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south africa

Lower Sixth, Year 12 students bring South African sunshine to the Elmhurst Stage. Pictures: Peter Allen

Raising a glass to the students of Elmhurst

There is nothing quite like a ballet crawl, a sort of around the world in 80 gulps, which is an idea dreamt up by Elmhurst Ballet School and Loki Wines for the 500 Club members.

The concept is simple; the school show some of the various styles of dance covered at Elmhurst, performed by various age groups, using music and styles from five countries and showcasing four of the seven fully equipped dance studios as well as the professional standard 220 seat theatre.

And to add to the ambience, the soul and heritage of the music and its culture, as if a journalist needed any sort of excuse, Loki wines, who have tasting houses and shops in the city centre and Edgbaston, provide a suitably geographically sourced wine all explained by the company’s enthusiastic owner Phil Innes, who seems to have a genius for finding wines you have never heard of from every corner of the globe.

Thus, as year nine, third form 13-14-year-olds in old money, bounce their way through Missy Elliot and hip Hop, the guests get into the mood of the Americas with Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington State.

The year 13 women, upper sixth, 17 and 18-year-olds gave us a dramatic flamenco full of emotion, enhanced by Atlantis Alberino from Galicia in the north west of Spain.

You can see a pattern developing here. The Nutcracker pas de deux, danced quite beautifully by Grace Owen and Joshua Dart, presented a bit of a problem though. It was Sir Peter Wrights version and he is English and was written by Tchaikovsky, and he is Russian, but, as it was set in Prussia, as it was around 1900, Loki settled on Zero-G, a red Zweigelt from Austria . . . well it is next door, just down the autobahn.


The spirit of Spain with year 13 flamenco.

Nicola Marchionni and Ugo Frediani gave us a fiery tango from Argentina to the clink of a Sottano Malbec, while we ended in the theatre with a taste of South Africa in both dance and wine with DJ Food and a Hartenberg Shiraz from Stellenbosch just east of Cape Town.

Sadly as a driver, the evening was a case of sniffing the bar maid’s apron, so to speak, but the thought was there and so was the support from Loki.

Mr Innes who lives wine and loves ballet it seems, said: “I believe that Elmhurst is an incredibly valuable school for Birmingham and the training they do sets the groundwork for pupils to become top of their field, and I am delighted to work with such a well-respected local business. It is fantastic to be able to work so creatively on events with the school, and the synergy of wines and dances around the world creates a thrilling spectacle."

I’ll drink to that . . . or I would if I wasn’t driving.

The 500 Club is a simple concept, its members, currently 22 strong, companies and individuals, pay £500 a year to support Elmhurst, and in return are invited to bespoke events throughout the year, events which serve the dual purpose of thanking them for their support and giving students the added valuable experience of performing in front of an audience – up close and personal when it comes to dancing in a studio.

The money goes towards sixth form burseries helping support emerging dance talent. There is a common misconception that Elmhurst Ballet School, tucked away behind its imposing gates on the Bristol Road in Edgbaston, is some sort of elitist bastion of privilege, a posh school for posh kids.

After all no one does proper dance stuff at the local comp, unless you count the end of term disco that is, and then ballet is something for rich people, the upper classes, like opera and classical music and, stuff like Shakespeare . . .  


Grace Owen and Joshua Dart who dance Sir Peter Wright's celebrated Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker, the prince once being a memorable role in the repertoire of the school's artistic director, former BRB principal and favourite Robert Parker

It is an impression that is only confirmed as you sweep in through the drive to see atop the hill ahead of you a purpose built building which looks more like a modern private hospital than a school, with a light, airy foyer to match.

But appearances can be deceptive. It is an elite school, no one could deny that, but principal Jessica Wheeler, a former professional dancer herself, is quick to point out, that does not make it elitist – a subtle difference in spelling but a world of difference in reality.

The school is elite in that entrance is selective, the name being a clue to the process. Selection is on dance ability, potential and commitment to a physically and mentally demanding and difficult discipline. The pupils face the academic classes common to all schools with the extra element of specialist dance classes in every genre from expert teachers in their fields.

It is not for everyone and equal opportunity only gets you as far as the audition. After all the aim of the school is to turn out dance professionals who move on to ballet and dance companies, West End shows, teaching, careers in theatre . . . so the likes of say . . . myself . . . whose dancing ability has never extended beyond a rather realistic impression of a wardrobe on a slightly uneven floor during a mild earth tremor, would be a pointless, or should that be pointeless exercise.

So yes it is elite, and there are fees, currently £19,503 for day pupils and £24,999 for boarders in lower school, a thousand or so more for upper school (they eat more presumably) which puts it way out of the reach of the vast majority of the population and if that was that, it would be elitist with a capital E ten foot high.

Some 10-15 per cent of the 185 pupils are from overseas but for the rest assisted places through the DfE’s Music and Dance Scheme and school bursaries can bring that cost down dramatically and the Principal points out with some pride that 93 per cent of the pupils would be attending their local state comp had they not been selected for Elmhurst – and around 20 per cent would be eligible for free school meals.

All that changes in the sixth form though where the MDS scheme ends and funding relies on awards from the Dance and Drama Award scheme from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which is available to families with a household income of £90,000 or less, a generous ceiling. 

Few could afford the real fees which is where bursaries come in, the aim being to ensure  that no one loses out or has to leave because they, or rather their family, cannot afford to fund their continued training which is where initiatives such as the 500 club add much needed support.

It is training which sees around 90 per cent finding dance related job placements with many joining companies from the USA to the Baltic, along with places at Birmingham Royal Ballet, Elmhurst’s associated ballet company, and roles with the likes of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Billy Elliot and West End Shows. And we can all rise a glass to that.

Roger Clarke 

For details of the 500 club contact the school or for information about she school click Elmhurst

and click here for Loki wines


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