Ballet West dance school collapse leaves students in limbo

Ballet West in Taynuilt
Ballet West in Taynuilt, Argyll, was placed in liquidation in August.
Students whose dreams of a professional dance career were shattered by the closure of a prestigious ballet school have been hit by a second blow.
Allegations of sexual misconduct led to the closure of Ballet West in Argyll in August.
Many dancers, who were due to start back at the school this week, had paid fees to the school.
Without access to this cash, they find themselves in penury and out of pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds, even if they have found a place at another school.
Ballet West was set up amid the heather and the hills in Taynuilt in 1991 and closed last month, after allegations of sexual misconduct against the vice principal, Jonathan Barton.
He resigned but denies any wrongdoing.  Police in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute are now investigating.
But with Ballet West now in liquidation, young dancers have no idea if, and when, they might be able to retrieve the fees they paid upfront.
Australian dancer Catherine D’Ornay, who is 16, has found a new place to study but cannot afford to take it up.
She was preparing to move to Scotland when the troubled school announced its closure.
She told the BBC: “I was supposed to leave at the end of August and then start school last Monday.
“I’d never been to Scotland before and was looking forward to something new.”
Catherine D'Ornay
Dancer Catherine D’Ornay “was looking forward to something new.”
Her father, Ben D’Ornay said he spoke to the school more than a month ago. They said all was well and after sending through Catherine’s fees – almost £10,000 – they heard nothing until the announcement the school had been put into liquidation.
Catherine has been offered a place to study in France but her family’s cash is tied up in the liquidated company.
He said: “Her career is riding on what happens with Ballet West. Our argument is the money is ours, not theirs. The money was paid for tuition and the tuition never started so we are waiting to see what happens.”
Ben and Catherine D'Ornay
Ben D’Ornay and his daughter Catherine are in limbo over her future career
The accountant who is dealing with the liquidation of Ballet West says it is too early to say whether there will be funds available to repay what is owed.
Eileen Blackburn, of French Duncan,  said: “At this stage we are gathering information to establish the financial state of affairs of the company. Unfortunately it is too early to be able to indicate whether there will be funds available to make payments to any creditors of the company, and that includes those students and parents who are looking to have fees refunded. “
She stressed that the firm had to follow the processes laid down by insolvency legislation.

‘We got out straight away’

Fellow 16-year-old, Isabella Guyan was due to be Catherine’s classmate.
Her father Stephen managed to get a partial refund from the school before it closed, and before they made the 30-hour journey from New Zealand.
He said: “We feel lucky in that we did decide to get out straight away. We did get a good chunk of a refund back.
“There is still a fair bit outstanding but it has enabled us to move on and find another school. Another school has been helping us to find a place for Isabella.”
Isabella said: “There aren’t many opportunities in New Zealand and Ballet West seemed like a good place in the beginning. My dream is to dance with the Royal Opera House Ballet and I thought getting into a school in the UK would help me get closer to that.”
Isabella has been painting fences, selling marmalade and doing odd jobs to help raise enough cash to let her continue her dream of dancing full time.
The situation has raised calls for tuition fees to be protected in the event of similar incidents.
The Royal Academy of Dance said that what happened at Ballet West was a “wake-up call” for the dance teaching profession.

‘Seriousness and sensitivity’

It said the fiasco had brought into sharp focus the gaps in the responsibilities of local authorities, other agencies and registered bodies.
In a statement, it said: “As a leading dance education and training organisation, we believe the issue needs to be tackled directly and collectively and we will be approaching other sector leaders to start the conversation to identify the actions needed to drive change.”
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “Police have now received a number of reports regarding alleged activities at Ballet West, which are being thoroughly investigated.
“Police Scotland is committed to bringing sexual offenders before the courts and treats all reports of sexual abuse with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity.”
* The dancers in our photographs, apart from those featuring Catherine D’Orsay,  are not connected in any way with Ballet West.

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