• 1860s
    • Prologue: Marius Petipa and the Imperial
      Russian Ballet

    • 1862

      Marius Petipa Ballet Master of Imperial Russia

      Photograph of Marius Petipa in the first major ballet he created for the Imperial Theatre, St Petersburg, The Pharaoh’s Daughter (1862), reproduced in  Svetlov, Le Ballet Contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

    • 1869

      Christian Johansson Formation of the Russian School

      Print of a caricature of Christian Johansson by Sergei and Nicolai Legat c1900. RBS/MIM/1

  • 1880s
    • 1885

      Lev Ivanov Assistant to Marius Petipa

      Sketch of Lev Ivanov, artist unknown, reproduced in Borisoglebsky, Materials on the History of Russian Ballet, Volume 2 (Leningrad: Leningrad State Choreographic Academy, 1939). RBS/AHDL/JL

  • 1890s
    • 1892

      Enrico Cecchetti Maestro of the Italian School

      Print of a drawing of Maestro Cav[aliere] Enrico Cecchetti by Randolph Schwabe, c1922. RBS/ILL

    • 1896

      Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II Mariinsky Theatre Gala, 1896

      Programme for a gala at the Imperial Theatre, Moscow, to mark the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra, 17 May 1896. Page listing the cast and creators of Marius Petipa’s new ballet The Pearl, conducted by its composer, Riccardo Drigo. Illustration depicts the Imperial Theatre, Moscow. RBS/EPH

    • The Birth of Modern Ballet: the Diaghilev Ballets Russes

    • 1898

      Alexandre Benois Russian theatre designer

      Drawing of Alexandre Benois by Léon Bakst, reproduced in Valerian Svetlov, Le Ballet contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). RBS/AHDL

  • 1900s
    • 1902

      Alexander Gorsky Innovative Russian Ballet Master

      Photograph of Alexander Gorsky as a student, c1889. Reproduced in Borisoglebsky, Materials on the History of Russian Ballet, Volume 2 (Leningrad: Leningrad State Choreographic Academy, 1939). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL/LAW

    • 1903

      Marius Petipa retires End of an era

      Print of a caricature of Marius Petipa by Nicolai and Sergei Legat, c1900. The flag which Petipa carries bears the inscription: ‘ [St] Petersburg Ballet’. RBS/LEG/5

    • 1904

      Isadora Duncan Modern dance pioneer

      Photograph of Isadora Duncan at the Théâtre de Dionysos, 1904, reproduced in André Levinson, La Danse d’aujourd’hui (Paris: Editions Duchârtre et Van Buggenhoudt, 1929). Photo: attributed to Raymond Duncan. RBS/AHDL

    • 1904

      Mikhail Fokine Creator of ‘the new ballet’

      Photograph of Mikhail Fokine as the Golden Slave (a role he choreographed for Nijinsky in 1910) in a revival of his ballet, Schéhérazade, c1914, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré, May 1914. Photo: Jaeger. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/6

    • 1904

      Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing ISTD founded in London

      Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing classical ballet examination syllabus music cover, undated publication. From records relating to The Royal Ballet School Teachers’ Training Course (1964–2000). RBS/TTC

    • 1905

      Strike at the Mariinsky Theatre Revolution in Russia

      Photograph of the Imperial Opera House [Mariinsky Theatre], St Petersburg, from a programme for the 1910/11 ‘Saison Russe’ featuring Anna Pavlova, Palace Theatre, London. Photographer unknown. RBS/EDW/2

    • 1905

      The Legat Brothers Imperial dancers and teachers

      Photograph of Nicolai Legat in Paquita, c1890, reproduced in a programme (fragment, undated). Photographer unknown. RBS/EPH

    • 1906

      Adeline Genée London’s Danish ballerina

      Cutting (fragment) from an unidentified publication featuring a colour-tinted photograph of Adeline Genée as Swanhilda in Coppélia at the Empire Theatre, London (c1906). RBS/WIL/ILL/20/89

    • 1907

      Chopiniana or Les Sylphides The first plotless ballet

      Pastel drawing of Fokine’s Les Sylphides, dated 1917, artist’s signature unidentified, inscribed ‘to M. Grigoriev’; probably Serge Grigoriev, the rehearsal manager of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–29). RBS/WIL/ILL/2/15

    • 1907

      Anna Pavlova World-famous Russian ballerina

      Front cover of Dress and Vanity Fair magazine, featuring Anna Pavlova in Fokine’s Le Cygne, popularly called The Dying Swan, undated fragment. Pavlova’s Swan costume was designed for her by Léon Bakst. RBS/MOR/2/2

    • 1907

      Phyllis Bedells An English Prima Ballerina

      Signed photograph of Phyllis Bedells, inscribed to Ursula Moreton, 1936. Photographer unknown. RBS/MOR/3/5

    • 1909

      Serge Diaghilev The Ballets Russes

      Drawing of Serge Diaghilev in 1904, by Valentin Serov, reproduced in Propert,The Russian Ballet in Western Europe 1909–1920 (London: Bodley Head,1921). RBS/AHDL

    • 1909

      Vaslav Nijinsky Sensational dancer and choreographer

      Painting by Georges Lepape depicting Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role of Fokine’s ballet, Petrushka (1911), reproduced in a Diaghilev Ballets Russes souvenir programme, dated 1912. RBS/PRG/RUS

    • 1909

      Tamara Karsavina The first modern ballerina

      Painting in oils by Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn depicting Tamara Karsavina in Le Carnaval (1910), dated 1913.  Karsavina created the role of Columbine in Mikhail Fokine’s ballet: made for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, it was based on characters of the Commedia del’Arte; designs were by Léon Bakst. RBS/OBJ

    • 1909

      Serge Grigoriev Diaghilev’s indispensable Manager

      Cutting from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker: photograph of Serge Grigoriev, undated. Photographer unknown. RBS/BAR/2/2

  • 1910s
    • 1910

      Léon Bakst Innovative Russian designer

      Cover of a Ballets Russes programme, undated, featuring a costume design by Léon Bakst for La Péri (aquarelle, dated 1911). Diaghilev commissioned the ballet from the French composer, Paul Dukas, although the work was never performed by the Ballets Russes due to various artisitic disagreements. RBS/PRG/RUS

    • 1910

      The Firebird (1910) Igor Stravinsky and the ballet

      Cutting from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker: photograph of Tamara Karsavina in the title role of Fokine’s The Firebird [L’Oiseau de feu] (1910). Photo: Bertram Park. RBS/BAR/1/1

    • 1910

      The Dancing Times A voice for ballet in Britain

      Cover of the Dancing Times, Double Christmas Edition, December 1927, featuring a photograph of Anna Pavlova in one of her most famous dances, ‘Christmas’. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

    • 1911

      The Diaghilev Ballets Russes London Seasons (1911–29)

      Playbill for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Season of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (12 June–1 August 1912). RBS/6/3

    • 1912

      The Afternoon of a Faun (1912) Nijinsky’s choreographic début

      Photograph of Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun in L'Après-midi d'un faune [The Afternoon of a Faun], reproduced in Comoedia Illustré No 18, 15 June 1912. Photo: Bert. RBS/PRG/RUS

    • 1913

      The Rite of Spring (1913) Modernist masterpiece

      Photographs of the Stravinsky/Nijinsky ballet, Le Sacre du printemps [The Rite of Spring], designed by Nicholas Roerich, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré 1913. Photos: Gerschel. RBS/EPH

    • 1913

      Marie Rambert Founder of the Rambert School and Company

      Page of a scrapbook created by Ursula Moreton, featuring a photograph of Marie Rambert c1935. The article by Arnold Haskell,‘The Ballet Club – Marie Rambert’s Laboratory’, is about the much-loved establishment that nurtured her fledgling Company from 1931. Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MOR/105

    • 1913

      Émile Jaques-Dalcroze Founder of Dalcroze ‘Eurhythmics’

      Dalcroze exercises, undated, reproduced in André Levinson, La Danse d'aujourd’hui by (Paris: Editions Duchartre et Van Buggenhoudt, 1929). Photo: Boissonnas. RBS/AHDL

    • 1913

      Ninette de Valois Founder of The Royal Ballet School and Companies

      Photograph of Ninette de Valois (centre, back) and Doris Murray (kneeling) performing with ‘Lila Field's Wonder Children’ in The Children’s Dream (1913). Photographer unknown. RBS/NDV/PHO

    • 1913

      Lydia Sokolova Diaghilev’s English ballerina

      Photograph of Lydia Sokolova as the Miller's Wife in Massine’s Le Tricorne [The Three-Cornered Hat] (1919). Photo: Lenare. RBS/LAW/PHO/27

    • 1914

      Léonide Massine Diaghilev’s new star

      Photograph of Léonide Massine, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré May 1914. Photo: Durkoop. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/6

    • 1916

      Serafina Astafieva Russian Dancing Academy, London

      Advertisement for the Russian Dance Academy at 152, King’s Road, Chelsea, SW3, featuring a photograph of Serafina Astafieva, published in the Dancing Times, 1928. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT 

    • 1917

      Picasso and the Ballets Russes Massine’s Parade (1917)

      Design by Pablo Picasso reproduced on the front cover of a Diaghilev Ballets Russes programme, Monte Carlo, 1923.  RBS/PRG/RUS/1/18

  • 1920s
    • Early British Ballet: foundations and pioneers

    • 1920

      Foundation of the Rambert School

      Enterprise and artistic ambition

      Photograph of Marie Rambert’s professional students, L-R: Pearl Argyle, Harold Turner, unidentified, Frederick Ashton, Prudence Hyman, William Chappell, Diana Gould, Robert Stuart  c1926. Photographer unknown. RBS/TUR/PHO/100

