Young dance company faces unhappy ending

David Lister looks at the funding crisis facing an innovative group
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AN innovative dance company bringing 10- to 14-year-olds on to the West End stage will have to cancel all productions next year because of lack of funds.

The plight of London Children's Ballet, the result of one woman's dedication to young people's dance, highlights the crisis in the arts and the way that The Independent's campaign could help to alleviate it.

Artistic director Lucille Briance formed the company five years ago. A journalist, she had worked on Esquire and Vogue magazines and founded a movie magazine in New York. She set up the London Children's Ballet because her 10-year-old daughter had wanted to audition for The Royal Ballet School, but Mrs Briance said no, thinking there should be a company that allows children to dance but also to pursue other interests and academic work.

The LCB auditions more than 400 children a year from 151 ballet schools, mainly after- school and Saturday morning classes. Their productions have been sell-outs, and in May they make their debut on the West End stage at the Peacock Theatre in a new production of Mrs Harris Goes To Paris, based on a book by Paul Gallico.

But next year there will be no production. The LCB receives no public funding. Mrs Briance said: "The Arts Council's dance department told me `no, you come under education,' the education people told me I was dance. Two applications for lottery funding have been turned down. Yet, in order to make this special experience open to children from every background, the company does not charge for the 100 hours of tuition given over the five- month rehearsal period.

"The many families who cannot afford the pounds 14,000-a- year for the Royal Ballet School and prefer their children to have a more rounded childhood have found the company a godsend."

The company gets some business sponsorship, but has a shortfall of pounds 31,000 and will not be able to mount a production next year. "I can see this cycle never ending," said Mrs Briance.

"I support The Independent campaign 100 per cent. I can't tell you how many people have told me there isn't an incentive to give to the arts. And I know that an incentive such as tax relief for individual donations would help us enormously."

The Independent and Independent On Sunday are campaigning for the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to use his Budget on 17 March to make all donations to the arts tax deductible. This would create a climate of giving in the United Kingdom - giving more and more people incentives to help their favourite arts companies.

We have been inundated with support from readers and from celebrities in the arts. Latest supporters include the Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley and Mark Elder, the conductor and former music director of the English National Opera, who telephoned from Munich where he is conducting Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage, to give his support.