|Motto||When Performance Counts|
|Type||Independent further and
higher education college
BA (Hons), FRSA
|Deputy Principal &
|Luis de Abreu
AISTD, MA, PGCE
|Local authority||London Borough of Bexley|
|DfE URN||50701 Tables|
Doreen Bird College of Dance, Music & Theatre Performance, commonly known as Bird College, is an independent performing arts school and college, located in Sidcup, South East London, in the London Borough of Bexley.
The college was founded as a dance school by Doreen Bird in 1946 and now provides specialist vocational training in dance and musical theatre, at further and higher education level. The college is considered one of the leading providers of vocational performing arts training in the United Kingdom. In addition, the college also comprises a junior dance department and music services supported by the local council.
The college prepares students for a professional career in the performing arts and has a reputation of feeding artists into West End and Broadway theatre, dance companies, television, film, pop music and other high profile areas of the entertainments industry. Key areas of study include ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance, singing, voice craft and drama.
Bird College is an accredited college of the Council for Dance Education and Training. Full-time students at the college study for either the Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre, validated by Trinity College, London, or the BA Hons in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre, validated by the University of Greenwich. The college is also an approved dance centre of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), and students can study towards the ISTD dance teaching qualifications.
- 1 History
- 2 Today
- 3 Pre-Vocational Music and Dance
- 4 Facilities
- 5 Notable students
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Doreen Bird first founded the Doreen Bird School of Dance in Sidcup in 1945. It would be the predecessor of today's Bird College. Bird initially taught pupils in her parents' living room, rolling up the carpet to provide a suitable dance surface, although she later used a local church hall. In 1951, she establishing a full-time performing arts course with six students, which became known as the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts, today's Bird College.
In 1954 Doreen Bird acquired a former vicarage, which was renamed Vicarage House and would be the college's first permanent premises. In 1964, it moved to Studio House, which continued in daily use by the college until 2016. To enable the college to expand, it became necessary to seek larger premises and in 1979, Bird was successful in securing the freehold of a former Victorian school, which was converted into dance studios and was renamed Birkbeck Centre. Birkbecck Centre was officially opened by former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath and was the college's main campus until 2007. In 2007, as part of the college's contract to provide pre-vocational music and dance services on behalf of Bexley Council, Bird College was granted residency of the former Bexley Centre for Music & Dance, which became the college's principal campus, renamed The Centre. The college vacated all of its existing buildings early in 2016, with the acquisition of a new one-site facility on Alma Road in Sidcup.
The Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts first offered a nationally recognised qualification with the introduction of a National Diploma validated by Trinity College. In 1997, the college became the first of its kind in the United Kingdom to offer a professional dance degree, with the introduction of the BA Hons Degree in Dance & Theatre Performance. This course was specially devised for the college as a collaboration between Doreen Bird and the University of Greenwich who validate the qualification. In 2004, the National Diploma course was regraded to Level 6 on the National Qualifications Framework, becoming the National Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre. The college has further expanded its range of courses with the introduction of the Foundation Degree in Creative Industries: Acting and the MA by Research in Dance & Theatre Performance, both validated by the University of Greenwich. A one-year pre-vocational foundation course has also been established, which offers an intensive course of study for students who need extra preparation before applying for a place on a full professional course.
Doreen Bird was principal of the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts until her retirement in 1998, when she appointed Sue Passmore as Principal and Executive Director. It is also around this time that the name Bird College was first introduced, replacing the full title that had previously been used. Bird continued to be a trustee and Governor of the college for the rest of her life and In 1999, she was awarded an honorary Master of Arts by the University of Greenwich, in recognition of her achievements. Prior to her death , she had also been studying for a Ph.D. She died of Leukaemia on 4 February 2004 and a memorial service was held at The Actor's Church in Covent Garden.
Prior to becoming Principal of the college in 1998, Sue Passmore had previously been Head of Theatre at the former Bush Davies School of Theatre Arts. She joined the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in 1988, as Artistic Co-ordinator and Head of Drama, becoming Artistic Director in 1989. She founded the Bird Theatre Company in 1991 and was also appointed to the Executive Council of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. After becoming the college's Principal and Executive Director in 1998, she held the post for seven years. Passmore retired from Bird College in 2005.
