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The Lowry
England's new performing and visual arts centre

by Patricia Boccadoro

MANCHESTER, 5 May 2000 - Salford quays, a desolate no-man's land of derelict buildings, broken bottles, and dirty refuse mouldering away used to be the place the 'Swinging Sixties' youngsters wanted to escape from ! Now, everyone seems to be heading up North, including the Paris Opéra Ballet.

But just where was this theatre to which the world's finest classical ballet company had been invited, and why were they performing in this grimy industrial spot instead of arriving in glory at the glamorous New Covent Garden complex for their first visit to Britain in fifteen years ?

I went to discover what was going on one dark and rainy January afternoon, and discovered a gleaming palace of glass and metal rising majestically from a regenerated dockside on a sort of peninsular jutting out into the Manchester ship canal, barely two miles away from the busy city centre. Stainless steel panels reflected the sky during the day, and are intended to provide a backdrop for illuminated artworks at night. Its situation, bordered by water on two sides, was not unlike that of the attractive Muziektheater in Amsterdam. It is an astonishingly beautiful space-age structure, built along waterways once filled by detritus of countless industries, and inhabited only by rats. It was nothing short of a miracle !

The Lowry, the National Landmark Millenium Project for the Arts designed by architect Michael Wilford and Partners is a unique cultural centre housing two theatres, of 1730, and 466 seats respectively, and two art galleries, one providing space for the world's largest collection of L.S. Lowry's work, the other for visiting exhibitions. The project also includes a spectacular lifting footbridge across the Ship Canal, linking it to Old Trafford, the Manchester United Football Ground, and the Lancashire County Cricket Club. A new audience for dance ?

"We wanted to attract as many people as possible to the opening celebrations during the first week", Michelle Bowey, the Media Relations Manager told me. "And so Stephen Hetherington, our chief executive, had the idea of bringing the Paris Opéra Ballet here because of their prestige. We felt that as soon as the public discovered everything else we had to offer, they'd return".

Brigitte Lefèvre, artistic director of the French company recalled her meeting in Paris with Mr. Hetherington two years ago. "I was very touched when he came to ask us to dance at the opening", she said. "We have wanted to come to Britain for many years now, and this beautiful new theatre seemed to give us the opportunity. The British public are very discerning ; they have a great reputation as dance-lovers, and we have deeply regretted the fact we haven't danced in the U. K. since the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. We suggested bringing one of Nureyev's productions, and The Bayadère was mutually agreed upon. It's important to us not only because it was Rudolf Nureyev's last work and we love dancing it, but also because it is a work with parts for a great many dancers. There are three different casts, mixing dancers of Rudolf's generation with much younger ones."

Thus Jean-Guillaume Bart in the role of Solor will be partnered by Agnès Letestu, whom Nureyev plucked from the corps de ballet to dance Gamzatti, and Gamzatti will be danced in turn by Aurèlie Dupont. (May 4, 6, May 6, matinée). Elisabeth Platel will make a welcome guest appearance dancing with Nicolas LeRiche (who will appear only once) and Eleonore Abbagnato. A third cast programmes Manuel Legris partnered by Fanny Gaida, who will be making one of her last appearances, in this role at least, before retirement . Gamzatti will be danced by either Dupont or Moussin.

"We're very impatient and excited at the prospect of performing at The Lowry", Lefèvre told me, "but a little anxious too. We don't want to disappoint. But we are extremely happy to be going, and hope the public will like what they see, including all the football and cricket fans ! There is something very special in dancing before a new audience, particularly a local one !"

However, The Lowry , which opened officially on April 28th with a spectacular Water Pageant is not simply a venue for classical ballet. The theatres will offer a wide variety of programmes including contemporary dance, theatre, opera, hosting companies that had nowhere to perform in the North of England before. In addition, musicals, shows for young children, pop concerts, and jazz sessions will also be presented. And for the casual visitor, there are cafés, bars and a restaurant with a quayside terrace.

5, 6 May 2000
Royal National Theatre
The Oresteia by Aeschylus. New version by Ted Hughes
Box Office (44) 0 161 876 2000

5, 6, 7, May 2000
Moby Dick
Saturday 20h00, Sunday 15h00

4, 5, 6, May 2000 (14h30, 19h30), 7 May 2000 (14h00).
Paris Opéra Ballet with the Hallé Orchestra
La Bayadère
Box Office : (44) 0161 876 2000

16 - 20 May 2000
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton
Mobil Touring Theatre

21 May 2000
Fascinating Ada in Bareface Chic

22 - 27 May 2000
Gumboots Extravaganza of African rhythm, dance and song
Box Office (44) 0 161 876 2000

28 May 2000
Disney Channel's Kids Awards Roadshow

29 May - 3 June 2000
The Blues Brothers
Box Office (44) 0 161 876 2000

6 - 9 June 2000
Opera North
La Gioconda by Ponchielli
Box Office (44) 0 161 876 2000

7, 8, June 2000
Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach

10 June 2000
Radamisto by Handel

Birmingham Royal Ballet, partner of The Lowry
13, 14, 15, June 2000
Giselle, production Bintley, Samsova

16, 17, June 2000
A Jazz Triple Bill : Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, choreography: Balanchine
The Shakespeare Suite, choreography Bintley
The Nutcracker Sweeties, choreography Bintley
Box Office (44) 0 161 876 2000

17 - 22 July 2000
Simon Callow in The Mystery of Charles Dickens by Ackroyd

23 July 2000
BBC Concert Orchestra Sunday Summer Gala

20 - 30 December 2000
The Nutcracker , production Wright

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance from Paris. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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