How Scottish Ballet made five wishes come true

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
Lily Douglas with Scottish Ballet Principal dancer Christopher Harrison at Theatre Royal Glasgow. Credit Sally Jubb..jpgImage source, SALLY JUBB
Image caption,
Lily Douglas with Scottish Ballet Principal dancer Christopher Harrison at Theatre Royal Glasgow

To celebrate its 50th anniversary year Scottish Ballet granted five wishes.

People from across Scotland were invited to submit their ballet dreams and a celebrity judging panel, which included Dame Darcey Bussell, selected the final five.

The individual stories and their impact on the wider community were captured by BBC Scotland for a documentary.

Wish 1 - Dancing like Cinderella

Image source, SALLY JUBB
Image caption,
Lily Douglas took a class with the Scottish Ballet company

In January, Lily Douglas, who has been living with rare cancer Ewing's Sarcoma, was invited backstage at Glasgow's Theatre Royal.

The 11-year-old avid dancer, from Perth, thought she was attending a workshop but was told she would actually be watching the company take their morning class, before joining them on stage.

Lily has had 14 rounds of chemotherapy and her left shoulder blade removed but it has not stopped her passion for dance.

Her mother Jane said: "Lily used to come out of chemo and go straight to dancing. We are now two and a half years down the line and her doctor thinks she is amazing. She thinks she is a miracle."

Wish 2 - Support for dance teacher

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The day the wish was granted was the last time Jemma (centre) made it to the dance studio

The Academy Street Dance Studio, from Aberdeen, worked with Scottish Ballet to create a special performance in April - but the person who had made the wish was not there.

Jemma McRae, who ran the studio, died from breast cancer months earlier.

The 43-year-old's death came less than a week after Scottish Ballet visited her studio to announce it would be bringing its stars to the dance school as a way of thanking the youngsters for their support throughout her cancer journey.

When the wish was granted, Jemma said it was not for her but for the people who came to her dance studio.

She said: "My first wish would be for a cure for cancer, but that's not possible right now - so I'm hoping to give back to the students and parents who have supported me."

Image source, Sally Jubb
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Academy Street Dance Studio pupils perform with Scottish Ballet at Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom

Dance school teacher Gillian Stuart said working towards the wish filled some of the emptiness felt by Jemma's death.

"It gave us something to focus on and kept us really busy," she said.

Following a day of workshops with Scottish Ballet, 85 dancers from the dance studio performed to an audience of 600 friends and family at Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom.

Jemma's mum Marlene said her daughter would have loved it.

"This was her life. She loved every minute of dancing, every child, and she would have given anything to be here," she said.

Wish 3 - Alzheimer's choir

Image source, Sally Jubb
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Scottish Ballet and Alzheimer Scotland's Every Voice Choir perform Wish 3

In June, a choir made up of people with dementia as well as their families and carers had their wish granted when they performed with dancers from Scottish Ballet.

Every Voice Community Choir, run by Alzheimer's Scotland, created a unique performance at St Augustine's Church in Dumbarton, where they rehearse.

The BBC documentary shows Catherine and her husband Danny, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia at just 52.

The couple met as teenagers and have been married for 33 years.

After the "shock" of Danny's diagnosis they found the choir and Catherine went along to support her husband. She soon found herself joining in.

Image source, SALLY JUBB
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Principal dancer Bethany Kingsley-Garner and soloist Evan Loudon performed while the choir sang

"The choir has become a big part of our lives," Danny says.

"It really helps you progress through a journey where you don't know where it is going to take you."

"It gives you the confidence to take the next step."

Catherine says her husband was worried at first that he might have to do ballet.

"I didn't think I would suit a tutu," he says.

For the wish, Scottish Ballet soloist Jamiel Laurence choreographed a duet between principal Bethany Kingsley-Garner and soloist Evan Loudon.

They danced as the 50-strong choir performed their rendition of 'Only You' by British synth-pop band Yazoo.

The dance company also invited the choir to perform on stage at a performance of The Snow Queen in Edinburgh in December.

Wish 4 - The costume designer

Image source, Sally Jubb

In October, young designer Poppy Camden joined Scottish Ballet on tour to work with the wardrobe department.

Poppy, a recent graduate of the Fashion Design programme at Glasgow School of Art, experienced what goes into creating, fitting and maintaining costumes for the production of The Crucible at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.

Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson said the wardrobe team were the "unsung heroes" of the company.

"They don't get to be on stage like the dancers but all of their work is on the stage," he said.

Poppy said there was an "incredible amount of detail" that goes into the costumes. "It has been a real eye-opener," she said.

"For anyone who has seen the Scottish Ballet productions, they make it look effortless. But there is a lot of graft going on behind, which is fascinating to see."

Wish 5 - The Conductor

Image source, Sally Jubb

The final wish saw musician Colin Bowen, who has lived with Parkinson's disease for almost 20 years, conduct the 70-strong Scottish Ballet Orchestra.

At the age of 45, Colin was diagnosed with Parkinson's - a neurological condition that affects the central nervous system.

"Music takes me away to another land," he tells the programme.

Colin is an accomplished musician, teacher and conductor but his worsening condition means he is no longer able to play to the standard he once did.

"I have never lost the will to do music and do it well," he says.

It was his wife Anne who put in the wish to put Colin back where she thinks he belongs, conducting a full professional orchestra.

"He's just so talented and it is such a shame this talent was taken away because of Parkinson's," she says.

Colin says: "It is an opportunity for me to give Parkinson's a kick up the backside."