Birmingham Royal Ballet

The ballet company used a loan to re-imagine its iconic production of The Nutcracker for alternative venues

 Image credit: The Nutcracker. Céline Gittens as the Rose Fairy with Yasuo Atsuji as her Consort with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo: Andrew Ross 

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Social investment can have many uses and it pays to think outside of the box about how it can help arts organisations innovate. The Arts Impact Fund’s £215,000 investment in Birmingham Royal Ballet, for instance, allowed it to develop new audiences by enabling it to create a new arena presentation of its highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker, which premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in December 2017.

Birmingham Royal Ballet is an internationally renowned ballet company that tours extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally. It is also the only large-scale ballet company based outside of London giving over 90% of its performances outside of the capital city. It is creatively led with a commitment to developing ballet as an art form, growing and broadening the ballet audience and using dance, music and other art forms as a method of achieving positive social change in individuals and communities. These include dance classes, workshops at schools and colleges, audience open days and pre-performance talks. Birmingham Royal Ballet also produces a dedicated programme of children’s performances encouraging young audiences to engage with ballet for the first time, known as First Steps.

In recent years, the organisation has responded to the challenge of contracting revenue funding by growing and diversifying its earned and philanthropic revenue streams. This includes consideration of how the full commercial potential of some of its most successful productions can be harnessed, without diluting its artistic and social mission. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s best known production is its acclaimed and long-running version of The Nutcracker which was created as a gift to the City of Birmingham when the company relocated there in 1990. The production gives many people their first introduction to the magic of classical ballet; however, its full commercial value has historically been constrained by its sheer scale, making it difficult to tour (unlike other BRB productions) in the traditional theatre setting. The charity’s management began to think about how the production could be adapted for alternative venues in order to extend its programme of Christmas performances across the festive season.

"The re-staging of The Nutcracker gives the ballet company a model of adapting its productions for a wider range of stages that could be replicated in the future."

Through its networks, Birmingham Royal Ballet opened a dialogue with the Royal Albert Hall regarding the possibility of running a re-imagined version of the production in the famous venue in the winter of 2017. Eventually, a 7-performance deal was reached for 28-31 December 2017. Quite quickly it became apparent that it would need an injection of capital in order to fund the costs of adapting the existing production to a new stage, which is where a loan from the Arts Impact Fund could help. Management had to think carefully about whether to borrow externally for this purpose or to fund the cost out of the charity’s reserves; the latter option would be cheaper, but riskier as it would mean a sudden, sharp reduction in unrestricted cash balances, whereas loan repayment with interest would be spread over the three-year repayment period.

In order to support this proposal, the Arts Impact Fund team had to understand the assumptions behind the financial forecasts for the re-staging of The Nutcracker. We met with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s management team and Board of Directors and spoke with key personnel at the Royal Albert Hall to be satisfied that the assumptions, as well as the commercial terms between both institutions, were prudent and mutually beneficial. Arts Impact Fund’s investment committee was also encouraged that the new production would include open auditions for a number of the children’s roles which will mean that talented young people from a variety of backgrounds would get the chance to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.

This is the first collaboration between Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Albert Hall and both parties are excited about the opportunities this new relationship offers for the future. Following the commercial and artistic success of the initial run of performances, Birmingham Royal Ballet was invited to return in 2018 and we look forward to seeing how the collaboration will continue to evolve. Importantly, the re-staging of The Nutcracker also gives the ballet company a model of adapting its productions for a wider range of stages that could be replicated in the future.

If the new staging of the The Nutcracker continues to be successful, Birmingham Royal Ballet will have a new production to enhance its earned revenue, the profits of which will go towards supporting the organisation’s charitable objectives. This example demonstrates that for an arts organisation to become more self-sustaining, it does not necessarily have to create a new business or own a property. Many other existing assets can be creatively repurposed to develop long-term resilience and with the variety of performances and productions in the UK’s arts scene, we are excited to see different models emerge.