Dance Prize 2025

Gentleman Jack

United Kingdom
Northern Ballet

Gentleman Jack
A major new ballet based on the life of historical Yorkshire figure, Anne Lister (1791-1840). Often referred to as ‘the first modern lesbian’, Lister was a fiercely independent diarist, landowner and businesswoman, who inspired the hugely popular and critically acclaimed BBC series, Gentleman Jack.


We are excited to be developing a major new ballet based on the extraordinary life of historical Yorkshire figure, Anne Lister (1791-1840); the diarist, landowner, traveller and businesswoman whose sexuality, masculine manner and dress earned her the derogatory nickname ‘Gentleman Jack’. Lister’s story inspired the hugely popular and critically acclaimed BBC/HBO series, Gentleman Jack, which explored her life, including her notorious relationships with other women The show, written by Sally Wainwright and starring Suranne Jones, premiered in 2019 and due to its huge popularity, a second series aired in 2022.

Our production will be the first classical ballet centred on the story of a gay woman, presenting a unique artistic opportunity. This project is part of the wider vision of Northern Ballet’s Artistic Director, Federico Bonelli, to broaden the range of stories represented on the ballet stage, redressing the balance away from the cis-gendered, heterosexual, male perspective that has historically dominated the genre. Building on Northern Ballet’s reputation for blending expert storytelling and mastery of dance technique, we will work with a carefully selected artistic team to ensure we stage this story respectfully and with maximum impact.

The talented, international team that will bring this story to life, includes series-writer Sally Wainwright, choreographer Annabel Lopez Ochoa and New Zealand-based composer Claire Cowan, who will create the score.

Artistic Team

Creating the first ballet about a gay woman is a unique opportunity and we want to approach it respectfully. We had initial conversations with key people, including Dr Adele Patrick (Glasgow Women's Library), Catherine Cassidy (Scottish Ballet) and choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra (DeNada Dance Theatre). Foregrounding alternative perspectives to that of the cis white male has been a key driver in selecting our artistic team. It was agreed that the choreographer best suited to the project would be the award-winning Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (Belgium). Annabelle is one of few female choreographers who excels in narrative ballet and has worked on several stories of strong women; Frida, (Dutch National Ballet, 2020), Coco Chanel (Hong Kong Ballet, 2023), Doña Perón (Ballet Hispanico, 2022). Annabelle will be assisted by Jemima Brown (Irish), an established dance artist at the start of her choreography career. Clare Croft (US), has been brought in as dramaturg. Clare has particular expertise around the intersection of queerness and dance, as Associate Professor of both Dance and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan; editor of Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings (Oxford, 2017); and curator of EXPLODE: queer dance project. Our Composer Claire Cowen (New Zealand, British), has composed several full-scale ballets for Royal New Zealand Ballet (Hansel & Gretel, Firebird, Cinderella), a company of a similar scale and artistic intent. Jemima Brown, Clare Croft and Claire Cowan all bring invaluable lived experience of being a gay woman to the project. Christopher Ash (US) will lead the Set/LX Design and has worked with Annabelle previously. Costumes will be designed by talented British designer, Louise Flanagan. We are delighted that Sally Wainwright (British), who created the television series Gentleman Jack, will be a Consultant. We plan to bring an Intimacy Coordinator on board to support the handling of sexually suggestive/explicit material.

Co-producing Partners

Finnish National Opera and Ballet



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