Packed in to the New Theatre on Saturday night to see English National Ballet’s newly downsized Strictly Gershwin.  This glitzy extravaganza, originally made for in the round presentation in the Royal Albert Hall, has now entered ENB’s standard repertoire in reduced scale for proscenium arch presentation, and it will be relentlessly touring regional venues for the next few months.  And by the look of it, contributing staunchly to ENB’s coffers, badly depleted in this time of cuts.  With sell-out shows this production seems to have reversed a trend of disappointing audiences for visiting ballet companies in Oxford.

I am intrigued to know exactly what it is that brought Oxford audiences in to this show in such numbers.  This was the premiere of the reduced version, so not a production already known and loved; yet it was booked out before local word of mouth recommendation might operate to increase ticket sales.  Nor did it boast the fail-safe name of the Nutcracker or other famous and universally recognised fairytale ballets.  Nor can it be the appeal of the New Theatre as a venue, hot and cramped, worryingly congested and lacking in gangway access for a full house, and with ticket prices irritatingly inflated by additional booking charges.

Yet there were canny ingredients which may have attracted more than the ballet faithful.  The inclusion on stage of a big band and singers; that word “Strictly” in the title (although the night we were there ENB was in direct competition with its namesake on BBC1); a flyer image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; or perhaps a higher profile for ENB and the production’s director and choreographer Derek Deane following their Agony and Ecstasy TV programmes?  At a time when dance needs to maximise its box office appeal as a buttress against funding cuts, what do you think it is that made people buy tickets for this show?  If you saw it, what do you think was particularly appealing about it?

Answers on a posting please…

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