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Ballet Hoo! index

Countdown to the performance

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Programme 1 summary
Programme 2 summary
Programme 3 summary
Programme 4 summary

Meet the BRB team
Meet the participants

What the project has meant to me

Denise Pullian
Denzil Peart
Desmond Kelly
Karen Pearson
Keith Horsfall
Laura Purkiss
Margaret Williams
Marion Tait
Michael Waldman

A day in the life...

The story of the ballet
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Desmond Kelly

Desmond Kelly, the assistant director at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, was fired up the moment he heard about Ballet Hoo! He was inspired by the possibilities offered up by this ground-breaking project in which the BRB - in conjunction with local authorities, the Youth at Risk charity, Diverse Productions and Channel 4 - aim to help disadvantaged youngsters turn their lives around by learning the rudiments of ballet.

The best of the young people are participating - both on stage and behind the scenes - in an ambitious performance of Kenneth MacMillanís acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet at the Hippodrome Theatre on 28 September.

'As soon as I heard about Ballet Hoo!, I said to myself, Iíve got to do this,' recalls Desmond. 'Iím about to retire and I thought what a fabulous project to put my whole body and soul into to finish my career. And Iím so glad Iíve done it. If I tell you some of the stories Iíve heard along the way, Iíll get upset. Iím hopeless. When I talk to my wife about this project at the end of every day, I always end up in tears - and so does she!'

However, Desmond, who is directing this production of MacMillan's piece, would be the first to admit that he initially had some qualms about Ballet Hoo! 'At the beginning in January 2005, I thought, these youngsters wonít engage for 18 months.' His solution? To try an unorthodox method to hook the young people on the idea of dance.

'To start with, we didnít do classical ballet at all,' BRBís assistant director recollects. 'We began with a very modern piece - In the Upper Room, Twyla Tharpís ballet to Philip Glassís music. They identified with that instantly.'

'Beforehand, they had been saying that ballet's all about fairies and swans and it's just for poofs. But once they got into this loud, funky modern music, they really got it. They said wow, this is completely different to what we were expecting.'

Desmond was then able to introduce the youngsters to Prokofievís ballet and found that he was pushing at an open door. 'I'm not a psychologist, but the content of Romeo and Juliet really struck a chord with them. The story reflects many of their problems. These children have had a horrendous time. Youth at Risk will tell you to imagine the worst and then multiply it by ten. It's really humbling to hear some of their stories.'

'So the themes in Romeo and Juliet - love, strife, anger, killing, gangs - are part of their lives. They were inspired when they suddenly saw their own lives represented on stage.'

Desmond, who believes that a few of the youngsters have enough natural talent to pursue a career in dance, contends that Ballet Hoo! has been hugely beneficial for them all.

'Over the past 18 months, it's done them a hell of a lot of good. The transformation has been incredible - in fact, it makes me very emotional to think about it. Their response has been tremendous. They've come so far, both as dancers and as people. They have every right to be angry, but they've lost that anger now.' Desmond, who has been training a group of the youngsters to perform a show-stopping break-dancing routine in the finished production of Romeo and Juliet, adds that 'I hope this wonít be the end of it.

'On completing Ballet Hoo!, theyíll get the equivalent of two GCSEs or a couple of B Techs. So theyíll leave with a piece of paper. Perhaps more importantly, theyíll also leave with the feeling that theyíre worth something. One of them said, "now I feel like a somebody, rather than a nobody".

'Itís taught them self-worth. They can leave their problems at the door and become engrossed in ballet from ten until five. Itís a great way of forgetting about their issues outside.

'One of the other major things they've gained is self-discipline - thatís vital whatever we do. They're also learning about communication. Off stage, theyíre making new friends, and on stage theyíre conveying a story through motion. That's really crucial. When they learn to express themselves through art, they lose themselves and go onto another level.'

Desmond is adamant that the personal development is just as important an element of Ballet Hoo! 'Itís not like Billy Elliott. We did not set out to discover new raw talent. We wanted to introduce these people to something different, another facet beyond their worlds with their immense daily problems. We wanted to develop them as people - and I think weíve already been successful in that regard.'

At the end of the 18-month period, Desmond draws incredibly positive conclusions from it. 'Without being grandiose, I hope Ballet Hoo! helps these youngsters turn their lives around. If that could happen, I'd be so grateful. It's a passionate wish of mine that this succeeds for the young people and shows that there is another world out there for them.

'Marie Rambert used to say that seeing a ballet for the first time is like waking up on a fresh morning and seeing new trees and grass all around. I hope that is the effect it has on these young people.

'I know occasionally Iíve had to shout and scream at them, but Iíve loved every minute of the time Iíve spent with them!'

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