“Chelmsford’s best kept secret”
In 1947, Joan Weston created the Broomfield YMCA Ballet Company in order to give the more senior students at her existing dance school the opportunity to learn and perform to the public. It was after their 1949 performance of ‘Coppelia’ at the Shire Hall that the then-mayor of Chelmsford suggested the name ‘The Chelmsford Ballet Company’, and with a small committee the Company was born. Following Joan Weston, there have been many notable patrons of the Company, including Dame Beryl Grey in 1954 and Dona Naruna Sutherland, later Lady Sutherland, in 1955. Dona Naruna instigated a move by the Company to approach the local Council to sponsor an Arts Festival, and from 1959 onwards the Festival became an annual event following its inaugural week of performances in the Regent Theatre.
The current Patrons are The Marchioness of Londonderry, formerly Doreen Wells of The Royal Ballet Company and Christopher Marney of Matthew Bourne’s company, New Adventures.Today the Company is led by Artistic Director Annette Potter, a former dancing member. Annette danced many leading roles with the company before moving on to teaching and choreography. She continues to exhibit the high standards of dance and performance for which the Company is recognised.
“Every year, The Chelmsford Ballet Company puts on these splendid productions danced to very high standards.”
Since that first performance in 1949, the Ballet Company has staged a full-scale production every year. Initially a part of the Arts Festival, and then the Cathedral Fringe Festival, they occur today as an annual event in their own right. The Company’s repertoire includes a wide variety of both ballets and other dance productions, including family favourites like ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Nutcracker’, familiar productions such as ‘Giselle’ and ‘Les Sylphides’, and more modern interpretations such as the 2008 jazz version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, titled ‘Star Cross’d’. In 1984 The Chelmsford Ballet Company presented its version of the Royal Ballet Company film ‘The Tales of Beatrix Potter’. This was the first time the ballet had been performed on stage; and it was not until 1992 that the Royal Ballet Company staged its own production at Covent Garden. Today the Ballet Company performs at the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford, and has become a well-loved cornerstone of Chelmsford’s cultural calendar.
“…the marvel is that this amateur company can put on such a lavish performance…”
The Ballet Company is a way for skilled dancers from across the area to perform together and to showcase their considerable talents to appreciative and receptive audiences. Theatre-goers are constantly ‘thrilled’ with the productions, which always maintain the high standards set by Joan Weston. Today, The Chelmsford Ballet Company is “an amateur Company which sets professional standards for all its work, involving professionals in its productions, courses and other teaching and workshop opportunities”. The standards are such that both junior (aged 10 and standard Grade 2 or above) and senior (over 13) dancers must audition to become members and again each year to perform in any production. These high standards are maintained through the monthly Company classes, where the dancers are able to meet and take a class with experienced and distinguished teachers. In the 1960′s a Scholarship Fund was created to help young dancers moving to professional training
Joan Weston’s vision remains very much alive and dancing today and that secret is not such a secret any more.
Footnote:Joan founded her own school of dance in 1939 after her retirement from performing with the Stanislav Idzikowsky (who was taught by Enricco Cecchetti) and Markova-Dolin Ballets. Joan Weston was director of The Company until 1969 and died in 1991; a statue in her memory was commissioned and stands in the foyer of the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford. A photograph of her can be found in the gallery “archive”