Last year, as part of Salford Council's £165,000 sponsorship of the Manchester International Festival, at least Salford residents got reduced price tickets for The Lowry to see Cuban ballet star, Carlos Acosta, plus a free pop concert on the Quays. This year, the Council has splashed out £110,000 sponsorship to commission `Young Apollo', a new work by Carlos, with no reduced price tickets for Salfordians and no free concert at the Quays.
The only benefits to Salford are "an agreed number of tickets…at The Lowry and Sadlers Wells for Salford City Council's hospitality purposes" (Leaders Briefing Meeting, 11.8.08), plus a `community engagement programme'.
This `community engagement programme' had a budgeted contribution from Salford Council of £9,207, according to figures produced in March this year at a further Leaders Briefing Meeting. So what does the community get for that? Yesterday we visited the `community engagement programme' and found a total of nine people (including teachers) from The Danceworks in Eccles not quite `engaging' with Carlos.
WHAT DID WE GET FOR OVER NINE GRAND?
A ballet class from Carlos? Nope!
"We were expecting him to teach a class, that's what we thought, but he didn't, he was obviously busy with the dress rehearsal for tonight" said Miss Maxine, one of the teachers at The Danceworks who brought a group of aspiring ballerinas to learn from the master.
Watching Carlos `warm up' and do some of his famous jumps? Nope!
When we got there we saw Carlos `warming up' in the corridor outside the dance studio, complaining that the floor was too slippy to do his jumps and turns. Instead four other dancers from his company went through their paces with the girls.
"He did apologise" said Miss Maxine "and we watched him for about half an hour and then he went down to the stage but there wasn't enough time for us to go. But watching the four dancers who were in here was incredible, they were amazing."
A Pizza? Yes!
The girls were taken to Pizza Express for their tea.
Free Tickets For the Carlos show? Nope!
But the girls did get to watch the rehearsals from the orchestra pit and, later, the full dress rehearsal.
A Photo With Carlos for the Press? Nope!
We weren't allowed to take a photo of the girls with Carlos
A Q&A Session With Carlos? Yes!
Carlos did a Q&A session with the girls in the afternoon but unfortunately wouldn't do a Q&A session with the Salford Star when we might have asked him whether he thought £9,207 was good value for this community engagement programme - and what Fidel Castro might say about £110,000 of public money going into commissioning a ballet which most people in Salford are priced out of attending.
By all accounts the `community engagement programme' was a brilliant experience for the nine Danceworks girls.
"My ambition is to be a professional dancer and this has given me an insight into what I could possibly do, to see their job and to watch them doing a full ballet class" said Lauren Westmoreland, who is going off to train in the profession full time in September.
"The standard of a lot of dancers in Salford is quite good and if ballet schools had more opportunities like this it would be fantastic" said Miss Maxine "There's very good potential here, if only there was more funding and more things like this for children of local dance schools to attend."
The sad thing is that only nine young people from Salford got the opportunity at a cost of over a thousand pounds each.
"I don't know if it was just put out to our school or not" said Miss Maxine "Maybe they didn't want millions of people coming, I don't know…"
We tried to contact John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council, who personally authorised the full budget for Carlos Acosta but he was at a conference and unavailable to comment.
The Danceworks in Eccles teaches a full variety of dance including ballet, tap and street. More details here…
Photo by Bernard Brough
* budget of £9,207 quoted Leaders Briefing Meeting 2.3.09, divided by nine people attending.
** price of holiday to Cuba for one person quoted by The Holiday Place
Stop Press: 3pm 9th July
John Merry has just contacted us with the following statement...
“I am sorry I couldn't be contacted when you wanted to speak to me as I did want to answer your questions. I accept the Salford Star is making a point by presenting the story in this way but I have to say that our decision to spend this money was more than just a financial one. Salford's strength lies in its past but it cannot ignore the future and being bold with decisions like this tells people outside the city that we have more to offer than being the home of Coronation Street or the heart of the industrial revolution.
Carlos Acosta is an international talent, the best male dancer of his generation - the Ronaldo of ballet - and he is premiering work we have commissioned in three sell-out performances. So it is simply not fair – or true – to say that dancers from Eccles are the only people to benefit from our sponsorship of the Manchester International Festival.
Visitors contribute more than £400 million to this city's economy, keeping thousands of people in jobs. Visitors come here because there are things they want to see and places they want to go. We need to keep them interested.
It is easy to understand the cost of community engagement but difficult to measure its value, I know that. I would bet that every one of those young dancers at the Lowry will have no question about the value to them of their day.”
Salford Star response: We accept that the dancers from Eccles had a great day - and we've said so in the article (even though they didn't get a class from Carlos), but for over nine grand you could have sent them to Cuba for a week to visit the Cuban National Ballet, and had change for a few Che t-shirts. As far as we can see, the only other people to benefit are those who are getting free tickets from Salford Council's "hospitality", and those who can afford the price of a real ticket. Are you going on a freebie then or what?