Monday, 2 February 2015

Ballet West: - You Can't Argue With Success

A year ago a debate took place in  one of the on-line forums to which I subscribe as to whether Ballet West was a good place to study. If I remember rightly it was started by a lady whose daughter had turned down a place at Tring for one at Ballet West. Now Tring is an excellent school. At least one of the dancers who makes my spirits soar trained there. But I can quite understand why that student preferred Tayhnuilt.

First, Ballet West has a good track record. Look at the Competitions and Awards page of its website. Its graduand Natasha Watson is the only British finalist in this year's Prix de Lausanne (see Natasha Watson in Lausanne 15 Nov 2013). She also won a bronze medal in the Genée (see Yet More Good News from Ballet West - Natasha Watson's Medal in the Genée 30 Sept 2013). Natasha Watson was not the first Ballet West student to do well in the Genée. The website mentions 9 others including Jonathan and Sara-Maria Barton who now teach at the school. It is also worth considering the performances of some of its recent graduates. Several of them have joined Ballet Theatre UK including Sarah Mortimer whom I admired in The Little Mermaid (see Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport 27 Apr 2014.

I surmise that much of the credit for the school's success must go to its founder and artistic director Gillian Barton. I introduced myself to her briefly last Saturday before Romeo and Juliet. She was charming and elegant and although we had only the briefest of chats she showed concern and generosity. I was very scruffy having just arrived from Yorkshire after a tedious drive without an opportunity to change or even apply makeup while she was so smart. She put me at my ease immediately. She asked whether I had tickets and a programme and when I said that I had both she offered to refund me. She also offered me a free tee shirt and it took a  lot of persistence on my part to decline those refunds and persuade her that I wanted the merchandise because I wanted to support the school and its students. She eventually accepted my payment for the tee-shirt and donation to the school with grace. Now  if I were a young lad or lass away from home for the first time and feeling rather homesick I would have been cheered up by her immediately. It seems a genuinely happy community. When the school wished Natasha Watson well at Lausanne on Facebook there were literally hundreds of "likes" and comments within hours.

A third reason for going to Ballet West is that Taynuilt is in one of the most beautiful parts of our nation. I explored it the summer before last while waiting for the Craignure ferry (see Taynuilt - where better to create ballet? 31 Aug 2013). It is on the edge of a sea loch and at the foot of a magnificent mountain. Surroundings like that are bound to inspire young men and women with an artistic temperament. Now Taynuilt is a lot further from London than Tring but the United Kingdom is not a large country and we have pretty good roads and railways. With Skype and other VoIP services it is now possible to talk face to face to parents, siblings and friends by video more or less any time. Also Taynuilt is not the back of beyond. Oban is only a few miles away. It has all the amenities of a fair size town including supermarkets, cinema and performing arts auditorium and one of the best fish and chip shops outside Lancashire. Taynuilt is linked to Glasgow by rail where there are fast rail connections to the rest of the country and an international airport with direct flights to the rest of the world.

Ballet is a performing art and as I found from my own very limited experience that there is a whale of a difference between exercising in a studio or even rehearsing in a theatre and stepping out on to a stage before a paying audience (see The Time of my Life 28 June 2014).  The annual tour of Scotland gives the students including the associates and possibly some of the outreach students a chance to dance in public, Now that is valuable and not every school does that. Some of the best performances that I have seen have been by schools. I loved Ballet Central's programme in 2013 and Northern Ballet School's The Nutcracker before Christmas. Now watching a ballet school is not the same as watching Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Symphonia in Symphony Hall but in its own way and on its own terms it can be just as enjoyable. I get a thrill from seeing some of the potential stars of the future which is why I am flying out to Amsterdam on Friday to see Ernst Meisner's Junior Company.

Finally, Ballet West may be a small school but it has a massive footprint with its associate and outreach classes and summer school. To the most talented students it offers degree and HND courses but it also runs associate courses for aspiring professionals in Glasgow and Edinburgh which includes opportunities for kids as young as 8 and outreach classes for everyone. One of my ambitions is to take one of Gillian Barton's classes if ever I am in Taynuilt on a Thursday evening. Judging by the achievements of her students I am sure I would relish the experience and learn a lot from her.

So if I were a parent of a young boy or girl who showed promise at ballet I would happily encourage him or her to consider Taynuilt as a place to learn the art. I don't have massive resources but one of them is this blog in which I am happy to promote Ballet West and its pupils.

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