Since 2005, the college has been managed by Shirley Coen as Principal & Chief Executive and Luis De Abreu as Deputy Principal. De Abreu is an alumnus of the college, serving as Deputy CEO & Artistic Director. In 2007, Bird College became the providers of pre-vocational music and dance services for the London Borough of Bexley, working in partnership with Bexley Council. The college is now responsible for a large proportion of performing arts provision in the local community alongside its professional training courses.
Live performances are an integral part of the curriculum and the college perform in public under the title of 'Bird Theatre Company', staging productions both in the UK and Internationally.
Bird College productions have been staged at the Whitworth Theatre, the Bloomsbury Theatre and from 1982 at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, then for a number of years at the Peacock Theatre. Bird College have also performed at the Shaw Theatre, Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House and currently perform regularly at the Shaw Theatre and the Orchard Theatre in Dartford.
As one of the country's leading performing arts colleges, Bird College take part in the annual event, 'Move It Dance London', the largest dance exhibition in the UK. Bird students perform in the showcase and give demonstrations, with staff of the college teaching workshops and giving lectures. Having an international reputation in the dance world, Bird College have also performed overseas, including appearances in Portugal, Austria and Singapore.
The College's campus is a one site facility on Alma Road with lots of green open spaces for the students to enjoy. It includes 9 dance Studios, 8 music rooms, 3 acting studios, lecture room, library and ICT facilities, the Doreen Bird Foundation Theatre, wardrobe and laundry facilities, props store, physiotherapy room, counselling room, common room and refectory. The Campus is situated 5 minutes from Sidcup station.
The college's Patrons include Dame Gillian Lynne, Dougie Squires, Lara Pulver, Christopher Biggins & Baroness Tessa Blackstone.
As a specialist vocational college for professional dance and musical theatre, the college has the following accredited courses.
- BA (Hons) in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre (validated by University of Greenwich)
- Diploma in Musical Theatre (validated by Trinity College, London)
- Pre-Professional Foundation Year in Dance and Theatre Performance
Entry to one of the college's full-time performing arts courses is by audition only and the college can receive up to 1,500 applications per year for a very limited number of places. It is essential for an applicant to have some prior experience of singing, dancing or acting. However, exceptions are made if an applicant demonstrates an exceptional degree of talent or natural ability during the selection process, in particular, many male candidates join the college having no prior training in dance or performing arts.
The audition for entry to the college includes assessments conducted and observed by senior staff at the College. The audition is intended to assess potential for a career in professional dance and musical theatre. Auditions take place between November and May.
A typical audition for the college normally begins with an introduction by a the Artistic Director and the audition panel, who will give a presentation about the college to all the candidates and their parents or teachers (if present). This presentation offers an insight into what life at Bird college is like, what the demands of the training are, and what will be expected from those who are successful in gaining a place at the college. The introduction is followed by a dance workshop which includes taught combinations in ballet, jazz and musical theatre and is followed by individual performance rehearsed monologues and song.
Fees for entry September 2016 BA (Hons) in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre – £9,000 per annum Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre: Full Fees – £12,500 per annum Pre – Professional Foundation Year – £8,000 per annum
BA (Hons) in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre The fees for this course can be paid by the student. Alternatively students can apply for a Student Loan through the student loans company. For this course students will be entitled to apply for a Fees Loan of £9,000, a Maintenance Loan and a means tested Maintenance Grant.
Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre Please see DaDA website for information on the current DaDA Scheme in place for entry. Please also see the information on this related page of our site: Funding for the Diploma Funding for entry to the Diploma is currently under review – new information will go onto the website when confirmed.
Pre-Professional Foundation Year in Dance and Theatre Performance Students on this course are self-funded only; there is no formal funding agency for this course.
