Ballet classes offered to all

David Lister
Monday 08 June 1998 23:02

THE ENGLISH National Ballet (ENB) is to run free classical dance classes in the park, and put merchandise in toy shops, in an attempt to widen ballet's popularity amongst the public.

The initiatives are recommended in a report by a top marketing management consultancy company which the publicly funded ENB employed to improve its audience figures and enhance its image.

The consultancy, Darwin,has drawn up a report for the ENB which urges a change of approach. The report, which has been seen by The Independent, says the ENB should allow ticket bookings over the Internet, expand the reach of corporate hospitality packages and develop affiliations with restaurants and hotel chains. It also urges the company to emphasise the "very physical nature of ballet". It is thought this will attract more men to shows. At present, only about a quarter of all attendees are male.

The ENB, which receives a pounds 3.9m grant from the Arts Council, has welcomed the report and later this month will start putting the recommendations into action. From 18 to 22 June the ENB will mount "Lark in the Park", offering ballet classes in Kensington Gardens opposite the Royal Albert Hall, where the company is staging Romeo and Juliet. As well as classes, the public will also be able to see the company training in the park.

The ENB commissioned Darwin following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, who as ENB's patron raised the profile of the organisation. ENB's deputy executive director, Richard Shaw, said: "We have obviously reached the point where we have to come up with new ways of generating interest."

Dan Salmons, one of Darwin's founding partners, said: "Market research suggests that about six per cent of the adult population currently goes to ballet performances but between 30 and 40 per cent are open to the idea. All of these people are ENB's target audience. To do that we have to make ballet more accessible so people feel comfortable with it."

Darwin's market research among ballet audiences has found a number of opinionswhich will find echoes among arts audiences. Audience comments include: "Why does the ice cream seller always come down in a few minutes before curtain down? It is bad manners... the theatre is always too hot for comfort... there is not much leg room... not enough bar staff... bar prices too high... more ladies' toilets needed.

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