White Lodge in Richmond Park has been the home of The Royal Ballet Lower School since the School’s Royal Charter was granted almost 60 years ago. This magical place has been my home for nearly five years now, about one-third of my lifetime.
When I first came to Summer School here in July 2007 [right], I was 10 years old and about to leave my home in Italy to embark on vocational ballet training at the ESDC Rosella Hightower in Cannes, France. I was so excited to have obtained a place for just one week of Summer School at The Royal Ballet School and could not imagine that one year on I would be calling White Lodge my home. Back then the School was in the middle of an extensive redevelopment project that was completed in 2009. Improvements included two completely new dance studios , a new dining hall  and accommodation block [2-4], plus many upgrades to existing facilities. By the way, that turquoise area is a tennis court, not a swimming pool unfortunately.
Memories from the first two years include more than 20 performances in The Nutcracker with The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, and White Lodge decked with flowers for a Royal Gala performance attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The White Lodge Museum & Ballet Resource Centre was opened in 2008 and that same year I was included with a small group of students that were guests of Lord Sainsbury at the Royal Order of the Garter ceremony held at Windsor Castle each June. Standing within metres of the Queen and the other Knights of the Garter, including Prince William and Prince Harry, is something I will never forget.
These highlights are mixed with the hard work of academic lessons and at least four hours of dance classes on weekdays and Saturday mornings. In the Spring Term, students must obtain a pass in their dance appraisals to retain a place at the School. It is a stressful time for students, ballet staff and the pianists too. At the end of five years, only eight girls from my original class remain at White Lodge. I should clarify that each Year Group consists of about 26 students and is split equally into a ballet class for boys and one for girls. My post Fear of Success reflects more on this side of life at The Royal Ballet School. A report issued following an ISI inspection of our School also gives an interesting insight into life as a vocational student of dance – extracts were published by Ballet News in January 2012.
We are always busy preparing for events ranging from music and choreography competitions, to end of year performances at the Royal Opera House. The first time I ran onto the main stage for the Grand Defilé at our School’s end of year performance was a proud and emotional moment, as it has been every year since.
In our third year we moved from dormitory accommodation in Queen’s [10 & 11] to Parker House  in the new boarding block. We felt quite grown up sharing a room with just one friend from our Year Group. One of the ‘teething’ problems in Parker House was that the water supply could cut out at busy times. One Saturday morning my room-mate fully opened the hand basin taps to discover there was no water, so she came to join me for breakfast in the dining hall. Imagine our horror when two girls came running to warn us that our room had flooded – about an inch of water covered the floor and what’s more, my laptop was sitting in it! The water soaked through to the ceiling of the boys room below requiring several days of drying out and repairs. As a similar disaster had occurred to other girls a few months earlier, a technical solution was soon put in place.
Richmond Park surrounds our School and provides a wonderful setting for White Lodge. The views up Queen’s Ride and down to Pen Ponds change with the seasons. Red and fallow deer come up to the School fence and the bellows of the stags sometimes keep us awake at night.
In 2012 we performed a Charity Gala to raise funds for improvements to the Isabella Plantation, a beautiful woodland garden in Richmond Park managed by the Royal Parks. Filled with the vibrant colours of azaleas and rhododendrons the Isabella Plantation is particularly worth a visit in April and May.
In June each year White Lodge hosts a Summer Fair with performances in the garden watched by the family and friends of students. The photo below is of my Year Group in 2012 performing a Hungarian Character dance – that is me in the foreground on the left.
2012 was an eventful year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games both holding events inside Richmond Park. The flight path in to land at Heathrow crosses the north border of the park and it was fun to see Olympic Rings mown in the long grass near our School, welcoming air passengers into London.
In the summer of 2012 Jaguar Land Rover hired White Lodge for the launch of their new generation Range Rover. An army of workmen were on site for several weeks before the event, turning our garden into a film set with an enormous pond and outdoor screen to wow the VIP guests on September 6th. I was lucky to get a sneak preview just hours before the guests arrived, when the photo below was taken. The new school year started just days afterwards and we were amazed to watch workmen dismantle and remove all signs of the invasion.
Well, this post is becoming far too long – especially as I only intended to write it as an introduction to my new album of White Lodge images. I will close with this beautiful view of Richmond Park taken from the access road into White Lodge. It is a privilege to call this place ‘My School’.
Images in this post are mine with the exception of the Winter Snow and Summer Fair photos taken by Rob Green and the Royal Gala photo by Karen Heron. Aerial Drawing by BH&M Architects is the copyright of The Royal Ballet School.