To deliver Ballet Hoo! Leaps & Bounds forged a partnership with Dudley MBC, Sandwell MBC and Wolverhampton City Council. The Chief Executive of Dudley briefed the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council (BCC) and Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) introduced Youth at Risk (YaR) to senior managers from BCC. In October 2004 the four local authorities agreed to participate in the project and that it should be led by Dudley MBC. Surprisingly, these neighbouring partners had never worked together before.
There was no blueprint for the project; it was designed for young people aged 15 - 19 years who were considered to be disadvantaged and/or “at risk”. The project was to mix a personal development training programme with preparation and training for a full length ballet performance in which the young people would perform alongside the dancers of BRB. It would last for around 18 months. At the outset the definition of disadvantage was never agreed by the partners, which allowed for individual interpretation by the local authorities when selecting the young people. The young people were referred from a number of sources: Connexions, Looked After (ESS and 16+), Youth Offending Services, PRU’s, Barnados, Youth Service, individual schools’ ‘at risk’ pupils, including excluded pupils, at risk of exclusion, suspended, ‘tagged’ young people, those with mild autism, those in hostels, teenage mothers, and young people with deep seated personal issues, health issues such as bulimia and poor home backgrounds. Most of the young people selected had never taken ballet classes, some had never performed on a stage and most had never worked with a professional dancer or attended a theatre to see a ballet.
There were two phases to this project; Phase 1 began with recruitment, enrolment, personal development training and a follow-through programme lasting from March 2005 until March 2006. At the beginning of Phase 2 the young people would be given the choice of continuing with the project. It was to be an intensive period of work leading to the performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, originally choreographed by Sir Kenneth Macmillan, with Birmingham Royal ballet dancers and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia to take place on the 28th September 2006 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Birmingham before an audience of 2,000 people.
The project’s ambition was to recruit, train and develop 300 young people supported by 300 volunteer life coaches. 220 turned up for the Youth Intensive Training Courses, a 4 day training programme led by the charity Youth at Risk. Following this training 150 committed themselves to a journey of personal discovery, dance and related arts.
At enrolment all the young people were required to devise three life goals for themselves; one had to be about a healthier lifestyle. They would try to achieve these goals during the project. They had a dedicated life coach who would help in achieving their goals.
The project was remarkable for its vision, complexity, length, and levels of risk. What can be said is that in some way it changed the lives of all of those who were closely involved in the project and even some who watched from a distance.
“…….. It resulted in one of the best examples of EVENT THEATRE I have ever experienced in my 16 years of professional dance/arts development career”. Michelle Bould –Sandwell Youth Co-ordinator
“It was one of the best experiences of my career watching the young people perform; truly magical.” Beki Martin-Youth at Risk staff member
David Bintley summed up the feelings of all those involved in the project when he addressed the audience at the end of the performance of Romeo and Juliet. It was a night never to be forgotten by the parents and friends and followers of BRB who witnessed the event.
“....because like everybody, this project has changed everybody’s lives; Ballet Hoo! has changed our lives”.“They’ve (the young people) made an extraordinary journey over the past eighteen months....I’d like to paraphrase one of the members of our cast here. His name is Andy, and he was Friar Lawrence tonight. Tonight these people have shown you - they’ve shown us, and they’ve shown themselves, and in two weeks time they will show the nation - that they are not nobodies; they are somebodies” David Bintley, Artistic Director Birmingham Royal Ballet