Merlin marks the end of Nixon's Northern Ballet sojourn


Mlindi Kilashe and Rachael Gillespie in Merlin. Pic: Guy Farrow
Mlindi Kilashe and Rachael Gillespie in Merlin. Pic: Guy Farrow

Northern Ballet's forthcoming production of Merlin will be the last project at the company for its artistic director of 20 years, David Nixon.

Nixon (62) announced in May his intention to step down from the role, and when he leaves at the end of the year it will be later than he originally intended, the delay having been caused by the company's fight back from the fracturing of public attention fostered by the long pandemic.

Merlin is due to open in Nottingham later this month and tours to Sheffield Lyceum (Nov 2) and Leeds Grand (Nov 9), among others. The show is choreographed by the Olivier award-winning Drew McOnie (director of this summer’s Carousel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), with special magic effects by illusionist Chris Fisher (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). It tells the story of Merlin's rise and fall from power and features gods, the Lady of the Lake and other famous names and episodes from the Arthurian legends.

David Nixon OBE
David Nixon OBE

After leading the company to new heights as a narrative-driven dance company over the past two decades, Nixon will leave behind a string of much-admired shows, from Madame Butterfly (2003) to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013) and The Great Gatsby (2013) to The Three Musketeers (2018), as well as more unusual titles such as Dracula and Jane Eyre.

His work has also been seen in more mainstream attractions, such as BBC One’s Greatest Dancer, and he has twice been named Director of the Year by readers of Dance Europe, among many other awards and accolades - including an OBE for his services to dance in 2010.

Under his direction the Halifax-based company has won many awards, both for individual titles and as a company – including being the Critics’ Circle’s Outstanding Company from 2014-19 and again this year.

At 62, and two hip replacements later, he no longer dances and is happy to coach others, but In 20 years at Northern Ballet he has promoted the work of up-and-coming choreographers and dancers, and has been keen to ensure they leave his company on a sound career path. He has admitted his work has been more about nurturing young professionals than about enhancing the reputation of the company as a whole – though the quality and originality of the company’s productions has done much of that work for him.