NORTHERN Ballet celebrates one of the greats of the dance world - acclaimed choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan - in a striking triple bill at the Alhambra.

To David Nixon, artistic director of the Leeds-based company, MacMillan was a crucial influence. "When I was younger his work was a very clear part of my understanding of the quality and dramatics in dance," says David. "From the age of 15 I have seen him as a pioneer, and a dramatic, aesthetic choreographer of the highest standard. I’ve seen a lot of great companies present his work and it’s always been an ambition of mine to do that with a company."

One of the leading choreographers of his generation, Sir Kenneth was Director and Principal Choreographer with the Royal Ballet. Over a four decade career, he created almost 100 works, many of which remain in the repertoires of leading companies worldwide. This triple bill is the first time Northern Ballet has performed MacMillan's work and coincides with the 25th anniversary of his death.

His strength, says David, was in taking on new types of stories, leaving a significant legacy. "He was incredibly courageous, creating works from themes thought of at the time as not suitable for ballet. He stepped well over the threshold, telling real stories such as reflecting on World War I in Gloria. He had a style that hadn’t been seen before.

"He brought an element of contemporary dance to ballet. I think a lot of what is done in dance today in terms of action/reaction has some foundation within the works of MacMillan."

Northern Ballet presents Gloria, Las Hermanas, about five sisters living under an oppressive mother, and Concert, a moving piece inspired by Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. Why choose these three pieces?

"Gloria was chosen in part because I wanted to do a MacMillan piece that would include as many members of the company as possible," he says. "It also represents MacMillan’s strengths: how he uses a group; how he uses dancers in a contemporary way; how he uses classical vocabulary, duets, trios, the beautiful aesthetic he had, and the powerful theme of war that the ballet is based on. I was also looking for a work that would most capture Northern Ballet’s dramatic abilities. Las Hermanas is a wonderful, very dramatic work about a family with a powerful mother. I felt that our senior women would be able to take this on in such a wonderful way, and that Premier Dancer Javier Torres would be perfect for the male lead.

"Concerto resonates with me because it was created in Berlin where I was a dancer. We did the pas de deux so I became quite close with that element of the ballet. Then when the National Ballet of Canada performed it, my wife performed the first and third movements. It’s a beautiful work of classical dance.

"Our company has grown and evolved in such a way that our dancers can do so many different things - this celebration becomes not only a demonstration of the breadth of MacMillan’s work but is also a showcase of the depth of Northern Ballet."

The production comes during a critical year for Northern Ballet with an unprecedented three world première ballets. How important is it to continue reviving the classics? "It’s essential to revive works we consider the master works of the past because they inform us about the future," says David. "They give us strength to be more creative and stretch our new work further."

* A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan is at the Alhambra from October 5-7. Call (01274) 432000.