As part of its requirements for providing the government funded Dance and Drama Awards, Bird College is required to undergo regular inspections by OFSTED, the government appointed organisation that is responsible for monitoring educational standards in England. The college received its latest inspection in January 2016 and was deemed Outstanding in all areas.
The college has a Junior Associates department providing after-school and weekend classes in all dance genres, acting, singing and musical theatre for boys and girls aged 3 to 18. Additionally, the college is the music provider for the London Borough of Bexley and provides opportunities for all ages to learn music.
Pre-Vocational Music and Dance
Bird College provides a variety of pre-vocational music services throughout the Bexley region as well as a Junior Dance Assciates.
- Free instrumental and vocal tuition in schools, for pupils at Key Stage 2
- Individual and shared instrumental/vocal lessons
- Progressive choirs, bands and orchestras
- Hire of musical instruments
- Independent shop on site "Soundheart ltd" for all musical needs
- Regular public performances
- Lessons in ballet, tap, and modern dance
- Lessons in jazz, contemporary dance and musical theatre
- Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
- Trinity Guildhall
- Royal Academy of Dance
- Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing
In November, Bird College moved to its new campus on Alma Road in Sidcup, bringing all of the college's facilities onto one site for the first time. The Alma Road site was originally built as the Sidcup Secondary School (1955-1965), with two matching adjacent buildings; one for girls and one for boys. One of these buildings now houses Birkbeck Primary School. The second, which now houses Bird College, was used as the Sidcup Adult Education Centre prior to its acquisition by Bird College. An architectural competition was launched by the Royal Institute of British Architects in the autumn of 2011, with the design brief for a complete overhaul of the site, providing state of the art facilities for the college. The winning designs were submitted by Hoskins Architects of Glasgow, work started in 2015. The college took partial residence of the building in the autumn of 2015 and full residence in November 2016. Additional phases of construction are ongoing and are expected to be completed in November 2016.
From 1965 onward the college was based at Studio House, a detached Georgian property occupying the corner plot of Station Road and Crescent Road in Sidcup. Originally a residential property, the ground floor reception rooms were used as dance studios until the 1990s, when a large studio/theatre extension was built on what was the rear garden. Studio House was the college's principal campus until the acquisition of Birkbeck Centre in the 1970s.
Birkbeck Centre was a former Victorian school situated on the corner of Birkbeck Road and Clarence Crescent in Sidcup. Acquired for the college in 1977, it was extensively refurbished and re-opened by Prime Minister and Bexley MP, Sir Edward Heath. Birkbeck Centre comprised a number of dance studios of different sizes, including a large studio located in a pre-fabricated building to the rear of the property. Adjacent to Birkbeck Centre was the Admin Cottage, which housed the college's administrative, marketing and finance teams, the Principal's office and a teachers rest room and kitchen. Birkbeck Centre remained the college's primary campus until 2007 when the college moved to 'The Centre' on Station Road.
Studio House, Birkbeck Centre and the Admin Cottage were sold in early 2016.
The Centre bird colleges previous main siteis a former school located on Station Road in Sidcup. It is now a music and dance complex owned by the London Borough of Bexley and was previously known as the Bexley Academy of Music and Performing Arts. It is used primarily as a venue for pre-vocational dance and music training. Since becoming the officially approved provider for music provision in the London Borough of Bexley in 2007, Bird College has taken residency of the building and is responsible for the management of the site. The College has, however, used the facilities at the site for some time, holding classes for its full-time performing arts courses. The Centre offers (within the main building and annexes on site) a range of dance studios with sprung flooring and installed sound systems, tuition/practice rooms and performance opportunities in the larger studios.
Bird College has a number of well-known and notable alumni. It has become known for producing dance and theatre excellence. Former students are working worldwide in all areas of the entertainments industry, particularly dance and musical theatre, including West End and Broadway shows. Many also work as directors, choreographers, producers, agents, personal managers and teachers.
