ONE of the most lauded figures in the world of ballet has bought a landmark Edinburgh church amid ambitious plans to transform it into an elite theatre venue.

Renowned directo Peter Schaufusrs has struck a deal with the gaming tycoon behind the Grand Theft Auto phenomena to purchase for the A-listed St Stephen’s Church for an unknown sum.

Leslie Benzies, former president of Rockstar North, bought the 1820s church in a deal thought to be in excess of £500,000 three years ago in what was described as “an entirely philantrophic purchase” to preserve the building.

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His charity, the Benzies Foundation, funds projects to promote health and fitness within local communities.

HeraldScotland:

A former director of English National Ballet, Mr Schaufuss aims to create a ‘Theatre in the Round’ as the centrepiece in the main room within St Stephen’s, which will aim to attract year-round local, national and international dance companies.

Other local arts and community operations will also continue to benefit from the venue following the sale, a spokesman for Mr Benzies said.

Mr Schaufuss said: “I plan to make the Great Hall a world-class theatre, one that will attract productions from leading companies from around the world, while the ground floor level and basement area lends itself to many exciting uses moving forward both cultural and community based.

“I have consulted with many people and public organisations in Edinburgh and I am happy to say that all share my enthusiasm, not least because they want to ensure that Saint Stephen’s will continue to hold its place in the affections of all who know it, but also because we can all see how well suited it is to become one of the capital’s major centres of artistic excellence.

“Saint Stephen’s has latterly been used as a community and artistic centre and it is my wish to continue the building’s evolution from its former use as a public and community venue under the ownership of The Benzies Foundation.”

One of the most important Georgian buildings in central Edinburgh, Saint Stephen’s in Stockbridge was designed by the architect William Henry Playfair. The Benzies Foundation acquired it from the Church of Scotland in July 2014, since when it has been used by a number of local community groups and the Edinburgh International Festival.

A founder of the English National Ballet School with a global reputation as a dancer, choreographer and director, Mr Schaufuss was knighted in his native Denmark in 1988 and has a son at Scottish Ballet.

Philip Johnston, trustee for the Benzies Foundation, said:“The new owner’s plans to complete the refurbishment will take the venue to the next level and we are delighted to have reached agreement with Mr Schaufuss to drive forward the artistic potential and future of this iconic building.

“There is no doubt that his international reputation and further development work will help put Edinburgh firmly on the international map for performing arts, it’s a truly unique offering for the benefit of all.”

Peter Schaufuss Ballet Company had previously secured planning permission to convert the Charlotte Baptist Chapel on Edinburgh’s nearby Rose Street into a

new theatre for the performing arts.