    • 1920

      Ursula Moreton

      A life in British ballet

      Photograph of Ursula Moreton in The Truth About the Russian Dancers, a one-act play written by J M Barrie (the creator of Peter Pan), with music by Arnold Bax, designs by Paul Nash, and choreography by the star of the production, Tamara Karsavina. It formed part of a variety bill which opened at the London Coliseum on 15 March 1920. Photo: Domenic. RBS/MOR

    • 1920

      Édouard Espinosa

      Teacher of the French School

      Signed photograph of Édouard Espinosa, 1934. Photo: Yvonne. RBS/AHDL

    • 1920

      The Association of Operatic Dancing

      The Royal Academy of Dance, or RAD

      Poster advertising two performances at the Crane Hall in Liverpool presented by the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain, undated.  The poster announces that the Association’s President, Adeline Genée, will speak on the ‘Aims and Objects’ of the Association of Operatic Dancing. RBS/TUR/POS/1

    • 1921

      Nicholas Sergeyev

      Russian Imperial Ballets in London

      Photograph of Nicholas Sergeyev. On the wall behind him are written (in the form of a dancing figure) the names of ballets he revived for the Vic-Wells Company, giving the dates he mounted them: Coppélia 1933, The Sleeping Princess 1939, Lac des Cygnes 1934, Giselle 1934, Casse Noisette 1934 (in the headdress). Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Print held in the ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/2/146

    • 1921

      Diaghilev awakens The Sleeping Princess 

      Alhambra Theatre, London

      Painting by C E Turner evoking a scene from Act I of The Sleeping Princess as performed by the Diaghilev Ballets Russes at London’s Alhambra Theatre; reproduced in the journal, The Sphere, 18 February 1922. RBS/EPH

    • 1921

      Bronislava Nijinska

      Unique choreographic genius

      Photograph of Bronislava Nijinska, c1936, reproduced in a programme for the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1936. Photographer unknown. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/4

    • 1922

      The Cecchetti Society

      Founded in London

      Framed painting entitled ‘Maestro Cecchetti taking class painted by Vereker Hamilton c1924’. RBS/OBJ

    • 1922

      Massine-Lopokova Ballet

      English touring Company

      Photograph of Ninette de Valois (centre back) as Cupidon in a series of divertissements entitled Fanatics of Pleasure with Lydia Lopokova and Léonide Massine (centre) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1922.  Photographer unknown. RBS/STA/NDV/PHO/5/6                    

    • 1923

      Ninette de Valois

      Joins the Diaghilev Ballets Russes

      Pencil and pastel drawing by Elizabeth Polunin, undated, depicting Ninette de Valois in costume as one of the partygoers in the ‘Rondeau’ scene; this was her original corps de ballet role in Les Biches (1924). RBS/NDV/EPH  

    • 1923

      Nijinska’s Les Noces (1923)

      and Les Biches (1924)                                     

      Newscutting (London, June 1926) from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker (between 1919–26): photograph of a rehearsal for Nijinska’s Les Noces (premièred in Paris, 13 June 1923). Photographer unknown. RBS/BAR/1/2

    • 1924

      George Balanchine

      20th century Master Choreographer

      Photograph of George[s] Balanchine with Vera Nemchinova, from a programme for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, 1925. Photo: W S Campbell. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/20

    • 1925

      Nicolai Legat

      Russian ‘Perfection’ in England

      Portrait of Nicolai Legat on the balcony of his studio at Colet Gardens, painting in oil by Auguste Albo, dated 1929. RBS/OBJ/on loan from Mimi Legat

    • 1925

      Nijinska’s Théâtre Chorégraphique

      Touring the English provinces

      Nijinska's Théâtre Chorégraphique 1925. Bronislava Nijinska in Holy Etudes, with two unidentifed dancers. Photo: Claude Harris. RBS/SON/PHO/2

    • 1926

      Constant Lambert’s Romeo and Juliet

      An English score for Diaghilev

      Photograph of Serge Lifar as Romeo in the Diaghilev Ballets Russes production of the Lambert/Nijinska/Balanchine Romeo and Juliet (1926), designed by Max Ernst and Joan Miró. Photo: Lenare. RBS/HAS/PHO/2/13

    • 1926

      Marie Rambert Dancers

      Frederick Ashton’s early works

      Photographic plate showing Frederick Ashton and Marie Rambert (centre), with E Vincent and F James, in A Tragedy of Fashion (1926), reproduced in Lionel Bradley, Sixteen years of Ballet Rambert, 19301946 (London: Hinrichson, 1946). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

    • 1926

      The Academy of Choregraphic Art

      Ninette de Valois’ School

      The official opening of the Academy of Choregraphic [sic] Art in 1926. L-R: (back row) Vladimir Polunin, Anton Dolin, Edwin Evans, Margaret Craske, Elizabeth Polunin, Col E Cameron; (centre, middle row) Lydia Lopokova; (front row) Ninette de Valois, Ursula Moreton, Frances James, Marie Rambert. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

    • 1926

      Lilian Baylis ‘The Lady’ of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells

      Photograph of Lilian Baylis (centre) surrounded by her volunteer workers in ‘wardrobe’, backstage at the Old Vic Theatre, c1930. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO

    • 1927

      The Abbey Theatre, Dublin

      De Valois’ School in Ireland

      Advertisement for The Academy of Choregraphic Art [sic], London and Dublin, Dancing Times 1928. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

    • 1928

      Balanchine’s Apollo (1928)

      Neo-Classicism in ballet

      Photograph of Serge Lifar as Apollo and Alice Nikitina as Terpsichore in Balanchine/Stravinsky’s Apollon musagètes (1928), Diaghilev Ballets Russes. Photo: Sasha. RBS/HAS/PHO/2/21

  • 1930s
    • 1930

      British Ballet Organisation

      BBO founded in London

      Published information about the British Ballet Organisation, including a chart tracing the teaching-line of the Espinosa family. Pages from Édouard Espinosa, Ballet Elementary Syllabus and Technique of Operatic Dancing (London: E K Espinosa & Y Espinosa, 1928, ninth edition 1961). RBS/AHDL

    • 1930

      The Camargo Society

      The seedbed of British ballet

      Pencil drawing by by Nicolai Legat,  featuring caricatures of the founders of the Camargo Society: (top left) Philip Richardson, (centre right) Edwin Evans, and (below right) Arnold Haskell. Legat jokingly referred to the trio as ‘the Unholy Trinity’. Undated, c1930. RBS/MIM/5/2

    • 1930

      Arnold Haskell

      Author and ‘balletomane’

      Bronze head of Arnold Haskell by Jacob Epstein, c1947. The sculptor, Epstein, and writer, Haskell, had earlier collaborated on a publication entitled The Sculptor Speaks; A Series of Conversations on Art (London: Doubleday, 1932). RBS/OBJ

    • Early British Ballet: building a repertoire

    • 1931

      Façade (1931)

      Ashton’s popular ‘hit’

      Photograph of the Vic-Wells Ballet in a revival of Frederick Ashton’s popular ballet, Façade (1935 revival). Annotations record the dances performed by each group of characters, including the ‘Polka’ featuring Margot Fonteyn (kneeling, wearing a straw hat) and the ‘Tango’ with Ashton himself (lying down, centre). Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/16

    • 1931

      Lydia Lopokova

      Mrs John Maynard Keynes

      Signed photograph, studio portrait of Lydia Lopokova, inscribed ‘Yours sincerely Lydia Lopokova 1919’. Photo: Bassano Ltd. RBS/HAS/PHO/3/18

    • 1931

      Rambert’s Ballet Club

      The Mercury Theatre

      Photograph of Frederick Ashton and Alicia Markova in Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1934), the only ballet that Ninette de Valois choreographed for Rambert’s Company. Ashton left the Ballet Club to join the Vic-Wells Ballet the following year, but remained in close contact with his mentor, Rambert. Photographer unknown. RBS/AST/1

    • 1931

      Anton Dolin

      Star presence in de Valois’ Job (1931)

      Photograph of Anton Dolin as Satan in Job (1931), a Camargo Society production choreographed by Ninette de Valois to a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Photo: Felix Fonteyn. RBS/PHO/1/27(4)

    • 1931

      The Vic-Wells Ballet

      De Valois’ young Company

      Programme for a performance at the Old Vic Theatre by the Vic-Wells Ballet, 24 October 1931. During the Company’s first complete season of ballets, 1931/2, they performed at both the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres in London. Anton Dolin appeared as Principal Guest Artist for the season. RBS/EPH

    • 1931

      Constant Lambert

      ‘An English Diaghilev’

      Photograph of Constant Lambert conducting, undated. The presence of a microphone (visible top left) indicates that the photograph was taken during a recording session or rehearsal for a radio broadcast. Photographer unknown. RBS/NDV/PHO

    • 1931

      The Vic-Wells School

      Resident at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

      Advertisement in the Dancing Times, October 1933, announcing Sadler’s Wells Theatre as ‘England’s home of ballet’, and claiming that ‘The Vic-Wells School of Ballet is the only School in England attached to a Theatre’. By kind permission  Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

    • 1932

      Alicia Markova

      Diaghilev’s youngest star

      Signed photograph of Alicia Markova, c1934. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/107

    • 1932

      The Green Table (1932)

      The Ballets Jooss

      Page from a programme for the dance company Ballets Jooss, featuring Kurt Jooss’s most influential ballets, The Green Table (July 1932) and The Big City (November 1932), undated. RBS/JOO

    • 1932

      Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo

      In the wake of Diaghilev

      Cover of a programme for the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, June-September 1936, illustration by Ivan Bilibine, dated 1936. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/4

    • 1933

      Léonide Massine

      Creates the ‘symphonic ballet’

