Lyndsay Clydesdale, Media Officer for Oxfam, got the low-down from SB Director of Engagement Catherine Cassidy on how Highland Fling is giving young people an 'in' to the classical ballet world. 

In the era of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, how do you get teenagers interested in the arts? How do you show a range of youngsters that theatre can change their lives no matter what their background? One answer from Scottish Ballet is to give them an exciting experience that they might not expect — something that’s more Skins than Swan Lake. The education team at Scottish Ballet is keen to embrace this and to introduce young people to the arts and its many possibilities.

Cue Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling — a leap in just the direction they were looking for. 

“Some modern ballets can be difficult for young people to access, especially if it’s their first experience of dance” said Catherine Cassidy, Scottish Ballet’s Director of Engagement. “Highland Fling however is different — it’s edgy, quirky and contemporary and offers us the chance to attract people who wouldn’t normally have access to theatre and have maybe never been before. Our priority is to encourage people to think about ballet in a different way. Our challenge is to help them understand that ballet is for everybody.”

The Close project was devised to invite over 200 young people from across Scotland to attend a ballet performance for the first time and take part in creative workshops afterwards. For those who were keen, a further two-day intensive event would allow them to explore key themes in the production and the variety of new experiences theatre can offer.

For a project like this, the right material was crucial and Highland Fling was perfect. This imaginative reworking of the classic romance, La Sylphide, has an injection of Scottish sass, gallus humour and lurking menace running through it with a plot that covers teenage sex, tortured emotions, physical violence and drug use.

“The story follows the downfall of James and his desire for the Sylph — a magical creature out to tempt him to the dark side. There is magic and fantasy — but there are also common themes that a lot of young people will be able to relate to”.

As a title, The Close not only echoes the setting of Highland Fling but also the sense that the young adults taking part are important to Scottish Ballet.

“We wanted the young people to feel close to the company and close to us,” said Catherine. “It’s a really positive way for us to be working. We started by simply talking to the participants, engaging them with costumes and images and the chance to ask lots of questions. We talked a lot about what to expect because some of them have never been in a theatre.

“It’s a relationship we’ll continue to nurture — with the opportunity to access a number of creative experiences where they will have the chance to explore themes from the production through dance, parkour, photography, drama or music. Working in small groups there will be time for them to gain real insight into the workings of the company and the process of making a ballet come alive; for some of those taking part the experiences could in influence their lives in a myriad of ways.”

The Close participant, 2016.

While The Close has a very specific purpose and target group, the belief underpinning its creation comes from Scottish Ballet’s intent to engage with a wide community, not only those who naturally gravitate towards it.

With this project Scottish Ballet aren’t just opening the door to a new generation of potential fans, they’re giving them front row seats to experience for themselves how the arts can add something life-affirming and priceless in a materialistic world.

“We believe that arts and culture are enriching to people’s lives and that everyone should have access” said Catherine. “We feel particularly strongly that people who are marginalised or living in challenging circumstances can often miss out on those experiences. It’s so important for Scottish Ballet to be relevant to the whole of Scotland including those living in deprived areas.” 

At the very least the company hopes to instil a feeling of being comfortable in the theatre and the confidence to access any of the performing arts. “It could lead to someone having an interest in it for life or becoming inspired by dance or costume design,” said Catherine. 

“They’ll see how exciting and inspirational it can be, from getting people dancing, creating and being able to express themselves, building confidence and their communication skills, as well as a basic interest in the arts and the positive addition to their life that can be.”

To find out how you can support The Close, contact Private Giving Executive, Alison Thomson, alison.thomson@scottishballet.co.uk

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