As the Chief Executive of The Lowry, I lead the team who are responsible for deciding which companies to work with on The Lowry’s busy theatre programme. The Lowry opened in April 2000 and from the very start we set out to do a number of things. We were determined to be ambitious about the quality of our work, and we were equally determined to be a venue that was strongly rooted in our community. We would share with our audiences art from different perspectives and genres, from opera to ballet, comedy to dance. We also wanted to tell stories and explore issues that reflect the society that we live in with all its wonderfulness, its challenges, and its complexity. These objectives have been reflected in our programme choices from the very first week that The Lowry opened its doors. In our opening week on our Lyric stage we presented one of the world’s leading ballet companies, Paris Opera Ballet, and in our Quays theatre we presented a large community production called To You. In the years since our opening, our programme has continued to be guided by these founding principles.
We are a busy venue, we work with around 350 artists and companies every year presenting almost 1000 performances annually for audiences to enjoy. Over time we have been able to develop ongoing relationships with artists whose work we admire and trust, like Fevered Sleep. Back in 2006 we commissioned the company to make what remains today one of my favourite Lowry installations, Fleet, which saw 200 paper boats floating through the foyers of our building. In 2015 the company presented a wonderful piece of dance, Stilled, which was performed over nine hours with audiences encouraged to stay as briefly or as long as they wished. So when the company first approached us with the idea for Men & Girls Dance we were certain that the quality of the piece would be exceptional and whilst the subject matter might be challenging, we were confident that it would be carefully and sensitively handled.
The show is a celebration of the rights of men and girls to have positive relationships, to dance and play together. As the mother of a twelve-year old girl myself, this idea raises issues that I very much identify with and relate to. Of course, like most parents, I want to keep my daughter safe and I am not immune from fear when I read or hear of circumstances where children have been hurt. But I also worry that in our understandable drive to protect our children we now risk reducing their world and limiting their possibilities to an unprecedented extent. I think that my daughter, like all girls, deserves to grow to her full potential and I think learning to connect with other people is crucial to that, and I want her to be able to form positive relationships with people of all ages and sexes. I don’t believe that I am alone as a parent in struggling with some of these issues. When talking to other parents I sometimes hear these same concerns and questions expressed, but in the current times and climate it can be extremely difficult to have a proper debate on the matter.
I understand that these important and challenging issues are hard to discuss in the current atmosphere of fear and mistrust, but it is my belief that the arts represent a fantastic way of providing a safe environment for difficult issues to be debated with sensitivity. So, as well as meeting our programming objectives of quality and relevance, the subject matter of Men & Girls Dance seems both timely and profoundly significant. I am very proud that as an organisation we are able to work with artists like Fevered Sleep to explore a subject like this. Moreover, I look forward to the important conversations that will take place around the performance and to hearing the views of the girls, their parents and other members of our community.
Written by Julia Fawcett, CEO, The Lowry.