      Front of a programme for a Season of Russian Ballet given by the Colonel de Basil Ballet Russes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 26 July 1934; the programme includes three ballets by Léonide Massine: Scuola di Ballo, La Boutique fantasque, and Les Présages. RBS/PRG/RUS/3/15

    • 1933

      The Vic-Wells Ballet

      Imports the Classical repertoire

      Photograph of Ninette de Valois as Swanhilda and Stanley Judson as Franz in the Vic-Wells production of Coppélia (1933). After the opening performances, de Valois took over role of Swanhilda from the Diaghilev star, Lydia Lopokova. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/NDV/PHO

    • 1933

      Robert Helpmann

      A compelling theatricality

      Signed postcard of Robert Helpmann as Prince Siegfried in Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake] (Vic-Wells revival, 1934) in a later revival by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Dated (on reverse) October 1944. Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MB/PHO/2/58  

    • 1933

      Choreography by Ninette de Valois

      Vic-Wells Ballet repertoire 

      Original design by Sophie Fedorovitch, costume for Ninette de Valois as The Tight-Rope Walker in the 1935 revival of her ballet Douanes (1932), set in a French Customs House of 1859. Annotated and signed in pencil by the artist. RBS/DES/1

    • 1933

      Les Rendezvous (1933)

      Frederick Ashton’s Vic-Wells début

      Photograph of the pas de trois from Ashton’s Les Rendezvous (1933), L-R: Stanley Judson, Ninette de Valois and Robert Helpmann. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/49

    • 1935

      Frederick Ashton The English choreographic style

      Photograph of Michael Somes and Margot Fonteyn in Ashtons’ Horoscope (1938); it was set to music by Constant Lambert, who dedicated his score to Fonteyn. The designs were by Sophie Fedorovitch, Ashton’s close collaborator. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/26

    • 1935

      Margot Fonteyn England’s Prima Ballerina Assoluta

      Signed postcard of Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of The Sleeping Beauty (Royal Opera House revival, 1946). The postcard is signed by Fonteyn, and inscribed 26 November 1946 (on reverse). Photo: Mandinian © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MB/PHO/2/259

    • 1935

      The Markova-Dolin Ballet

      British Ballet abroad

      Souvenir programme from the Markova-Dolin Coronation Season, 1937. The Coronation being celebrated in Great Britain was that of King George VI. RBS/PRG/MDB/2

    • 1935

      Architects of a national ballet

      De Valois’ chief associates

      Page 1/5: letter from Constant Lambert to John Maynard Keynes, 16 September 1935, in which he discusses the music for a new ballet, Apparitions, suggesting it would be ‘ideally suited to Fred’ [Frederick Ashton]. RBS/COR/3/1

    • 1935

      The Rake’s Progress (1935)

      De Valois’ Hogarthian ballet

      Photograph of Harold Turner as The Dancing Master in de Valois’ ballet The Rake’s Progress (1935). Turner possessed an exceptionally precise technique, and de Valois made full use of this in her ballet, basing his part on a real historical figure, the celebrated 18th century dancing master, John Essex. Photo Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO 

    • 1935

      Harold Turner

      Virtuoso dancer and teacher

      Watercolour sketch of 'Harold Turner in his studio' Hampstead, January 1938, by Lindsay; the drawing occupies the page of a large scrapbook. RBS/TUR/PRE

    • 1936

      Lilac Garden (1936)

      Antony Tudor and Ballet Rambert

      Photograph of Antony Tudor’s Jardin aux lilas [Lilac Garden] (1936), featuring a performance at the Mercury Theatre by dancers of Ballet Rambert. Photographer unknown. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

    • 1936

      Sophie Fedorovitch

      Theatre designer

      Front cover of a catalogue featuring a costume design by Fedorovitch for Ashton’s ballet Nocturne (1936). Catalogue for an exhibition of the work of Sophie Fedorovitch (1893–1953) mounted by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1955. RBS/WIL/FED

    • 1937

      Checkmate (1937)

      The Vic-Wells in Paris

      Photograph of de Valois’ ballet Checkmate (1937), with Harold Turner and Pamela May c1937. They are pictured wearing the original designs by Edward McKnight Kauffer, which were later abandoned when the Company was caught up in the Nazi invasion of Holland. Photo: Lipnitzki. RBS/TUR/PHO/56

    • 1937

      Pamela May Ballerina of versatility and style

      Photograph of Pamela May as Aurora in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, c1946, Sadler’s Wells Ballet production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1946), designed by Oliver Messel. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/110

    • 1937

      June Brae Ballerina of bright delicacy

      Cover of the Dancing Times, Christmas Number of December 1945, featuring a photograph of June Brae.  The label announces that June Brae is ‘to dance again’, a reference to her return to the stage following a period of retirement after 1942. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

    • 1938

      London’s ‘ballet wars’

      Competing Ballets Russes companies

      Photograph of L-R: Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova, Tatiana Riabouchinska and Alexandra Danilova (seated on floor), c1936. Recruited by Balanchine for the Blum/de Basil Ballets Russes in 1932, Toumanova, Baronova (both aged 14) and Riabouchinska (aged 12) soon became known as the ‘baby ballerinas’. Photographer unknown. RBS/HAS/PHO/3/21.

    • World War II: a national ballet for Britain

    • 1939

      The Sleeping Princess (1939)

      ‘Mariinsky style in Islington’

      Front cover of the gala programme for a State Performance in honour of the French President, featuring Acts I and III of The Sleeping Princess performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 22 March 1939. The monogram of King George VI [GR, or George Rex] forms part of the design. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

  • 1940s
    • 1940

      The Sadler’s Wells Ballet

      The ‘Vic-Wells’ re-named

      Photograph of students at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, c1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

    • 1940

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet in wartime

      World War II (1939–1945)

      Photograph of L-R: Harold Turner, Margot Fonteyn, Pamela May, Frederick Ashton and Gerd Larsen c1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/TUR/PHO/58

    • 1940

      Dante Sonata (1940)

      Forces of Darkness and Light

      Original painting by Constance Anne Parker, signed and dated 25 July 1940, watercolour, pencil, chalk and charcoal. Depicting a scene from Frederick Ashton’s ballet Dante Sonata (1940), it shows Sophie Fedorovitch’s linear design for the backcloth, based on John Flaxman’s drawings. RBS/OBJ

    • 1940

      Holland 1940: invasion and escape

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet in danger

      Letter from Tyrone Guthrie, Director of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres, to Jill Gregory, a member of the Vic-Wells Ballet, 29 April 1940.  He offers her the opportunity to withdraw from a wartime tour of Holland and Belgium; however, he reminds her that ‘Miss de Valois and I look upon this tour as being of important national service’.  RBS/COR/6/1

    • 1941

      Ballet in London’s West End

      Albery’s New Theatre

      Photograph taken backstage at Bronson Albery’s New Theatre, the wartime home of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. L-R: Constant Lambert, Ninette de Valois and Robert Helpmann. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO

    • 1942

      Robert Helpmann’s early ballets

      Wartime dance-dramas

      Original painting depicting a set design by Leslie Hurry, painted by Martin Sutherland. Hurry’s set design was for Robert Helpmann's ballet, Hamlet (1942), a distilled and dream-like version of Sheakepeare’s play. Sutherland’s painting of it was made for an exhibition celebrating Hurry’s career (1987). RBS/OBJ/Monica Mason Coll

    • 1942

      Beryl Grey

      A prodigy of British Ballet

      Photograph of Beryl Grey as Odette in Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake], undated.  Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

    • 1943

      Vera Volkova

      The West Street Studio

      Photograph of Vera Volkova teaching Margot Fonteyn c1950. She had first met the young Fonteyn in Shanghai, where they both lived for a time. Fonteyn became one of Volkova’s most devoted students in London, frequenting her famous West Street Studio. Photo: Felix Fonteyn. RBS/VOL

    • 1946

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet at Covent Garden

      The Sleeping Beauty awakes!

      Postcard issued by the Medici Society, featuring a photograph of Margot Fonteyn as the Princess Aurora and Robert Helpmann as Prince Florimund in Act III, The Awakening, of The Sleeping Beauty (1946). Photo: Frank Sharman © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO

    • 1946

      Symphonic Variations (1946)

      Ashton’s Classical statement

      Photograph of the original cast of  Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1946). L-R: Henry Danton, Moira Shearer, Michael Somes, Margot Fonteyn, Brian Shaw and Pamela May.  Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

    • 1946

      Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet

      New touring Company formed

      Press photograph of members of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, c1946. Annotated with the names of the dancers, L-R: Nadia Nerina [then Nadia Moore], Pauline Wadsworth, Leo Kersley, Michael Hogan, Pamela Chrimes, Anne Heaton, Nigel Burke. Photo: Daily Graphic, RBS/PHO

    • 1946

      Peggy van Praagh

      Teacher and Director

      Cutting from a scrapbook created by Ursula Moreton: photograph of Peggy van Praagh at her home in Hampstead, dated May 1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/MOR/1

    • 1946

      John Cranko

      South African choreographer

      Postcard featuring Elaine Fifield and David Poole in John Cranko’s hugely popular comic ballet, Pineapple Poll (1951). Photo: Denis de Marney, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/43

    • Formative Years:
      The Royal Ballet

    • 1947

      Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas

      American dancers in Europe

      Cover of a programme for the Marquis de Cuevas’ Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 17 August 1948. RBS/PRG/CC/8

    • 1947

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet School

      Moves to Barons Court

      Photograph of 45 and 46 Colet Gardens, Barons Court, London. No 45, the left-hand building in the photograph, is Colet House, the first site acquired by the School. It had been the studio of Nicolai Legat, who taught many of the pioneers of British ballet there in the 1920s and 30s. No 46 was eventually acquired for the School in 1955. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/4/8

