GILLIAN Barton’s plans far a quiet retirement in the west Highlands did not quite go according to plan.
After 20 years in San Diego where she had her own dance school and company, Glasgow-born Barton decided to come home and settle in the Argyll village of Taynuilt.
It was seeing the local youngsters, apparently at a loose end, that persuaded Barton that the area needed its own dance school.
"When I saw all the young kids, I thought I could give them something to enjoy. And they got so good that the reputation started spreading and now we have a lot of international students as well," she said.
Attracting students from as far aways as the USA, Canada, Singapore and Japan, Barton’s Ballet West school marks its 25th anniversary this year, although officially it is recognised as starting in 1991.
"It just began as a part time school for local kids,"
"It’s a real classic grassroots enterprise. It started really small.
"It’s a beautiful place to live and right in the middle of a farm. You wouldn’t imagine that it would have this beautiful ballet school with 80 odd students studying for degrees, but that’s what’s here once you drive up the hill."
Not that students will spent all the three years of their course in Taynuilt.
Each year Ballet West brings together its students and established professionals and tours a full length ballet, with this year’s production The Nutcracker, arriving in Eden Court next week soon after national company Scottish Ballet made their own visit to the Inverness theatre with their own version of Cinderella.
"We tour all over Scotland and visit China sometimes and they have some massive theatres there, so they have a wonderful experience while they are still at college," Barton said.
"I think we are the only UK school that does full length ballets on tour while the students are studying for a degree. They get a really good understanding of how to put a ballet on.
"And we are lucky too because they are a great bunch and very motivated, I think partly because of our location. People ask what is the secret of our success with our students doing so well and winning international competitions. Obviously I say the training is excellent and the opportunity to perform helps, but I think we also attract a very focussed group of young people."
For a ballet school, The Nutcracker, with its large cast and the very different dance styles of the second act, provides an ideal opportunity to get its young cast on stage.
"The Nutcracker offers a lot of different roles. With other ballets you can be quite restricted in the opportunity you give to every dancer. In the second act there are lots of nice roles for young people to do and everyone knows the music, so it’s a really fun ballet," Barton said.
"A lot of the kids are in covering other roles, but they know that if they work hard and someone’s ill or injured, they will get an opportunity. We also change the cast and give several people opportunities.
"One of the highlights of my life is that I get emails and all sorts of joyous phone calls who get promoted to principal or start work with a new company. They are so grateful for the training they got at Ballet West that often, when they have their holidays, they come back here and do class.
"And that’s wonderful because they have the opportunity to talk to the students about how worthwhile it is and how much they are loving their work."
• Ballet West present The Nutcracker at Eden Court’s Empire Theatre at 7.30pm on Thursday February 11.