Shawbrook in the Eighties,
an extract from: Report - Dance Critic in Ireland by Diana Theodores
First published in: Dance Chronicle, 1996
A day after returning from the sacred vegetarian rites on Innishrath it did not seem strange to receive a call from a woman with an Afrikaans accent from County Longford asking if I would come to a ballet recital on her dairy farm in Lenamore; she was quick to add that she was an avid reader of my dance column. Visions of bovine ballerinas had me in fits of giggles as I left the next day. Eamonn, the photographer, was to follow.
What greeted me upon arrival at the farm was a populace swanning around in summery gala finery, drinks in hand, taped music filling loudspeakers and lulling the cows, and a gorgeous little barn theatre containing sprung maple floors, a hydraulic-winched tiered seating system, full theatre lighting, and a herd of fledgling ballerinas seated on bales of hay, warming up near the barbecue fire for the performance. “Shawbrook” Ballet Farm was opened June 19, 1987, by Anica Dawson and her dairy farmer husband, Phillip. According to Anica, it all started when she watched the Rose of Tralee contest on television and thought that the foreign contestants looked so poised compared with the Irish girls parading down the aisle, whom she thought looked dreadful. Her analysis was that they needed ballet training. With poise as her purpose she went hauling her piano around in her husband’s cattle trailer (he was secretary of the Friesian Breeder’s Club) and setting up ballet classes in any available hall in Longford. I ran a long color supplement feature piece on “Shawbrook,” liberally accompanied by Eamonn’s photographs.
The piece helped to launch the venture and today it is the home of a well-established Ballet International Summer School, with one hundred students, dormitories, visiting teachers, and R.A.D. ballet training throughout the year.