Scottish Ballet a dance company worthy of Scotland

The Early Years

The Scottish Ballet Company emerged, in a somewhat unlikely way, from the Western Theatre Ballet of Bristol, which had been founded by Peter Darrell and Elizabeth West. In 1969 the entire company moved to Glasgow and five years later took the name of Scottish Ballet. With no suitable premises to train in, a former army drill hall in the west end of the city was secured. But it was never fit for purpose. The cramped space did not allow for full rehearsals, the changing facilities were archaic, the building contained asbestos and at times was even prone to sewage flooding. Not exactly the ideal base for a sophisticated dance company!

Yet, from this inauspicious location something special developed. Almost from the very start there was an energy and vibrancy that encompassed both classical ballet and contemporary dance. There was also a determination to connect with the audience, make dance accessible and take ballet to the people. This was reflected in an ethos for touring in Scotland and overseas to China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Portugal and Ireland.

Dance for All

One of the great strengths of Scottish Ballet, certainly since the arrival of the present artistic director, Ashley Page in 2003, is the way it appeals both to those who know a great deal about the art, but also those who are dance novices. The companys repertoire is broad, and has included new versions of old favourites such as the Nutcracker, Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty to modern works by George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton. Director, Ashley Page, has also been supportive of specific commissions which have offered fresh challenges to the dancers and enriched the experience for the audience.

It is this balance of classical and modern, of established and new, which has been the hallmark of Page and which has seen renaissance of the company. A vibrant reworking of the Nutcracker for Christmas 2003 had The Scotsman newspaper gushing. To say Scottish Ballet is a phoenix risen from the ashes would be something of an understatement.

A whole new generation of dancers was recruited by Ashley Page, winning plaudits and awards along the way including the prestigious TMA prize in 2004 for outstanding achievement in dance, in recognition of Scottish Ballets modernisation programme and dynamic performances. As if to confirm this, the company was invited to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005 and at Sadlers Wells in London in 2006 the first time Scottish Ballet had appeared in the British capital for seven years. These high profile bookings added lustre to a well earned reputation for excellence, but for dancers used to training in the Spartan environs of an old army drill hall, it was perhaps just as important to take the magic of ballet beyond the hushed environs of city centre theatres. And that is just what they did. An autumn tour in 2006 saw performances transform village halls and community centres across Scotland, from Galashiels and Stranraer in the south to Elgin and Ullapool in the north and west.

Reach for the Stars

But it is not enough just to perform. With a commitment to broadening audiences, Scottish Ballet has long championed education and outreach, with classes drawing in youngsters who might otherwise never have had a chance to take part in dance, let alone reach for the stars of a career on the stage. And to the great credit of the company, Scottish Ballet was the first dance organisation in Britain to offer live audio-description of its shows for the visually impaired.

Getting young people interested and enthused in ballet is one thing. Developing the next generation of dancers quite another. Would-be ballerinas and ballerinos have always had to pursue their dreams beyond Scotlands borders when reaching the age of sixteen. Once gone it is hard, even given the attraction of working with the Scottish Ballet Company, to attract key talent home.

Now though, in a major step forward, Scottish Ballet and The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama are to launch the countrys first ever undergraduate degree in modern ballet, with the initial intake due to commence their studies in September 2009. It will be the realisation of a long sought after dream for a Scottish Ballet school a dream first conceived by the companys founding Artistic Director, Peter Darrell and now made a reality under Ashley Page. Education, says Page, is at the foundation of Scottish Ballet. It is a privilege to have realised the vision that the companys founder, Peter Darrell, set out 40 years ago. This new degree means that we will be able to nurture and develop the exceptional talent that already exists in Scotland in a way never-before possible, as well as attract brand new talent to the country from elsewhere.

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Last updated 28 Nov 2012