John McNamara (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1971) received his award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the performing arts. As Principal of Elmhurst Ballet School, one of the premier specialist dance schools in the UK, John pioneered its relocation to a new state of the art teaching and residential campus in Birmingham in 2004. As part of the move, he established a formal link between the school and Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), offering an immense contribution to education, performing arts and the cultural life of the city.
Founded in 1923, Elmhurst was one of the first vocational dance schools in the UK.
Its mission is to provide a world-renowned centre of excellence for the training and education of professional classical ballet dancers for Birmingham Royal Ballet and other national and international dance companies.
John explains: ‘In 1996, Elmhurst was admitted to the DfE Music and Dance Scheme (MDS), becoming one of four specialist dance schools in the country to receive grants and support with student fees directly from the government. This enables the most talented young people aged from 11 to 19 to attend the school regardless of their financial circumstances.
‘Through the MDS and the Dance and Drama Awards (DADA) Scheme (for students aged 16-19 years old), some 80% of the school’s students receive generous, means-tested, financial assistance to train and board at Elmhurst following a successful audition – a real meritocracy.’
John became Principal of Elmhurst in January 1995 and led its move from Camberley in Surrey, as well as establishing the association with BRB in 2002. BRB’s Artistic Director, Sir David Bintley CBE joined the school as Artistic Advisor, and the University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Michael Sterling, became the school’s first President. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall became school Patron in 2006, a role she still performs with enthusiasm as HM The Queen Consort.
He says: ‘Moving to Birmingham required four years of intensive planning, working closely in partnership with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham City Council, Calthorpe Estates and the University. Nearly two decades later, the school thrives in its new home.’
A former Senior Lecturer in Drama at various universities with a specialism in teacher education, John was the Chief Examiner for the A-level course in Drama for five years. Prior to his appointment at Elmhurst, he was Director of Drama and Theatre Studies at Marlborough College, Wiltshire.
John retired in 2008 and looks back on his award with pride. He says: ‘I was delighted to receive this prestigious award as heralding Elmhurst’s relocation to the West Midlands and all that it promised.
‘It has become an essential component of the region’s dance infrastructure and its relationship with BRB has developed to great mutual benefit. Elmhurst graduates progress from training by artists of world class stature to professional careers with leading international companies, including the city’s Royal Ballet.’
He has fond memories of his time studying at the University and says: ‘It was an inspiring place to prepare for a career in the arts. I was able to grow and develop, learning how to avoid the easy routes and to take the more complex ones.’