- Helen Anker - began training at the Royal Ballet Lower School, later training in musical theatre at Bird College. She is noted for performances in the musical Beautiful and Damned and Susan Stroman's dance musical Contact. Most recently, she has played lead roles in the English National Opera production of On The Town and the first major London production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse
- Gary Avis - trained at Bird College and the Royal Ballet School. He joined The Royal Ballet in 1989 and was promoted to Soloist in 1995. In 1999 he was a co-founder of K-ballet in Japan, also appearing in the Channel 4 documentary series "Ballet Boyz". Avis later joined English National Ballet as First Soloist in 2002, returning to the Royal Ballet in 2004. He was promoted to Principal Character Artist in 2005 and Assistant Ballet Master in 2007.
- Fenella Masse Mathews, Anglo-French very well known in France, was a dancer in the Parisian cabarets, Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse. It was notably lead dancer. She attended the Doreen Bird School between 1979 and 1982.
- Warren Carlyle - was Associate Choreographer for the Broadway and West End theatre revivals of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, working with Choreographer, Susan Stroman. He was Associate Choreographer for the 2005 film revival, also performing as a cast member in both the London and New York theatre productions. He also danced in the film Center Stage 
- Melanie Chisholm - trained at Bird College before becoming a member of the Spice Girls.
- Sue Hodge - trained at Bird College and has subsequently worked extensively in theatre and on television. Best known for her portrayal of Mimi Labonq in the long-running BBC sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, her credits also include numerous West End and touring theatre productions and other television series' and appearances such as Noel's House Party, Royal Variety Performance and Children in Need.
- Gavin Lee - most noted for creating the role of 'Bert' in the West End premiere of Mary Poppins The Musical, a role which he later re-created for the new Broadway production of the show. He has received both Olivier Award and Tony Award nominations for this role.
- John Partridge - has performed a number of critically acclaimed roles in West End musicals and throughout Europe. He is most noted for his performance of 'Rum-Tum-Tugger' in the official film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats, but Partridge has also played leading roles in musicals such as Starlight Express, Notre Dame de Paris, Rent and Taboo. Since February 2008, Partridge has been a cast member of the long-running British soap opera EastEnders.
- Lara Pulver - trained at Bird College, graduating with a BA (Hons) Degree in 2000. She has appeared in a number of productions including Into The Woods at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Honk!, High Society and A Chorus Line. In 2008, Pulver received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for 'Best Actress in a Musical', for her performance in the West End production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. Her television appearances include the BBC drama series Robin Hood and HBO's True Blood.
- Aaron Sillis - trained at Bird College gaining the National Diploma in Professional Dance. Has performed in many award winning productions by the choreographer Matthew Bourne, including Swan Lake, Nutcracker!, The Car Man and Dorian Gray. Has also worked as a dancer and choreographer for Kylie Minogue, Take That, Sugababes and Victoria Beckham. Winner of The Times Breakthrough Award sponsored at the 2009 South Bank Show Awards.
- "Bird College - Dance and Drama Theatre Performance : Directgov - Directories". Direct.gov.uk. 2009-03-20. Archived from the original on 2007-07-16. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- "Press release". University of Greenwich. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- "Press Release" (PDF). Bexley Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Student Information - Doreen Bird | University of Greenwich". Gre.ac.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- "Doreen Bird Obituary - see page 6 of document" (PDF). Bexley News Shopper. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 8, 2008. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- "RoyalOperaHouse - Artists of The Royal Ballet - Principal Character Artists". Info.royaloperahouse.org. Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- "Warren Carlyle at". Hollywood.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-15. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- Mel C Singer Biography
- "The Big Olivier Awards Interview: Gavin Lee". London Theatre Guide. 2005-02-17. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-10-08.[dead link]
- "Broadway.com Star File: Gavin Lee". Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Miss Saigon - UK Tour
- Doreen Bird - ISTD Autobiography
- University of Greenwich Press Release - Doreen Bird, Honorary MA
- Gavin Lee, Olivier Award Interview
- Bexley Council Press Release - Junior Music & Dance Provision
- Obituary of Doreen Bird - See page 4
- Council for Dance Education & Training (CDET) - List of Accredited Dance & Musical Theatre Courses
- Dance and Drama Awards (DADA) Scheme - List of colleges offering Government funded places