    • 1947

      Winifred Edwards

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet teacher

      Opera glasses belonging to Winifred Edwards (c1950). Miss Edwards often attended ballet performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where she was always recognisable in a black lace ‘mantilla’ scarf (covering her immaculate hair) and wearing gloves. She also carried these fine opera glasses, using them to observe her former students’ performances. RBS/EDW/3

    • 1947

      Ninette de Valois founds the Turkish State Ballet

      ‘Madam’s Turkish Adventure’

      Ninette de Valois, standing in the grounds of the Turkish Embassy in London, c1957–60. RBS/NDV/PHO

    • 1947

      Joy Newton

      De Valois’ confidante in Turkey

      Envelope, postmarked 5 May 1951, addressed to Joy Newton in Ankara, Turkey; handwritten by Ninette de Valois. RBS/JN/COR

    • 1947

      Alexander Grant

      A great character dancer

      Postcard featuring a photograph of Alexander Grant as the Barber in the 1947 Sadler’s Wells Ballet revival of Léonide Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot (1943). This role gave Grant his first notable success with the Company. Photo: Mandinian © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/SIN

    • 1948

      Associate Students

      Sadler’s Wells Ballet School

      Original framed drawing by Clifford Hall depicting a young student, Lisa, wearing the ballet uniform of an Associate student of the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, c1946. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

    • 1948

      Moira Shearer

      Ballerina and star of The Red Shoes (1948)

      Cutting from a scrapbook, taken from an unidentified magazine: photograph of Moira Shearer as Vicky and Léonide Massine as The Shoemaker in the Powell/Pressburger film The Red Shoes (1948). Photo: Raymond Kleboe. RBS/Mahalski Coll

    • 1948

      Ashton’s Cinderella (1948)

      First British three-act ballet

      Photograph of Moira Shearer in the title role of Ashton’s Cinderella (1948), created for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Cinderella’s headscarf loosely framed Shearer’s glorious red hair, but when Fonteyn assumed the role, she tied the scarf more tightly at the nape of her neck, creating a distinctive look for the part which endures to this day. Photo: Roger Wood © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/2/149

    • 1948

      Michael Somes

      A masculine ideal for British ballet

      Front cover of Ballet Today, November 1950, featuring a photograph of, L-R: Moira Shearer, Frederick Ashton, Michael Somes and Margot Fonteyn, taken during the second tour of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet to the United States. Photo: Walter E Owen (New York). RBS/EPH

    • 1948

      Agrippina Vaganova

      The codification of the Russian School

      Photograph of Agrippina Vaganova teaching students of the Leningrad State Choreographic Institute, c1935. (Formerly called the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet School, its change of name reflected the new politics of the Soviet Union, and the renaming of St Petersburg, known as Leningrad from 1924.)  The students pictured here include the future great ballerina, Alla Shelest (centre). Photographer unknown. RBS/VOL/129

    • 1949

      Sadler’s Wells: first American Tour

      British Ballet on the world stage

      Front cover of Time Magazine, 14 November 1949 (Atlantic Overseas Edition), from a scrapbook created by Winifred Edwards. By featuring an image of Margot Fonteyn on its cover, Time Magazine accorded to England’s Prima Ballerina a remarkable accolade generally reserved for statesmen and other figures of international significance. Photo: Boris Chaliapin. RBS/EDW/2

    • 1949

      Peter Wright

      Director Laureate of Birmingham Royal Ballet 

      Postcard featuring a photograph of, L-R: Peter Wright as Benno, Svetlana Beriosova as Odette and Michael Hogan as Prince Siegfried in Act II of Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake] with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, c1950– Photo: Baron. RBS/PHO/2/16

  • 1950s
    • 1950

      A Vic-Wells Anniversary Gala

      The Sadler’s Wells Ballet ‘comes of age’

      Letter from Ninette de Valois to Guinevere Parry, 11 April 1950. The first performances of the Vic-Wells Ballet are generally dated to May 1931, but de Valois’ letter refers to ‘the first ballet performance having been given at the Old Vic [on 13th] December 1928’. The ballet in question was her own one-act work, Les Petits Riens.  Hence the apparent miscalculation of the Company’s 21st Birthday celebrations. RBS/PAR/COR

    • 1951

      HRH The Princess Margaret Opens the new Sadler’s Wells School

      Photograph of HRH The Princess Margaret, who presided over the official opening of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School at Colet Gardens, Barons Court, in 1951. The Princess was presented with a bouquet by a young student; they are seen here with Arnold Haskell, Director of the School from 1947–65. Photo: The Sport & General Press Agency Ltd. RBS/PHO/7/3/2

    • 1954

      Benesh Movement Notation

      British system of recording movement

      Photograph of Joan Benesh (1920–2014) teaching Benesh Movement Notation at The Royal Ballet School c1957/8. The student is Geoffrey Cauley, who became a member of The Royal Ballet Company in 1960, a freelance choreographer, and eventually the Director of Zürich Ballet in 1973. Photo: Camera Press. RBS/PHO/4

    • 1955

      White Lodge

      The Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park

      Blazer badge for the School uniform of The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge in Richmond Park, c1956. The machine-embroidered fabric design incorporates the iconic image of the West Front of White Lodge. RBS/OBJ/CLO/40

    • 1955

      The Company rejoins the School New headquarters at Barons Court

      Photograph of No 46 Colet Gardens, Barons Court, West London. From 1955, this became the Sadler’s Wells (soon to be The Royal Ballet) Company’s headquarters and rehearsal studios. It was directly adjascent to the former Froebel Institute building, where the School had become resident in September 1947. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/3

    • 1955

      Kenneth MacMillan Choreographer for a new generation

      Postcard featuring a photograph of Maryon Lane and David Poole in Kenneth MacMillan’s first commissioned work, Danses Concertantes (1955), made for the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet. The ballet featured designs by Nicholas Georgiadis, who became MacMillan’s lifelong collaborator. Photo: de Marney © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/2/94

    • 1956

      Birthday Offering (1956)

      25th Anniversary of Sadler’s Wells Ballet

      Photograph of Birthday Offering, 5 May 1956, L-R: Svetlana Beriosova, Rowena Jackson, Elaine Fifield, Margot Fonteyn (centre), Nadia Nerina, Violetta Elvin, Beryl Grey. Photo: Roger Wood © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/1/3(5)

    • 1956

      HM Queen Elizabeth II

      Awards Royal Charter to Sadler’s Wells Ballet

      The Royal Charter, awarded by HM Queen Elizabeth II to The Royal Ballet School and Companies on 31 October 1956, incorporating the Coat of Arms of The Royal Ballet © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections .

    • 1956

      More coming soon We hope you have enjoyed the Timeline, and that you will return to discover more as we develop it.  In due course, the Timeline will extend further back in time, and forward to the present. 

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Marius Petipa

Ballet Master of Imperial Russia

Photograph of Marius Petipa in the first major ballet he created for the Imperial Theatre, St Petersburg, The Pharaoh’s Daughter (1862), reproduced in  Svetlov, Le Ballet Contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

Marius Petipa (1818–1910) was a French dancer and choreographer; he was chief Ballet Master of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg for more than 40 years (1862–1903). The repertoire and style of Imperial Russian Classicism is exemplified by the enduring ‘ballet classics’ that Marius Petipa and his assistant, Lev Ivanov, created to the glorious ballet scores of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

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Photograph of Marius Petipa with his children, Jean and Marie c1870, reproduced in Bahrushin, History of Russian Ballet (Moscow: Prosveshenie, 1973). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

Marius Petipa (1818–1910) was born in Marseilles into a renowned family of dancers.  He became a student of Auguste Vestris in Paris, and enjoyed a successful career, partnering the great ballerinas of the Romantic era. After studying Spanish dance in Madrid (1843–46), he moved to Russia, becoming a Principal dancer at the Imperial Theatre, St Petersburg. Petipa’s talent for choreography could not flourish while Jules Perrot held the role of chief Choreographer (1851–58), followed by Arthur Saint-Léon (from 1859). However, on being appointed second Ballet Master in 1862, Petipa enjoyed great success with his ballet, The Pharaoh’s Daughter (1862), and he eventually replaced Saint-Léon as chief Ballet Master in 1869. 

 

Petipa went on to choreograph over 60 works, in which he combined influences from France, Italy, Spain and Russia to create lavish and beautifully crafted ballets. In 1890 he created his masterpiece, The Sleeping Beauty, his first and greatest collaboration with Tchaikovsky. Petipa undertook several important revivals of the French repertoire, notably Paquita (1846, Petipa version 1881) and Giselle (1841, Petipa version 1884). 

Christian Johansson

Formation of the Russian School

Print of a caricature of Christian Johansson by Sergei and Nicolai Legat c1900. RBS/MIM/1

Christian Johansson (1817–1903) was born in Stockholm, and studied with August Bournonville in Copenhagen, inheriting through that great Danish master the teaching legacy of Auguste Vestris. Johansson spent 28 years as a Principal dancer in St Petersburg; he was then appointed chief Ballet Master at the Imperial Theatre School in 1869, a position he held until his death.

