My post today is a tribute to Jill Tookey who very sadly passed away on Good Friday this year. She was the founder and artistic director of the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) which she set up in 1988. My daughter was fortunate enough to be part of this wonderful experience which encourages young dancers from all over Britain. My daughter was a young and enthusiastic dancer and it was so thrilling just to fill in the application form and then attend the auditions. These are held at the English National Ballet School and I remember arriving with my young little dancer, hair in an immaculate ballet bun, clean but not new ballet shoes and a leotard which she took ages to choose. You are surrounded by limber dancers warming up and pinning on numbers for identification. Luckily my daughter had a group of fellow classmates with her and they all seemed quite unfazed by the proceedure. I on the other hand felt quite nervous. She was fortunate enough to make it through the selection process and become part of the NYB family and it was a wonderful experience. The younger children only attended a weekend rehearsal schedule but then when my daughter was a bit older they attended a residential school at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts to rehearse and perfect the productions. Tring Park is a rambling and impressive building with an imposing entrance hall and magnificent staircase. Lord Rothschild grew up at Tring Park and the house was built to a design of Sir Christopher Wren so it is an imposing old mansion. One of the rehearsal rooms was all beautiful wooden panels. It is a bit surreal to see this imposing house full of dancers dashing around in track suits and leg warmers rushing to rehearsals and costume fittings. Choreographers, Musicians and Costume Designers all carefully selected by Jill to work with the cast and the results always outstanding. Much of the costume design however was by Jill herself. She had been a fashion editor and in her youth attended the Arts Ed School. She gave her time on a voluntary basis to set up this amazing organisation. The company is run as a registered charity and constantly looking for support and sponsorship in order that they may keep offering these opportunities to youngsters from all walks of life. Having seen these young dancers perform I have since noticed some of the dancers on the west end stage, with major ballet companies or working as choreographers.
At the residential week for the cast they work with the choreographers, attend dance classes and costume fittings. My daughter loved it as she was surrounded by fellow dancers of all ages who love to perform and dance and I remember Jill always seemed to know who everyone was and encouraged them all to dance to the very best of their abilities and perform on stage. It is such an invaluable experience to take part in such a professional production of such a high standard. There was an amazing team of choreographers and teachers who worked closely with all the perfomers and the end results were always incredible and they performed in some very prestigious theatres. Such an incredible opportunity to have danced at Sadlers Wells, The Hackney Empire, Birmingham Hippodrome to name a few. Jill Tookey made this all possible for these young ambitious dancers. We will always remember our time with the NYB with great fondness and pay great tribute to the wonderful Jill Tookey.