(Photograph) - One of Britain's top three ballet schools is at risk of losing some of its most talented pupils because of cutbacks in discretionary awards, writes Dorothy Lepkowska.
Of the 17 young dancers who have won places at Hammond School in Chester for the five-year course from this September, only five have secured any form of funding from their local education authorities, while grants may be withdrawn from some existing pupils.
The school's only hope of maintaining its current balance of pupils is to be admitted to the Government's Pounds 7million Music and Ballet Scheme, which funds 530 young people each year.
Hammond is anxious to maintain its reputation as taking only the most talented pupils regardless of family background, and is particularly badly hit by dwindling discretionary awards because it is neither subsidised by the MBS nor attracts a particularly wealthy clientele. It hopes to become a feeder school for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Directors from the school have met Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, and asked her officials to consider 10 places a year under the MBS, whose music schools include Chetham's in Manchester, Purcell in Harrow, Yehudi Menuhin in Surrey and Wells Cathedral School.
Fees at Hammond School are about Pounds 10,800 a year for boarders and Pounds 6,150 for day pupils. The charges include tuition in a number of dance disciplines. Assistance is linked to parental income, and pupils whose parents' income is Pounds 10,360 or less may receive free places. In 1994, the average contribution was just over Pounds 2,300.
Brenda Last, artistic director at Hammond and a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, warned that the school would become elitist unless more central money was found to train the most gifted dancers.
She said Britain was already importing many of its top dancers from Spain, Italy and Japan. While the nation was preparing to build new theatres and opera houses to celebrate the Millennium, there would soon be few "home-grown" artistes to perform in them.
Ms Last is now planning to campaign for business sponsorship if the Department for Education refuses to fund assisted places.
A spokeswoman for the DFE said officials were considering whether to admit Hammond School into the scheme. "There are several options being considered, in particularly the MBS, and a decision is expected soon," she added.