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Lev Ivanov

Assistant to Marius Petipa

Sketch of Lev Ivanov, artist unknown, reproduced in Borisoglebsky, Materials on the History of Russian Ballet, Volume 2 (Leningrad: Leningrad State Choreographic Academy, 1939). RBS/AHDL/JL

Lev Ivanov (1834–1901) was Petipa’s assistant at the Mariinsky Theatre for 16 years (1885–1901). Ivanov wrote somewhat pointedly: ‘I was so good a soldier that I went through every step of the service.  I have been in the corps de ballet, coryphée, first soloist, played character roles, was a teacher and finally they made me a ballet-master.' (Ivanov quoted in Lawson, 1969)

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Print of a caricature of Lev Ivanov by Sergei and Nicolai Legat, c1900. RBS/MIM/1

Lev Ivanov (1834–1901) studied in Moscow and at the Imperial Theatre School, St Petersburg, graduating into the Mariinsky Ballet in 1852. Immensely musical, and with a remarkable memory for the repertoire, he was dancing leading roles from 1858 onwards, when he also began teaching. Appointed second ballet master under Petipa in 1885, he choreographed his first ballet that year, co-creating with Petipa a new version of Hertel’s La Fille mal gardée.  He also made some interlude pieces, such as the ‘Polovtsian Dances’ for Borodin’s opera Prince Igor (1890).

 

In 1892, Lev Ivanov successfully took over the task of choreographing The Nutcracker from Petipa, who had developed the scenario, but fallen ill before he could complete the ballet. Ivanov then choreographed the lakeside scenes from Act II of Swan Lake as part of a Tchaikovsky memorial gala in 1894.  This led to Petipa reviving the full-length ballet the following year, with Ivanov responsible for the moon-lit ‘White Acts’ (II and IV), although some scholars dispute this, attributing the work entirely to Petipa.

Enrico Cecchetti

Maestro of the Italian School

Print of a drawing of Maestro Cav[aliere] Enrico Cecchetti by Randolph Schwabe, c1922. RBS/ILL

Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928) was a product of the Italian School, a virtuoso dancer and mime, and a hugely influential teacher. He became Ballet Master at the Imperial School, St Petersburg (1892–1902); then taught for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–18); opened his own studio in London (1918-23) and finally returned home to teach at La Scala, Milan.

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Photograph of Enrico Cecchetti c1892,reproduced in Borisoglebsky, Materials on the History of Russian Ballet, Volume 2 (Leningrad: Leningrad State Choreographic Academy, 1939). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL/JL

Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928) was born in a theatre dressing-room, to parents who were dancers. Superbly trained in the Italian School, Cecchetti became one of the most influential teachers in ballet history. A student of Giovanni Lepris, who was himself taught by Carlo Blasis, Cecchetti expanded on their teachings, developing rigorous, versatile training exercises within a structured framework. He stressed the importance of combining a ‘scientific’ approach to ballet training with an equal emphasis on musicality, characterisation and performance. During his long career, Cecchetti’s students included Pavlova, Nijinsky, Karsavina, Fokine, Massine, Markova, Rambert and de Valois: through them his teaching became deeply embedded in the formation of British ballet.

 

As a performer, Cecchetti was a virtuoso, excelling in both classical and mime roles. He created the contrasting roles of the Bluebird and Carabosse in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (1890), the former requiring technical brilliance, the latter great skill in mimeHis other important roles included the Charlatan/Old Showman in Fokine’s Petrushka (1911), and the Shopkeeper in Massine’s La Boutique fantasque (1919).

Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II

Mariinsky Theatre Gala, 1896

Programme for a gala at the Imperial Theatre, Moscow, to mark the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra, 17 May 1896. Page listing the cast and creators of Marius Petipa’s new ballet The Pearl, conducted by its composer, Riccardo Drigo. Illustration depicts the Imperial Theatre, Moscow. RBS/EPH

Nicolai Alexandrovich Romanov (1868–1918), the eldest son of Tsar Alexander III, succeeded to the Imperial throne of Russia in 1894. His coronation as Tsar Nicholas II was held in May 1896; celebrations included a magnificent gala given at the Imperial Theatre, Moscow, which included a new ballet by Marius Petipa, The Pearl, with Pierina Legnani in the title role.

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Alexandre Benois

Russian theatre designer

Drawing of Alexandre Benois by Léon Bakst, reproduced in Valerian Svetlov, Le Ballet contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). RBS/AHDL

Alexandre Benois (1870–1960) was a Russian painter and theatre designer. In 1898, together with Léon Bakst and Walter Nouvel, he became a founding member of the forward-thinking and lavishly designed journal Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art], created by a group of St Petersburg intellectuals, led by Serge Diaghilev.

Design by Alexandre Benois for Fokine’s ballet Le Pavillon d'Armide (1907), reproduced in the journal Dance Art Beauty (Paris: Editions du Trident, 1947). RBS/EPH

Alexandre Benois (1870–1960) is credited with having engaged Diaghilev’s interest in ballet. He convinced him that Russian ballet should be seen in the West, alongside its great painting, music and opera; Diaghilev duly set about forming the Ballets Russes Company.  Benois also gave the young choreograher, Mikhail Fokine, the scenario for a ballet, Le Pavillon d’Armide, which became Fokine’s first major commission for the Mariinsky Theatre (1907). With opulent designs by Benois himself, the ballet subsequently featured in the first season of the Ballets Russes (1909). 

 

Benois was instrumental in the establishment of Diaghilev’s great Company; he was initially entitled its Artistic Director (1909–11), designing several notable works including Les Sylphides (1909), Giselle (1910 revival) and Petrushka (1911).  Benois essentially remained a classicist, while Diaghilev’s interests became increasingly radical, and eventually their paths diverged.  Benois continued to design for ballet, particularly the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo during the 1930s and 40s;  he also revised his original designs for Lichine’s Graduation Ball (1940), revived for London Festival Ballet in 1957.                             

Alexander Gorsky

Innovative Russian Ballet Master

Photograph of Alexander Gorsky as a student, c1889. Reproduced in Borisoglebsky, Materials on the History of Russian Ballet, Volume 2 (Leningrad: Leningrad State Choreographic Academy, 1939). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL/LAW

Alexander Gorsky (1871–1924) was an innovative dancer and ballet master of the Russian Imperial Theatres; after starting his career at the Mariinsky School and Theatre, St Petersburg, he became the Director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in 1902. His productions introduced a new level of dramatic realism to ballet, and were strongly influenced by Constantin Stanislavsky’s Moscow Arts Theatre.

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Marius Petipa retires

End of an era

Print of a caricature of Marius Petipa by Nicolai and Sergei Legat, c1900. The flag which Petipa carries bears the inscription: ‘ [St] Petersburg Ballet’. RBS/LEG/5

Marius Petipa retired in 1903, after an exceptionally long and influential career with the Imperial Theatres, which had begun in 1847.  His reluctant departure signalled the end of an era. The Imperial Russian Classical ballet had reached its definitive highpoint under Petipa’s directorship of the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg (1869–1903).

Isadora Duncan

Modern dance pioneer

Photograph of Isadora Duncan at the Théâtre de Dionysos, 1904, reproduced in André Levinson, La Danse d’aujourd’hui (Paris: Editions Duchârtre et Van Buggenhoudt, 1929). Photo: attributed to Raymond Duncan. RBS/AHDL

Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) was born, and grew up, in California. She danced professionally in Chicago and New York, but rejected conventional theatre and ballet technique; her own dances emphasised spontaneous movement, direct musicality and unfettered creativity. She first performed in Russia in 1904, making a strong impression on many artists, including the Mariinsky dancer and choreographer, Mikhail Fokine.            

Drawing of Isadora Duncan by Léon Bakst, 1908, reproduced in Valerian Svetlov, Le Ballet contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). RBS/AHDL

Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) began to dance and teach from a very young age.  She came to Europe from the United States in 1898, where the ancient Greek sculptures in London’s British Museum were a revelation to her. Moving to Paris in 1900, she drew further inspiration from the Louvre. In 1902 she toured Europe with Loïe Fuller, another revolutionary spirit in dance. Performing barefoot in a light tunic, Duncan rapidly became a sensation, the unconventionality of her life and work exciting audiences and inspiring artists wherever she went.

 

Between 1904–21 Duncan opened relatively short-lived, but highly influential, schools in London, Germany, Paris, New York and Moscow. Her work was characterised by improvisational, expressive movement – which she thought of as arising from the solar plexus at the centre of the torso. She held a high-minded conviction that dance could, and should, interpret music by the greatest composers. Her search for individual expression through movement was among the earliest manifestations of the modern dance movement. 

Mikhail Fokine

Creator of ‘the new ballet’

Photograph of Mikhail Fokine as the Golden Slave (a role he choreographed for Nijinsky in 1910) in a revival of his ballet, Schéhérazade, c1914, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré, May 1914. Photo: Jaeger. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/6

Mikhail [Michel] Fokine (1880–1942) was a Russian choreographer whose ballets for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes had a great impact in the West.  He first outlined ideas for choreographic reform in 1904, finally establishing his ‘Five Principles of the New Ballet’ in a famous letter to The Times in London, 1914.  Fokine’s innovations helped to make ballet a more expressive, collaborative art.

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Illustrated article on Mikhail Fokine by Cyril Beaumont, published soon after the choreographer’s death, in the journal Dance Art Beauty (Paris: Editions du Trident,1947). RBS/EPH

Mikhail Fokine (1880–1942) trained at the Imperial Theatre School, St Petersburg, graduating into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1898.  He began teaching in 1902, and was promoted to Soloist, partnering Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina among others. However, his main interest lay in choreography: Fokine first detailed his ideas for choreographic reform in 1904, where they met with resistance in Russia, but were later hailed in Europe. In 1907 he choreographed Anna Pavlova’s iconic improvisatory solo, popularly known as ‘The Dying Swan’.

 

Fokine became the founder-choreographer of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–14); his most celebrated works from that period still remain in the international repertoire, including: Les Sylphides (1909), the ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from Prince Igor (1909), The Firebird (1910), Schéhérazade (1910), Carnaval (1910), Petrushka (1911) and Le Spectre de la rose (1911). He and his wife, the dancer Vera Fokina, left Russia for good in 1918, working at first in Scandinavia, then in the United States (from 1920 onwards) and in Europe, most notably with René Blum’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1936–8).

Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing

ISTD founded in London

Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing classical ballet examination syllabus music cover, undated publication. From records relating to The Royal Ballet School Teachers’ Training Course (1964–2000). RBS/TTC

In 1904 The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing was founded in London, primarily to regulate and improve the teaching of ballroom dancing, although it also aimed to raise the general standard of ballet teaching.  By 1924 it had incorporated the Classical ballet syllabus of the Cecchetti Society, which was formed in 1922 to perpetuate the teaching method of Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928).

Strike at the Mariinsky Theatre

Revolution in Russia

Photograph of the Imperial Opera House [Mariinsky Theatre], St Petersburg, from a programme for the 1910/11 ‘Saison Russe’ featuring Anna Pavlova, Palace Theatre, London. Photographer unknown. RBS/EDW/2

1905 marked the first outbreak of revolution in Russia, and signalled the end of the old order in the Imperial Theatres. A restless generation of young artists staged an abortive strike at the Mariinsky Theatre, protesting - among other grievances - that rigid protocols were stifling artistic innovation.

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The Legat Brothers

Imperial dancers and teachers

Photograph of Nicolai Legat in Paquita, c1890, reproduced in a programme (fragment, undated). Photographer unknown. RBS/EPH

Nicolai Legat (1869–1937) and Sergei Legat (1875–1905) studied with their father, Gustav Legat, and at the Imperial School in St Petersburg, where their teachers included Pavel Gerdt and Christian Johansson.  The Legat brothers became leading dancers of the Mariinsky, and were also appointed assistant Ballet Masters at the Imperial Theatre. Tragically, Sergei committed suicide in 1905.

Photograph of Nicolai Legat and Anna Pavlova in La Fille mal gardée (Petipa/Ivanov version 1895). The two Mariinsky stars performed this ballet together in 1909, during a European tour organised by the impresario Edvard Fazer; although some sources give a later date of 1912 for this photograph. Photographer unknown. RBS/LSW/6/83

Nicolai Legat (1869–1937) graduated into the Mariinsky Ballet in 1888: although his younger bother, Sergei Legat (1875–1905) became a Principal sooner than he, Nicolai made his way steadily through the ranks, and became a favourite partner of leading ballerinas such as Pavlova, Legnani and Kschessinska.  The Legat brothers became assistant Ballet Masters at the Imperial Theatre in 1902. Sergei committed suicide in 1905, caught up in the political unrest at the Mariinsky, and his unhappy relationship with Marie Petipa.  

 

In the same year Nicolai Legat took over Johansson’s ‘Class of Perfection’ at the Imperial School.  Legat’s pupils included Preobrajenska, Vaganova, Karsavina, Fokine and Nijinsky. He was made an Artist Emeritus of the Imperial Theatres in 1913.  Legat and his wife, the ballerina Nadine Nicolaeva, left Russia in 1922. Legat succeeded Cecchetti as Ballet Master to the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (192526), and opened his famous Studio at Barons Court in London, where he taught many leading dancers from the founding generation of British ballet, including de Valois, Dolin, Markova, Fonteyn and Shearer.   

Adeline Genée

London’s Danish ballerina

Cutting (fragment) from an unidentified publication featuring a colour-tinted photograph of Adeline Genée as Swanhilda in Coppélia at the Empire Theatre, London (c1906). RBS/WIL/ILL/20/89

Adeline Genée (1878–1970) became associated with the joyous and virtuoso role of Swanhilda in Coppélia, appearing in a production by her uncle, Alexander Genée (after Arthur Saint-Léon’s original of 1870). She first performed it in 1896, at the Hoftheater, Munich, and subsequently in London and Denmark. Genée was the leading ballerina of London’s magnificent Empire Theatre between 1897–1907.

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Frontispiece of the Dancing Times, October 1935, featuring a photograph of Adeline Genée.  The label reads: ‘President of the Royal Academy of Dancing. Madame Adeline Genée, who during the past fifteen years has worked indefatigably for the cause of Dancing in England, as she appeared in one of her most popular productions, Butterflies and Roses.’ Photo: Hugh Cecil. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

Adeline Genée DBE (1878–1970) had been trained in the distinguished Danish tradition of Classical ballet by her uncle, Alexander Genée.  She became the leading ballerina at the Empire Theatre of Varieties between 1897–1907. The Empire in Leicester Square was one of London’s great music halls, and lavishly costumed ballet divertissements were a main attraction of the theatre. At a time when theatrical dancing was considered in England to be a somewhat disreputable occupation, Adeline Genée brought from her native Denmark, the ‘belief that it was a career which deserved no opprobrium…[her enormous popularity was] won by her technical brilliance, her delicate charm and the irreproachable respectability of her life.’ (Clarke & Crisp, 1981)

 

From 1908 until her retirement from the stage in 1917, Genée enjoyed enormous success touring the United States, Australia and New Zealand, between regular appearances in London.  She became an influential supporter of Britain’s developing national ballet, as an active member of the Camargo Society (between 1930–33) and as the founding President of the Royal Academy of Dancing (now the Royal Academy of Dance, or RAD) from 1920–54.

Chopiniana or Les Sylphides

The first plotless ballet

Pastel drawing of Fokine’s Les Sylphides, dated 1917, artist’s signature unidentified, inscribed ‘to M. Grigoriev’; probably Serge Grigoriev, the rehearsal manager of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–29). RBS/WIL/ILL/2/15

In 1907 Mikhail Fokine created Chopiniana, just two years after seeing Isadora Duncan dance rapturously to the music of Frederic Chopin at a recital in Russia.  An intricately patterned one-act work, set to some of the same Chopin piano studies which Duncan had interpreted, it centres around a Poet, imagining he is surrounded by fairy-like ‘Sylphides’ of the Romantic Ballet. 

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Anna Pavlova

World-famous Russian ballerina

Front cover of Dress and Vanity Fair magazine, featuring Anna Pavlova in Fokine’s Le Cygne, popularly called The Dying Swan, undated fragment. Pavlova’s Swan costume was designed for her by Léon Bakst. RBS/MOR/2/2

Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) was a Russian ballerina who became a phenomenal international star. She was a contemporary of Mikhail Fokine at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg; he later choreographed her signature piece, The [Dying] Swan (1907), set to Saint-Saëns’ music. Pavlova moved audiences to tears with this emotive solo dance, which contained few formal ballet steps.

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Photograph of Anna Pavlova with ‘Jack’, one of several swans she kept in the garden of Ivy House. It took many months to train the swan to pose for a series of photographs with Pavlova; the ballerina had a great flair for publicity, and the images received wide media attention. Photo: Lafayette, 1927. RBS/LSW/6/121

Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) was the most famous and inspirational ballerina of her generation.  She studied at the Imperial Theatre School, St Petersburg, and later privately with Cecchetti. Graduating into the Mariinsky Ballet in 1899, she was championed by Marius Petipa during her early career, and became a Prima Ballerina by 1906.  Her delicate physique and arched feet, unusual at the time, redefined the aesthetic of the ballerina. She remained a leading dancer at the Mariinsky Theatre until 1913, although from 1908 she also began to forge a career abroad.

 

In 1909 Pavlova made her début in Paris with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes; by 1911 she had formed her own company, which she then lead on countless tours all over the world for two decades.  From 1912, she made her home at Ivy House in Golders Green, North London, where she enjoyed tending the pet swans in her large garden, and teaching in her elegant white dance studio. Pavlova died suddenly from pneumonia during a tour to Holland, in January 1931, less than a month before her 50th birthday.

Phyllis Bedells

An English Prima Ballerina

Signed photograph of Phyllis Bedells, inscribed to Ursula Moreton, 1936. Photographer unknown. RBS/MOR/3/5

Phyllis Bedells (1893–1985) was the only Englishwoman to attain Prima Ballerina status at London’s Empire Theatre, having been a popular Soloist there from 1907, when aged 14. ‘Home-grown’ ballet stars were rare; a national ballet school had never taken root in England, although state academies of Classical ballet had flourished in Continental Europe and Russia since the 18th century.           

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Serge Diaghilev

The Ballets Russes

Drawing of Serge Diaghilev in 1904, by Valentin Serov, reproduced in Propert,The Russian Ballet in Western Europe 1909–1920 (London: Bodley Head,1921). RBS/AHDL

Serge Diaghilev (1872–1929) was the maverick genius behind the Ballets Russes, a legendary troupe of dancers, choreographers, musicians and designers which flourished between 1909–29. Founded on the ideals of a group of young intellectuals from St Petersburg, led by Diaghilev, the Company initially looked to its Russian heritage, creating ballets of extraordinary quality and lasting cultural impact.

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Cutting from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker: photograph of L-R: Jean Cocteau and Serge Diaghilev, undated. Photographer unknown. RBS/BAR/1/1

Serge Pavlovitch Diaghilev (1872–1929) was born into an aristocratic and cultured family in Perm; as a youth he undertook several ‘grand tours’ of Europe. From 1890 he studied law in St Petersburg, socialising with young artists, including Walter Nouvel, Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois.  Diaghilev became the group’s dominant force, and between 1898–1904 they produced the influential journal Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art], with Diaghilev as editor. During a short association with the Imperial Theatres, which ultimately found him too progressive, Diaghilev oversaw a lavishly-produced Annual of the Theatres (1899–1900).

 

From 1897 he devised exhibitions and concerts featuring Russian painters and composers, the success of which established his reputation, first at home and then in Paris.  Supported by private patronage and the impresario, Gabriel Astruc, Diaghilev introduced Russian opera to Paris in 1908: Feodor Chaliapin as Boris Gudunov in Mussorgsky’s opera was the sensation of the season.  In 1909 Diaghilev brought his newly-formed Ballets Russes to Paris: dominated by Diaghilev’s overwhelming personality, taste and intelligence, the Company revolutionised ballet and the wider arts (1909–29).

