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Taking stock at the Royal Ballet School. (The Teach-Learn Connection).

QUIET JUBILATION WILL INHABIT THE halls of London's very proper Royal Ballet School just after Christmas. The school has acquired a building adjacent to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and renovated it into a state-of-the-art ballet training facility. After the December move, not only will the school have five air-conditioned studios, but a bridge will connect the school with its mother company, The Royal Ballet. Students will be but a crosswalk away from company rehearsals and they will brush shoulders with dancers who epitomize their hopes and dreams. Conversely, members of the company will be more available to participate in school activities.

The new facility has cost 16 million [pounds sterling] ($25.2 million U.S.) and will house changing and shower rooms, a gym, physiotherapy suite, dedicated practice room, and a student common room. The U.K. government contributed 1.7 million [pounds sterling] ($2.7 million U.S.) in funding, and the remainder was raised by the school's current and past chairmen along with the late school president, Princess Margaret, who passed away in February of this year.

Interviewing Director Gailene Stock is a delight. A native of Australia and formerly a principal with the Australian Ballet, she is forthcoming, polite but determined, and puts one in mind of a steely hand inside a velvet glove. She is rightly proud of the new Covent Garden facility, planned, paid for, and executed during her four-year tenure at the school. The upcoming move is, however, only one of her many accomplishments.

The first of the innovations she instituted is a teaching syllabus. While most of what is taught at the school was already in place under the aegis of former director Merle Park, its codification into a systematic training methodology is Stock's contribution. She explains, "I want to clarify that it is The Royal Ballet School system [that we follow]; it is not the Royal Academy of Dance system. The RAD has a totally different syllabus catering to recreational students as well as those who might want to become professional."

Stock says that the school syllabus is greatly influenced by the Vagonova training, particularly in the use of the upper body and in the artistry. But the style is uniquely British in order to prepare the dancers for the Royal Ballet repertoire. It would not do, she explains, to have the boys graduate looking wonderful in Spartacus but unable to perform the Ashton works.

The Royal Ballet School has two divisions: the lower school, White Lodge, located in Richmond Park; and the upper school, currently in a rather charmless but serviceable building on Talgarth Road in West London.

About 125 students, ages 11 to 16, attend the lower school, housed in a beautiful old building that was a hunting lodge built for King George II. It is a boarding facility, with a five-year curriculum combining dance studies with academic work. Upon graduation many, but not all, students are accepted to continue their studies in the upper school.

The upper school now has a three-year program for students ages 16 to 18. The first two years concentrate on honing dance skills and fulfilling academic requirements, while the third year, instituted by Stock, is devoted to performing, touring, auditioning for jobs, and developing professional skills.

Hundreds of children apply to the school, and an extensive audition process determines the few who will be admitted. This year is unusual in that more boys than girls were accepted, perhaps for the first time ever. The upper and lower divisions each accepted fourteen boys and ten girls.

The school is funded by a government agency, the Department for Education and Skills. It funds almost all of the students, including those from the European Union, but not the other overseas students. An endowment fund provides scholarships for those from the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. All scholarships and grants are based on financial need and liberally available. If a child is gifted, he or she can usually manage to attend.

STOCK STATES THAT IT IS VERY GOOD TO have a mixture of British and diverse international students. Each makes a unique contribution. She notes that "it is in the English character to take pride in being a good loser. I don't want them to be losers; I want them to be winners. By introducing a few outside students into the classroom, that's happening. We had a wonderful boy from the States last year who was just full of the joy of dance: wonderful leaps and a tremendous ability to turn. He was a great inspiration. We get some marvelous Spaniards who bring a little fire. I think the melting pot doesn't hurt, when combined with the typically clean, pure technique that is so relevant for this century."

Most graduates of the school go on to dance professionally. Last year 85 percent were hired by dance companies worldwide, and for the males that percentage was closer to 100 percent. By August 2002, twenty-one of the twenty-five students who graduated in July had received job offers, ten of which came from The Royal Ballet and the Royal Birmingham Ballet.

Though the dynamic Stock has achieved much, she is not yet ready to sit back and luxuriate in her accomplishments. Her plans for the future include a complete renovation of White Lodge. "If, in four years, I accomplish that and a small training program for teachers," she says, "I will feel I can pass things on to the next person."

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Muriel Topaz is the author and editor of several books, including Antony Tudor: The American Years. She is a former director of the Dance Notation Bureau and the Juilliard School Dance Division.
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Author:Topaz, Muriel
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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