Ballet school celebrates silver anniversary

Daniel Clelland plays the male lead in La Sylphide

Daniel Clelland plays the male lead in La Sylphide

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The Jane Keenan School of Dance celebrates its 25th anniversary with a performance of the romantic ballet La Sylphide this Sunday.

From starting with two or three Saturday morning ballet classes at Norham Village Hall in 1991 Jane now has over 80 pupils and is about to say goodbye to her first leading boy Daniel Clelland as he moves on to study with Northern Ballet, Manchester.

Jane Keenan with some of her dancers

Jane Keenan with some of her dancers

Daniel takes the male lead role in La Sylphide and Jane’s niece Anna Noonan, professional dancer and choreographer, was to dance Sylph but a last minute injury has seen two pupils, Liberty Holloway and Phoebe Weddle step into the breach and learn the role in time for Sunday’s performance.

La Sylphide is the oldest ballet in existence, the first version performed in 1832 and Marie Taglioni who played the leading role is reputed to have been the first ballerina to dance en pointe. Jane has made a few adaptations to the Danish version of the story to suit her young dancers, setting it in Scotland rather than Denmark, but it remains authentically true to the original.

“The famous Bournonville choreography is only altered for the little ones, so everyone has had to learn new steps and new phrasing in the Danish style,” explained Jane. “They have all been practising like mad.”

In her silver anniversary year, Jane reflects on her years of teaching ballet to the girls and boys of north Northumberland and Berwickshire.

Rehearsals are going well for La Slyphide

Rehearsals are going well for La Slyphide

“To have kept going this long means I am giving something that people want,” she said. “I’m grateful to have been able to do that.

“Ballet is quite special; it takes years of training and so much commitment.

“I don’t know of any provincial ballet school that recreates complete ballets.”

Over the years the ballet school has performed Peter and the Wolf, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and most recently La Fille mal Guardee.

“It gives them a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a real ballet,” explained Jane, a former professional dancer herself with the Royal Opera Ballet at Covent Garden, Ballet du Grand Theatre de Nancy, (France), a ballet company in Augsburg, Germany and Dance for Everyone (UK).

“I do think I have given my pupils a sense of being part of a great ballet tradition, to behave and act like professionals. There is a lot of history to ballet and I try to make my students feel it isn’t just about us but this has been handed on to us.”

Hundreds of girls have learnt ballet, danced in shows and have numerous Royal Academy of Dance exam certificates to their name thanks to the Jane Keenan School of Dance and a major development in the last two decades is the number of boys that are now learning ballet.

The ballet school currently has eight boys and Daniel is leading the way in looking to be a professional dancer.

He is in good company, Jane explaining: “There are more boys than girls graduating from the Royal Ballet’s junior school for the first time in history.”

La Sylphide will be on stage at The Maltings, Berwick, on Sunday, July 3. There are two performances - at 2.30pm and 5pm.