In 1972, the Quinte Dance Centre was established as the Belleville branch of the National Ballet Guild, a fundraising and public awareness arm of the National Ballet of Canada with Brian Scott as the School’s Founding Artistic Director. Mr. Scott began his training in England and won a scholarship to the International Ballet School in London. He has trained with renowned teachers throughout the world and is a graduate of the Royal Academy. He is also a fellow and past examiner of the Cecchetti Society. He has danced with many international companies: the Original Ballet Russe, the Opera Ballet at Covent Garden, Sadler’s Wells Ballet, the English National Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada. Mr. Scott has vast experience in London’s West End, appearing in musicals as well as BBC and CBC television specials and movies.
In 1978, the School offered its first four-week Summer Dance attended by 123 students from as far away as Newfoundland, New Zealand and Australia. The teaching faculty included a stellar list of professionals, including Celia Franca, founder of the National Ballet of Canada.
Through the efforts of volunteers, a considerable bursary and scholarship program evolved. Following years of hard work by a core group of volunteers, the School hired its first executive director in 1979. The School’s reputation at home and abroad was beginning to soar. Graduates were performing at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, London Ballet (England) and the National Ballet of Portugal. With a growing reputation, the School grew from a community-based program of 60 to a total of 200 recreational and professional students.
In just eight short years, the Quinte Dance Centre had established itself as one of the best professional ballet Schools in Canada and the only one not attached to a professional dance company. Realizing a need for expansion, the School moved to new facilities located at the Queen Mary Community Centre in 1980. To increase enrolment, the School established an advisory committee to look at the feasibility of establishing a residence. Members of the committee included local MPP Hugh O’Neil, a CBC producer, Sonja Bata, performing arts manager at Toronto’s Harbourfront, and Karen Kain.
Beginning in 1984, David Scott started as a special guest teacher and later become Artistic Advisor to the School. Mr. Scott was a former Ballet Master and Repetiteur with both the National Ballet of Canada and the English National Ballet.
In 1987, Yuri Ng debuted his version of The Nutcracker. The innovative production featured a 1920’s art deco look. Students from the Quinte Dance Centre performed with Martine Lamy and Daniel Nelson of the National Ballet of Canada, and Vanessa Harwood and Luc Amyot, formerly of the National Ballet of Canada.
Graduates continued to represent the School on the world stage performing on Broadway, with the National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Ballet Company, Ballet Classique de Paris, Alberta Ballet, Portuguese National Ballet, to name a few.
The School’s reputation and support was buoyed by a Cultural Master Plan that released a report on the local arts community describing the Quinte Dance Centre as a major cultural attraction that has an impact on the city’s economy. The report also said that the School has the most economic input to the city of any cultural organization. The report concluded that spending to accommodate the School and its future was justified.
In 1992, the School’s legal name changed from Quinte Dance Centre to Quinte Ballet School. Brian Scott was awarded the Confederation Medal for dedicated service to the community and country.
Recognizing the state of the facilities, the Board of Directors launched a capital campaign in 1996 to raise the funds necessary to build a new 20,000 sq. ft. facility on Palmer Road. Approximately $1.5million was raised and in May 2002, the new facility on Palmer Road was officially opened with then Minister of Heritage, Sheila Copps in attendance. This year also saw the School renamed to the Quinte Ballet School of Canada to better reflect its contribution to the arts on a national level.
Honouring the School’s cultural and economic impact during its 25th anniversary, the city of Belleville declared May 1997, “Quinte Ballet School Month” throughout the city.
The School’s succession plan for Brian Scott was implemented in 1997 when Mercedes Bernardez was hired as Assistant Artistic Director. Argentinean born and trained, Ms. Bernardez performed principal and soloist work throughout South America for over 16 years, where she also held Ballet Mistress and Assistant Artistic Director positions. Upon Mr. Scott’s retirement in 2000, Ms. Bernardez assumed the position of Artistic Director until 2003. In 2004, Gizella Witkowsky, former principal dancer with the National Ballet Canada, became Artistic Director, a title she held until 2006. Starting in August 2009, John Ottmann began his two year term as Artistic Director and was influential in bringing the school forward with many renowned creative contemporary dance artistis and teachers. Mr. Ottmann also significantly raised the profile and presence of Quinte Ballet School of Canada within the Belleville community and Quinte region.
In June of 2012 the Quinte Ballet School of Canada announced the appointment of Catherine Taylor as the new Artistic Director. Her past dance education through Canada’s National Ballet School and career with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as well as her professional approach to managing the school have proven to be a huge success for the past several years and for the future of the Quinte Ballet School of Canada.
Today and Tomorrow
Excerpts from the book “Quinte Ballet School – 25 Years of Dance”, T. Lynn Miller (1997)