at Sadler’s Wells in London.
The new London City Ballet would have 12 dancers, and stick to chamber pieces rather than touring large-scale classical ballets, Marney said recently by phone.
The original company had a similar strategy when it was established in 1978 by Harold King, a South African-born dancer, as a touring company with eight dancers. It kept going for almost two decades, acquiring Princess Diana as its patron in 1982 and expanding to 32 performers. But by 1996, its debts had accumulated, and King closed the company.
For the first three seasons, the revived ensemble will perform for six months a year, from spring to fall, Marney said, although a small administrative staff would be permanently employed at a purpose-built studio and offices in London.
The funding for the new venture, which Marney estimated at around half a million pounds per season, or around $600,000, mostly came from a Japanese sponsor, whom he declined to name, but said he had met when creating a ballet for the New National Theater in Tokyo. An additional “smaller group of donors” had committed to an annual contribution for three years to supplement operating costs, Marney added.
Debra Craine, The Times of London’s dance critic, said that she was impressed Marney had managed to secure funding. “The entire arts industry in Britain is in crisis, hit by inflation, cost of living and the war in the Ukraine, which has affected the cost of materials and transportation costs,” she said. “Many companies are cutting back, reducing staff and doing fewer productions, so it’s amazing that Christopher Marney is starting a new company in these circumstances.”
Marney said he intended “to avoid the classical repertory; we won’t be throwing in a ‘Nutcracker’ pas de deux. We will have one new work a year, and mostly focus on works that audiences haven’t seen for a long time.” He plans to include forgotten chamber pieces by the former Royal Ballet director Kenneth MacMillan, as well as works by Glen Tetley, John Neumeier and John Cranko, Marney said, adding that he would also love to acquire small-scale pieces by Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky.
“I admire his commitment to resurrecting lost ballets,” Craine said, since an impact of high costs is often “a less adventurous approach to repertoire.” Nonetheless, she added, “if you are touring without recognizable titles, you’ve set yourself a big challenge.”
Marney said there was already significant interest in his new troupe from small theaters throughout Britain, and from Alistair Spalding, the director of Sadler’s Wells, where London City Ballet was resident from 1990-96.
Spalding said it was “great when someone comes up with something that is forward-looking, but based on a legacy.”
“It’s a challenging time,’ he added, “but I think if you have the right format, it can work.”