As the Dance School of Scotland celebrated its 25th anniversary, Shirley English revelled in the dazzling spectacular
Two excited girls, carrying bunches of yellow roses and "good luck" balloons, stood with their nervous-looking father at the stage door of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, 30 minutes before the curtain went up.
The brief cameo proved revealing. In the stalls and dress circle prior to the Dance School of Scotland's end-of-year summer show, relatives of those taking part appeared more than a little anxious. But on stage the dancers showed no sign of first-night nerves.
25 Alive was billed as the school's "25th anniversary celebration of Scotland through dance" and, true to form, there was nothing amateurish about this production. It opened in a high-energy riot of tartans and bagpipe music and the performers exuded an infectious confidence and humour which continued until the finale three hours later.
"Celtic Fusion", the opening piece set to music by the Peat Bog Faeries, had students from S3-6 leaping, twirling, cartwheeling and tap dancing their way across the stage. It brought together all forms of dance taught at the school and the cast were dressed in every possible tartan incarnation - hot pants, baggy trousers, kilts, hats, skirts, waistcoats, even tutus - to establish the evening's Caledonian theme.
Ballerinas performed graceful pirouettes alongside a chorus line of vigorous tap dancers, or a troupe of gyrating, barefoot contemporary dancers. The surprising juxtaposition of dance forms served to complement, rather than diminish, the beauty of each. What was apparent was the maturity and accomplishment of the young performers, who had bags of personality.
Ian Muchan, head of Knightswood Secondary in Glasgow, which houses the Dance School of Scotland, said people often commented that when they arrived at the summer event they were "expecting a school production and left wondering if they had visited a show in London's West End. "It is unrecognisable as a school show," he said.
25 Alive deserved to be taken seriously as a professional enterprise. The pieces moved seamlessly between classical ballet, contemporary, modern and tap, combining one or more forms with an imaginative use of music ranging from Vivaldi and Mendelssohn, to Philip Glass, The Crofters and Cole Porter.
The themes looked at Scotland's past, present and future, taking inspiration from the dance halls of Glasgow, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Scotland's fairy tales, landscape and weather, as well as the nation's famous artists, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Jack Vettriano.
Even Scottish legends, the Loch Ness Monster and the Highland midge, made a fleeting guest appearance in "Donald Whaur's Yer Troosers?" - a whirlwind tour of the country's cultural idiosyncrasies.
One of many highlights was "The Faery Realm", a dream-like ballet choreographed by Elaine Holland, the artistic director. The cast was listed simply as "The Whole School" and the piece used narration and an eclectic mix of music to tell the "true" story of Reverend Robert Kirk, a minister in 17th-century Aberfoyle who accidentally trespassed into the fairy realm beneath Doon Hill and was never seen again, except in a relative's dream.
There were some wonderful moments - the closing scene where a shimmering ring of fairies danced in the moonlight as the narrator explained the fate of the unlucky minister excluded from the human world, at once beautiful and sinister.
Act 3 included another Holland ballet, "Mad MacKintosh Tea Party", reminiscent of "The Nutcracker", and a superb, highly technical modern dance, "Sound of the Stream", in which the performers moved sometimes in silence. This was followed by "Through the Frame", a whimsical, short piece for three dancers, which brought to life Vettriano's painting of the butler and dancing couple on the beach.
The show overflowed with creative energy and was testimony to the commitment and talent of the young students and the high standards set by the school.
The dance school is unique in Britain, due to its siting in a mainstream comprehensive. After 25 years, it remains Scotland's only fully Government-funded national centre of excellence for vocational dance and musical theatre. Entry is through audition and about 100 hopefuls from across Scotland compete each year for just 20 places, all free.
There are undoubtedly several future stars here, among them Jon Savage, 17, from South Nitshill, whose potential was spotted in 2002, though his only experience of dance was a hip hop class in Castlemilk. After graduating this summer, he will join the Royal Ballet School on Year 2 of its course, which is "unheard of", according to Mr Muchan.
Jon said: "I would never have become a ballet dancer if it wasn't for the dance school."