Leading us a merry dance
For the past few months the future of Scottish Ballet has been up in the air, with the Scottish Arts Council's threat to withdraw its funding. Campaigns have been run in national newspapers to save the company, and a reprieve was won only when everyone on the board resigned and new members were announced two weeks ago. But amid all the brouhaha, nothing has been said about how the company's education programme has been affected by the boardroom battles.
Scottish Ballet runs one of the most successful arts education programmes in Scotland. Headed by Jacqueline McKay, the team has an education officer, administrator, two dance artists, a pool of musicians and guest teachers.
Twenty-six thousand young people and adults take part in the company's educational events throughout the year, from pre-school through primary, secondary and further education to adult community groups. Open workshops take place in 20 schools a week, 10 weeks a term, taking a dance artist, education officer and musician into 200-plus schools a term. Children can watch rehearsals and go to matinees of the season's performance. There are also summer schools, October courses and about 10 special projects a year with local authorities.
One of the main criticisms directed towards Scottish Ballet has been that it is too narrowly based on classical ballet, but this could not be said to apply to the education programme; school workshops focus on creative dance and use the vocabulary not only of classical ballet, but also of jazz, Scottish dancing and other forms of dance with which the young people are familiar.
The company has also been reprimanded for putting on too few new productions in return for its Pounds 2.1 million grant from the SAC, local authority grants and private sponsors. The education unit receives Pounds 80,000 from the company to go towards salaries, but its Pounds 90,000-140,000 teaching programme is self-financing.
Given the success of the education programme, it is not surprising that among those campaigning most fiercely to save Scottish Ballet have been schools, community groups and summer school students. But they, too, have been hit by the uncertainty of the company's future. All the regular workshops for this term have been abandoned. "Two hundred-plus schools have been affected, " says Jacqueline McKay. On September 19, Scottish Ballet took out an advertisement in TES Scotland, promoting its services to schools. "For the first time ever, we were unable to specify what they would be," she adds.
Only a month ago, Scottish Ballet did not know whether it would be raising its curtain this winter. Plans for a Christmas production of The Magic Lamp, based on Aladdin and to be choreographed by the former artistic director of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Robert Cohan, were dropped when the SAC turned down an application for Lottery funding. Birmingham Royal Ballet kindly came to the aid of the company by offering them their production of Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee.
The good news is that now the education programme has been told that it can go ahead, although not quite at full steam. Though the regular workshops for this term have been abandoned, special projects - based on La Fille Mal Gardee - are proceeding.
Two October courses will now go ahead at Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, and at Lockerbie Academy. Later in the month a couple of six-week projects with a Pounds 10,000 grant from the city will take place in Maryhill and Summerston.
A week in Aberdeen, for which sponsors Marks and Spencer and oil company Chevron UK had already been found, will also proceed, with 330 children from Portlethen Academy, St Machar Academy and feeder primaries creating and performing their own production of La Fille Mal Gardee, watching the company in rehearsal and attending a matinee.
A week of workshops in Edinburgh will go ahead in December, but with a team of freelancers. "We are taking bookings for that and for individual school requests for next term," says Jacqueline McKay.
What the long-term future holds for Scottish Ballet is still not clear and will not be known until the new board is fully in place. The education programme received a lot of support from the previous board, from artistic director Galina Samsova and Scottish Business in the Community director John Moorhouse. But how far it will be maintained and developed remains to be seen. What is clear is that if the education programme - an increasingly important asset for arts companies seeking funding - is to continue to win lottery and local and corporate grants, then the board will need to include someone with a thorough understanding of education.