Vaslav Nijinsky

Sensational dancer and choreographer

Painting by Georges Lepape depicting Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role of Fokine’s ballet, Petrushka (1911), reproduced in a Diaghilev Ballets Russes souvenir programme, dated 1912. RBS/PRG/RUS

Vaslav Nijinsky (1989–1950) ranks high among the most famous of all dancers; he was also a revolutionary choreographer. He trained at the Imperial School, St Petersburg, graduating into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1907, where he remained until his dismissal in 1911. Nijinsky’s sensational performances with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes between 1909–16, redefined the role of the male dancer.

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Photograph of Vaslav Nijinsky as a student in ballet practice clothes, reproduced in Anatole Bourman, The Tragedy of Nijinsky (London: Robert Hale & Company: 1937). Bourman noted the picture was taken ‘at Krasnoe Selo immediately after his graduation from the Imperial Russian Ballet School in 1908.’ Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

Vaslav Nijinsky (1989–1950) was born in Kiev, into a family of Polish dancers; both he and his sister, Bronislava, trained at the Imperial School, St Petersburg. Immediately after graduating into the Mariinsky Ballet in 1907, Nijinsky partnered its leading ballerinas, including Kschessinska and Karsavina.  Recruited by Diaghilev to join the Ballets Russes, Nijinsky created iconic roles in many of Fokine’s ballets: the Poet in Les Sylphides (1909), the Golden Slave in Schéhérazade (1910), and the title roles in Le Spectre de la rose (1911) and Petrushka (1911).  Dismissed from the Imperial Theatres in 1911 – supposedly because he wore an unacceptably short tunic – his career flourished outside Russia.  His challenging and experimental choreography, especially that for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913), soon added to his legendary status.

 

After marrying Hungarian dancer, Romola de Pulszky in 1913, Nijinsky was  dismissed by a furious Diaghilev, his former lover.  Nijinsky returned briefly to the Ballets Russes in 1916, but gave his last public performance in 1919, evidently suffering from the schizophrenia which was to cloud the rest of his life.  

Tamara Karsavina

The first modern ballerina

Painting in oils by Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn depicting Tamara Karsavina in Le Carnaval (1910), dated 1913.  Karsavina created the role of Columbine in Mikhail Fokine’s ballet: made for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, it was based on characters of the Commedia del’Arte; designs were by Léon Bakst. RBS/OBJ

Tamara Karsavina (1885–1978) has been called ‘the first modern ballerina’.  Trained at the Imperial School, she graduated into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1902, remaining a Prima Ballerina there until 1918.  Karsavina also performed in the West with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes from 1909, creating roles in many legendary ballets, and becoming Nijinsky’s most celebrated partner.

Portrait of Tamara Karsavina from a drawing by John Singer Sargent, reproduced in Valerian Svetlov, translated by De Vere Beauclerk and Nadia Evrenov, Cyril Beaumont (ed), Thamar Karsavina (London: C W Beaumont, 1922). RBS/AHDL

Tamara Karsavina (1885–1978) was a pioneering Prima Ballerina of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes; she created roles in many of the Company’s ground-breaking ballets, including Fokine’s Les Sylphides (1909), the title role in The Firebird (1910), the Ballerina Doll in Petrushka (1911) and The Young Girl in Le Spectre de la rose (1911); she appeared in Nijinsky’s Jeux (1913); and for Massine, she created the Miller’s Wife in Le Tricorne (1919) and Pimpinella in Pulcinella (1920). 

 

Karsavina settled in England, where she published her acclaimed autobiography, Theatre Street, in 1930. She supported the development of ballet in Britain, particularly through the Camargo Society (1930–33), and as Vice-President (1945–55) of the organisation now known as the Royal Academy of Dance.  She was an important coach, passing on the role of ‘the Firebird’ to Margot Fonteyn, and that of Lise in La Fille mal gardée to Frederick Ashton. He incorporated the material she taught him (from the 1885 Petipa/Ivanov version) into his masterful reworking of the ballet (1960).

Serge Grigoriev

Diaghilev’s indispensable Manager

Cutting from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker: photograph of Serge Grigoriev, undated. Photographer unknown. RBS/BAR/2/2

 Serge Grigoriev (1883–1968) graduated in 1900 from the Imperial Theatre School, St Petersburg, becoming a member of the Mariinsky Ballet. In 1909, Diaghilev engaged him as Company ‘business manager’ and régisseur [rehearsal director]. Grigoriev remained in these pivotal roles with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes throught the 20 years of its existence, also appearing with the Company as a character artist.

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Léon Bakst

Innovative Russian designer

Cover of a Ballets Russes programme, undated, featuring a costume design by Léon Bakst for La Péri (aquarelle, dated 1911). Diaghilev commissioned the ballet from the French composer, Paul Dukas, although the work was never performed by the Ballets Russes due to various artisitic disagreements. RBS/PRG/RUS

Léon Bakst (1866–1924) was first recognised in Russia as a portrait artist. He was a co-founder of the Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art] group in St Petersburg, led by Diaghilev (from 1898–1906). Bakst became internationally renowned for his exuberant and innovative stage designs, created for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes between 1909–1921.

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Painting of Léon Bakst by Koustodiew [Kustodiev] (1910), reproduced in Valerian Svetlov, Le Ballet contemporain (St Petersburg: Societé Golicke et Willborg, 1912). RBS/AHDL

Léon Bakst (1866–1924) was born Lev Rosenberg in Grodno, Russia (now in the Republic of Belarus) in 1866.  His most influential designs for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes included Cléopâtre (1909) , Shéhérazade (1910), Le Spectre de la rose [The Spirit of the Rose] (1911), The Afternoon of a Faun [L’Après-midi d’un faune] (1912), Jeux (1913), Les Femmes de bonne humeur [The Good-humoured Ladies] (1917), and Diaghilev’s hugely influential London staging of the The Sleeping Princess (1921).

 

Bakst’s work revolutionised not only theatre design but also the worlds of fashion and interior décor. His ideas were integral to the early years of Diaghilev’s enterprise, through which influences from Russia and the East were introduced to the West - by contrast with Diaghilev’s later adoption of Modernist European styles. Bakst also worked independently with other ballet companies,  including those of Ida Rubinstein and Anna Pavlova. He died in Paris in 1924, having left Russia for the last time in 1909.   

The Firebird (1910)

Igor Stravinsky and the ballet

Cutting from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker: photograph of Tamara Karsavina in the title role of Fokine’s The Firebird [L’Oiseau de feu] (1910). Photo: Bertram Park. RBS/BAR/1/1

The Firebird [originally L’Oiseau de feu] (1910) was the first ballet fully to implement Fokine’s ideals of the ‘new ballet’, giving equal emphasis to the combined elements of movement, music, design and narrative. Choreographer, Mikhail Fokine, worked in close collaboration with the young composer, Igor Stravinsky – writing his first ballet score – and the set and costume designers, Alexander Golovin and Léon Bakst.

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The Dancing Times

A voice for ballet in Britain

Cover of the Dancing Times, Double Christmas Edition, December 1927, featuring a photograph of Anna Pavlova in one of her most famous dances, ‘Christmas’. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

The Dancing Times was acquired by Philip J S Richardson and T M Middleton in 1910. It had been established in 1894 as the ‘in-house’ journal of the Cavendish Rooms, a venue primarily for ballroom dancing. With Richardson as its editor (1910–1957) it became a national British periodical, and was increasingly influential in both social and theatrical dance circles. 

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The Diaghilev Ballets Russes

London Seasons (1911–29)

Playbill for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Season of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (12 June–1 August 1912). RBS/6/3

The Diaghilev Ballets Russes made Europe its home, initially because the Imperial Theatres in Russia were hostile to the new ideas it represented, and later due to the upheavals of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Based primarily in Paris and Monte Carlo, the Company  gave regular seasons in London from 1911 onwards.

The Afternoon of a Faun (1912)

Nijinsky’s choreographic début

Photograph of Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun in L'Après-midi d'un faune [The Afternoon of a Faun], reproduced in Comoedia Illustré No 18, 15 June 1912. Photo: Bert. RBS/PRG/RUS

The creation of The Afternoon of a Faun [originally L’Après-midi d’un faune] (1912) was a difficult process: Vaslav Nijinsky worked for two years with his dancers - including his sister, Bronislava - to realise his vision of Archaic Greece. Using tautly restrained two-dimensional movement, together with Debussy’s impressionistic score and Bakst’s gloriously sensual designs, the ballet’s overt eroticism caused a sensation.

The Rite of Spring (1913)

Modernist masterpiece

Photographs of the Stravinsky/Nijinsky ballet, Le Sacre du printemps [The Rite of Spring], designed by Nicholas Roerich, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré 1913. Photos: Gerschel. RBS/EPH

The Rite of Spring [originally Le Sacre du printemps] (1913) was Nijinsky’s most controversial work, in which he completely subverted the norms of Classical ballet to represent a prehistoric ritual of human sacrifice.  His dancers wore thick felt costumes and wigs, designed by Nicholas Roerich; their movements were inverted, heavy and awkward, driven by the irregular rhythms of Stravinsky’s epoch-making score.

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Marie Rambert

Founder of the Rambert School and Company

Page of a scrapbook created by Ursula Moreton, featuring a photograph of Marie Rambert c1935. The article by Arnold Haskell,‘The Ballet Club – Marie Rambert’s Laboratory’, is about the much-loved establishment that nurtured her fledgling Company from 1931. Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MOR/105

Marie Rambert (1888–1982) founded the Rambert School and Rambert Company. Born in Poland, she set out to study medicine in Paris, but after being inspired by the dancing of Isadora Duncan, decided to pursue a career in dance. She was working with Jaques-Dalcroze when Diaghilev invited her to assist Nijinsky with the rehearsals for The Rite of Spring (1913).

