A prestigious Birmingham ballet school is celebrating 20 years by launching a new photography campaign championing some of its best and brightest.

Last year, Elmhurst Ballet School celebrated its centenary, and the celebrations are continuing into 2024 as the school marks 20 years in its current home in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

A brand-new campaign Exceptional Dancers, Exceptional People celebrates the diversity, individuality, and talent of Elmhurst students from across the school.

Over ten decades, Elmhurst has firmly secured its place amongst the top ballet schools in the world, attracting local, national, and international dance students to Camberley (1923-2004) and now Birmingham (from 2004).

Elmhurst Ballet School’s 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.

Olivia Rickard; photo Johan PerrsonJohan Persson
The school will commemorate its 20 years in Birmingham during the Exceptional Dancers, Exceptional People campaign throughout 2024

The school will commemorate its 20 years in Birmingham during the Exceptional Dancers, Exceptional People campaign throughout 2024. Kicking off the campaign, in photography by highly regarded dance photographer Johan Persson, is Year 12 student Olivia Rickard from Harrison, Australia.

Alfie-Lee Hall from Warrington, Cheshire; Amber Cook from Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire; Tom Wood from Nuneaton, Warwickshire; Omarian Beckford from Hockley in Birmingham; Elaine Fan from Guangdong, China; Joseph Chow from Boldon, Tyne and Wear; and Annabelle Handley from Kings Bromley, Staffordshire also feature in the collection of dynamic photographs, highlighting the students who live, dance, and learn at Elmhurst Ballet School.

Commenting on working with the eight students, dance photographer Johan Persson said: “The students from Elmhurst Ballet School were an absolute joy to work with on this campaign. A photoshoot can be an overwhelming experience, and being involved in a ballet photoshoot where you are looking for a perfect line, or a particular visual look, is even more challenging.

The students engaged in it with conviction, making minor changes to their positions and lines when asked to, something that even professional dancers can find difficult. They approached it with complete professionalism and passion and allowed their personalities to shine through, which was exactly what we wanted to achieve.”

Omarian Beckford; photo Johan PerssonJohan Persson
Student Omarian Beckford poses for a special photography campaign

Four of the students whose life-size photographs are due to be unveiled at the school this month, expressed excitement at the opportunity.

Joseph Chow, in Year 8, said: “When I came to the Open Day at Elmhurst, I instantly fell in love with the school, and I begged my parents to let me audition.

“My favourite memory of Elmhurst so far is performing in front of Queen Camilla, who is Patron of the school. It was a very magical moment for me and all my friends, and I was so proud. Some professional dancers don’t even get the chance to perform for the Queen, and as a student I’ve already been given that opportunity at Elmhurst.”

Annabelle Handley, in Year 9, said: “I was involved with the Elmhurst Young Dancers scheme for three years before I came to train at Elmhurst full-time, so I’ve been coming here for most of my life. I really like it here; everyone is so friendly. Because we spend such a lot of time with each other, it feels different to a normal school.

“To me, ‘Exceptional Dancers, Exceptional People’ means that we always give our best in everything we do, and we always strive to be our best self in dance and in every other aspect of life.”

Amber Cook, in Year 13, said: “People look at Elmhurst and just see an incredible ballet school, which it definitely is, but there are so many different aspects to Elmhurst which come together to make it the school that it is. For example, the catering, the gym facilities, the dance studios, our teachers; everything comes together to give us the full experience we have here.

“I’ve been at Elmhurst for six years, and when I think back to being in year 7, when I was that little girl who walked through Elmhurst’s doors for the first time, I had these big hopes and dreams. And I look at where I am now, and it makes me realise how much I’ve grown. I’ve grown up at this school, it’s my home.

Annabelle Handley; photo Johan PerssonJohan Persson
Annabelle Handley holds a pose mid-air

“Elmhurst gives you growth not only through dance, technically and artistically, but also as a person. I can see the evolution from when I joined, and how young I was, and the maturity that I’ve gained. I wouldn’t be the person or the dancer that I am today if I hadn’t attended Elmhurst. It has shaped me and will continue to shape me in the future.”

Alfie-Lee Hall, in Year 13, said: “Elmhurst gives you lots of life opportunities and makes you determined to succeed in life as well as dance. The facilities here are extraordinary and it’s just an incredible environment to be in. Life at Elmhurst isn’t just about dance. It’s about growing as a person as well and being the best person you can be.

“We get a lot of opportunities at Elmhurst to perform throughout the year, with a winter show and a summer show, and I was lucky enough to perform in last year’s graduate company show, which was amazing.

“One highlight that stands out for me was when I got to perform at His Majesty’s Theatre in London for the Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition, where I won the award for my own choreography.

“The school supported me through this in a big way; the teachers here helped me progress with rehearsals and supported me throughout. It helped me gain confidence in the pieces that I was doing. It was an amazing experience.”

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