Elmhurst Ballet School is one of the world’s top ballet schools and is set to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023.
The school will commemorate the momentous milestone during its Elmhurst 100: More Futures to Shape campaign, with centenary performances, alumni and fundraising events in the 2022-23 academic year.
Her Majesty The Queen Consort – formerly HRH The Duchess of Cornwall – has been Patron of Elmhurst since 2006 and last visited the Birmingham site in January 2020, marking her fourth visit to the school.
Elmhurst enjoys a close association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, the UK’s premiere touring ballet company under the Directorship of Carlos Acosta CBE, and an on-going partnership with the award-winning Studio Wayne McGregor, strengthens the school’s contemporary dance offer.
Elmhurst Ballet School started life as The Mortimer School of Dancing in Camberley in Surrey in 1923. Founded by Helen Mortimer in the grounds of a local preparatory school, it had a small in-take of young dance students before the school expanded and a senior school was added. By 1933, student numbers hit 60.
The school survived the Second World War years – students danced in 59 shows for the troops – and in 1945 it was recognised by the Ministry of Education. It became Elmhurst Ballet School in 1947, taking its name from the Elmhurst building that housed the school. Student numbers had now reached 240.
During the decades to follow, glitterati of the ballet world, many dancers turned dance educationalists, made their mark on the school and Elmhurst’s international reputation went from strength to strength. The late Bridget Espinosa, a successful dancer and Elmhurst alumna was Artistic Director from 1966-75, and Alfreda Thorogood, a former Principal dancer with The Royal Ballet was Artistic Director of Dance from 1994-2004. Today’s Elmhurst also benefits from two former dancers at the helm: Jessica Ward, Principal since 2010; and Robert Parker, Artistic Director since 2012 following his retirement as a Principal dancer from Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Stars of stage and screen trained at the school during its Camberley years, including Dame Merle Parke DBE, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills, Jenny Agutter, Susie Blake, Fiona Fullerton, Sarah Brightman, Helen Baxendale and Hermione Norris.
Elmhurst’s high-profile relocation to Birmingham in 2004 was overseen by the then Principal John McNamara and supported by the UK Government, Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The aim of the relocation was to meet the growing demand for professional dance training, education and research outside of London. The invaluable link with Birmingham Royal Ballet was also initiated.
2022 and Elmhurst has firmly secured its place amongst the top ballet schools in the world, attracting local, national and international dance students to Birmingham. Recently, students have reached the finals of the BBC Young Dancer Competition and, on graduation, alumni join professional dance companies in the UK and overseas, or some secure university places to enhance their academic achievements.
Mick Mortimer, grandson of the school’s founder, began working at Elmhurst in 1979. When he retired in 1992 his tenure ended an almost 70-year family link with the school. On behalf of the Mortimer family, Mick commented:
“My brothers Lawrence, Christopher and I were born to Elmhurst…but not to dance! In our very early years, we lived at the school and there was dance everywhere…we were never short of entertainment!
In those early years, the late forties into fifties, we could not have realised how influenced we would be by our extraordinary background. As we grew up it became clear how special Elmhurst was to us, and not just as our home. Almost without noticing, we were introduced to the lasting beauty of movement, music, grace and drama. Everything Elmhurst!
Our grandmother’s vision was always best served by the possibility of a new vision for the school. Now Elmhurst is about to celebrate its centenary in its wonderful, built-for-ballet premises in Birmingham. How proud our grandmother Helen would be! We would like to say congratulations Elmhurst on your achievements and all good wishes for your celebrations. May your success always continue.”
Jessica Ward, the school’s ninth and current Principal:
“Elmhurst at 100 is a very special moment in the school’s history and we are thrilled to mark the occasion with a number of centenary events. There will be plenty of nostalgia and memories and we will also think about what a future Elmhurst looks like.
Helen Mortimer’s original aim for the 1923 school was to prepare students for the demands of a career in dance and drama. 100 years on and we are extremely proud that her founding principle still stands.
Beyond our centenary, we aim to continue to be student-centric – our students are at the heart of everything we do. We want to continue to deliver dance and academic excellence in a caring environment, and lead the way with dynamic research through our brand-new Research and Performance Department. We will also continue to challenge and question sector norms and move with the times so Elmhurst remains relevant for an ever-developing dance sector.”
For more information: elmhurstballetschool.org