David Lister: If the Royal Ballet can tour in Japan, why not Manchester?

The Week in Arts
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Tall or short, fat or thin, nearly every woman that I have met went to ballet classes for some part of their youth.

All over the country there are girls, and I hope an increasing number of boys, doing ballet. That is why I have long believed the Royal Ballet could make a killing from endorsing a brand of ballet shoes. What child wouldn't want to turn up to class with Royal Ballet footwear?

Recently, I met the head of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason, and put the idea to her. Dame Monica was unimpressed. The Royal Ballet does not sell shoes, she said, with a look she probably gave the black swan in her dancing days.

But as we approach what will be a very Black Wednesday for the arts, one antidote to the spending cuts should surely be a touch of entrepreneurism. Endorsements by our world-renowned companies seem to me not a bad way of proceeding.

There are few better evenings out at cultural events than seeing the Royal Ballet. It has just begun its winter season, and boasts some marvellous young dancers. But, with the coming cuts heralding new ways of thinking for the arts, it could and should be in the forefront of a new approach. First, the company simply has to tour in the UK. As money going to the arts is scrutinised as never before, what justification can there be for our premier dance company never being seen live by British audiences outside of London? It manages to travel to Japan and America, but Newcastle and Manchester are apparently logistically impossible.

The company is making much of an exhibition it is mounting at the Lowry Centre in Salford, but exhibitions are not its raison d'être. Dance is. And it is dance that it must take out of Covent Garden to the people who actually pay for it. A short tour once a year can't be too much to ask.

It's a funny old art form, ballet. The classical repertoire is so small that barely a year goes by without a Nutcracker or a Sleeping Beauty or a Romeo and Juliet. Yet, this year one of the highlights of my dance-going was the visiting Bolshoi Ballet's Don Quixote, a series of stunning, virtuoso performances in this tricksy but spectacular piece. It would be fascinating to compare the Royal Ballet's version with the Bolshoi's, but it isn't even in the company's repertoire – not this year, not any year.

It's time for a little more flexibility, a little more openness to new challenges. This is a fantastic company with some genuine stars. But as we approach an era in which even the greatest arts companies have to fight for their funding and find more ways of supplementing their funding, the Royal Ballet must not be so bound by tradition. It could expand its repertoire. It could be more entrepreneurial. And it should get out more.

Am I speaking properly, Squire?

A lot of attention has been paid to the arrival of Will Gompertz as the face of arts reporting on BBC television. But at the same time Channel 4 has been changing the guard, and this has had a lot less attention. Channel 4 has parted company with its long-serving and excellent arts reporter Nick Glass and has appointed, as its culture editor, Matthew Cain, a former producer and director with the South Bank Show.

I watched a report by Cain the other day. He is a definite performer with a distinctive style. But one thing worried me. He was reporting from Leicester Square, something he will have to do often for premieres. Yet he pronounced it Leicester Squire. I rewound the report a couple of times as I couldn't quite believe my ears. And sure enough, there it was each time – Leicester Squire. This is serious. Channel 4 could lose all the street cred it has left.

Discounts usually do the trick

I've had cause to complain more than once, well more than a hundred times actually, about too expensive theatre seats and the way that potential new, young audiences are alienated by high ticket prices. So it's good to be able to report that the Royal Shakespeare Company has a commendable initiative to draw in younger audiences.

As well as offering £5 seats for the 16-25 age group, the RSC is offering them exclusive discounts, including 10 per cent off in restaurants, cafés, bars and shops in the soon to be reopened Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre. Then there's half-price entry to Shakespeare's birthplace, two-for-one entry at Warwick Castle and other discounts in a variety of shops, 25 per cent off youth hostel accommodation, 10 per cent off a haircut, and free cinema tickets. That's quite a full day out.

And, if you don't like the play, you can always skive off at the interval and go see a movie for free.

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