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Postcard of Marie Rambert as a child in Warsaw, 1897, postcard published by Ballet Rambert c1974. Inscribed on the reverse to G B L Wilson, postmarked 19/12/1974. Photo: Boretti. RBS/WIL/EPH

Part 1, early life: Marie Rambert DBE (1888–1982) was born Cyvia Rambam, later changed to Miriam Ramberg, then Marie Rambert. She first took ballet lessons in Paris, where she also studied with Isadora Duncan’s brother, Raymond. By 1912 she was immersed in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, when Diaghilev invited her to assist Nijinsky with rehearsals for The Rite of Spring (1913). Rambert joined the corps de ballet of the Ballets Russes for a season; she also gave regular solo dance recitals.  In 1918, she married the playwright, Ashley Dukes.

 

Rambert opened her ballet school in London in 1920; by 1926 her students had formed a performing group called the Marie Rambert Dancers. In 1931 Rambert’s young company became known as the Ballet Club, based at the tiny Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate.  In 1935 the troupe was named Ballet Rambert, and later, Rambert Dance Company.  Marie Rambert’s greatest gift lay in encouraging the early creativity of choreographers such as Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor.

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze

Founder of Dalcroze ‘Eurhythmics’

Dalcroze exercises, undated, reproduced in André Levinson, La Danse d'aujourd’hui by (Paris: Editions Duchartre et Van Buggenhoudt, 1929). Photo: Boissonnas. RBS/AHDL

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950), and Dalcroze ‘Eurhythmics’: for over 100 years many dancers and musicians have benefited from the system devised by Jaques-Dalcroze, generally known as Dalcroze ‘Eurhythmics’. The system, which enables a deeper engagement with music through physical movement, had an enormous impact on early modern dance pioneers.

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  1. Photograph of younger students of The Royal Ballet School, in the Salon of White Lodge, 6 November 1956: creative music and movement lessons, known as ‘plastique’, were strongly influenced by the principles of Dalcroze Eurhythmics. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/6/1/4

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950), and Dalcroze ‘Eurhythmics’

Born in Vienna of Swiss parents, Jaques-Dalcroze studied music, and was a student of both Delibes and Bruckner. In 1910 he founded the Institute for Applied Rhythm in Hellerau near Dresden to further his practical and theoretical ideas, attracting students of all ages and callings. This later moved to Vienna, where it remained until 1938. In 1915 he established L’Institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, which still thrives today.

Ninette de Valois

Founder of The Royal Ballet School and Companies

Photograph of Ninette de Valois (centre, back) and Doris Murray (kneeling) performing with ‘Lila Field's Wonder Children’ in The Children’s Dream (1913). Photographer unknown. RBS/NDV/PHO

Ninette de Valois (1898–2001) was an Irish-born dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, writer and theorist; she founded The Royal Ballet School and Companies. Her professional life began at the age of 13, as a leading member of a touring troupe, known as ‘Lila Field’s Wonder Children’. Her remarkable career spanned the 20th century; she was instrumental in establishing British ballet on the world stage.  

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Photograph of Ninette de Valois as a child, undated. Photographer unknown. RBS/STA/NDV/PHO/7/1

Part 1, early life: Ninette de Valois OM CH DBE (1898–2001)  was born Edris Stannus in County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1898. After moving to Kent, aged seven, she began to study so-called ‘fancy dancing’ under the formidable Mrs Wordsworth. She then joined the Lila Field Academy, becoming a leading member of a professional dance troupe known as ‘Lila Field’s Wonder Children’. They disbanded at the outbreak of war in 1914, by which time the young de Valois could claim to have ‘danced at the end of every pier in England’.

 

Edris, who had adopted the stage-name of Ninette de Valois (chosen by her mother, due to a distant family connection with the French royal line), continued to work as a Soloist in pantomime and opera.  Increasingly, de Valois featured as a leading dancer in London’s major venues, including the Palladium, the Coliseum and the Royal Opera House. By 1918, she had also started to choreograph some of her own dances, and to augment her income by teaching.

             

Lydia Sokolova

Diaghilev’s English ballerina

Photograph of Lydia Sokolova as the Miller's Wife in Massine’s Le Tricorne [The Three-Cornered Hat] (1919). Photo: Lenare. RBS/LAW/PHO/27

Lydia Sokolova (1896–1974), born Hilda Munnings, was an English ballerina who danced with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes for over 15 years (from 1913), and became a Principal of the Company.  Her Russian stage-name was chosen for her by Diaghilev himself: the general assumption that ballet was the preserve of the Russians led many British dancers to adapt their names accordingly.

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Léonide Massine

Diaghilev’s new star

Photograph of Léonide Massine, reproduced in Comoedia Illustré May 1914. Photo: Durkoop. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/6

Léonide Massine (1895–1979) was Diaghilev’s new ‘discovery’, recruited from the Imperial Theatre in Moscow to replace Nijinsky as his leading male star. He made his début with the Ballets Russes in Fokine’s La Légende de Joseph (1914). Massine became a hugely celebrated demi-caractère artist, and one of the most prolific and versatile choreographers of the 20th century.

Photograph of Léonide Massine, reproduced in a programme for the de Basil Ballets Russes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, King George V Silver Jubilee Season, 1935. Massine is identified in the image caption as the Ballet Master and ‘artistic collaborator’ of the de Basil Company. Photo: Sasha. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/1

Part 1, early life: Léonide Massine (1895–1979) was a Russian-born dancer, an extraordinary demi-caractère artist, ballet master and multi-faceted choreographer. He studied at the Moscow Bolshoi School under Gorsky, joining the Bolshoi Ballet in 1912.  His years with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1914–21 and 1925–28), launched his prolific career in Europe and America, and enabled him to study under the Company’s Ballet Master, Cecchetti. Succeeding Nijinsky as Diaghilev’s Principal dancer and choreographer, Massine emerged as a remarkably versatile performer and choreographer.

 

Under Diaghilev’s direction, Massine collaborated with Erik Satie and Pablo Picasso on the iconic Cubist work, Parade (1917) and later made a Futurist ballet Le Pas d’acier (1927).  Also for Diaghilev, he famously created leading roles in his own ballets, including Les Femmes de bonne humeur (1917), La Boutique fantasque (1919), Le Tricorne (1919) and Les Matelots (1925).  In 1932 Massine became the Choreographer and Principal dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company which emerged following the death of Diaghilev.

Serafina Astafieva

Russian Dancing Academy, London

Advertisement for the Russian Dance Academy at 152, King’s Road, Chelsea, SW3, featuring a photograph of Serafina Astafieva, published in the Dancing Times, 1928. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT 

Princess Serafina Astafieva (1876–1934) was a Russian dancer and teacher, linked by marriage to the Imperial Family. She joined the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg in 1895, graduating from the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre School. Astafieva eventually settled in London,  and in 1916 she opened her school, the Russian Dancing Academy, at ‘The Pheasantry’ on the King’s Road in Chelsea.

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Print of a caricature of Serafina Astafieva by Nicolai and Sergei Legat, c1900.  RBS/MIM/1

Princess Serafina Astafieva (1876–1934) married Jozef Kschessinsky in 1896; he was the brother of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, who later married the Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich Romanov. Although promoted to coryphée in 1903, Astafieva’s career was interrupted by bouts of ill health, and she danced mostly character roles.  After joining the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–11), she danced briefly for the Imperial Ballet in Budapest, but finally settled in London in 1916, opening the Russian Dancing Academy at ‘The Pheasantry’, 152 King’s Road in Chelsea. A blue heritage plaque (unveiled at the site in 1968) bears testament to Astafieva and her school, which was visited by both Diaghilev and Pavlova when scouting for dancers to join their respective ballet companies.

 

‘Serafina Astafieva was introduced by her friend Ezra Pound to T S Eliot, who pictured her as the seductive Grishkin in his early poem Whispers of Immortality. Pound himself introduced her in his Canto 79 - as conserving “the tradition from Byzance [Byzantium]”. The artistic atmosphere of the period, and her place in it, is suggested by these poetic references.’ (Linton, 2014)

Picasso and the Ballets Russes

Massine’s Parade (1917)

Design by Pablo Picasso reproduced on the front cover of a Diaghilev Ballets Russes programme, Monte Carlo, 1923.  RBS/PRG/RUS/1/18

Parade was premièred in Paris, May 1917 and was hailed as ‘the first Cubist ballet’. It was commissioned by Diaghilev in the face of intense public controversy regarding Cubism, yet it was a triumphant hit.  The ballet was conceived as a playful burlesque by its creators: choreographer, Léonide Massine; designer, Pablo Picasso; composer, Erik Satie, and librettist, Jean Cocteau.

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Foundation of the Rambert School

Enterprise and artistic ambition

Photograph of Marie Rambert’s professional students, L-R: Pearl Argyle, Harold Turner, unidentified, Frederick Ashton, Prudence Hyman, William Chappell, Diana Gould, Robert Stuart  c1926. Photographer unknown. RBS/TUR/PHO/100

In 1920, Marie Rambert opened her School in London. Setting out to instill both Classical rigour and intellectual curiosity in her students, it led directly to the establishment of Britain’s first indigenous ballet company.  The School is known today as the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, and remains one of Britain’s foremost vocational training schools. 

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Ursula Moreton

A life in British ballet

Photograph of Ursula Moreton in The Truth About the Russian Dancers, a one-act play written by J M Barrie (the creator of Peter Pan), with music by Arnold Bax, designs by Paul Nash, and choreography by the star of the production, Tamara Karsavina. It formed part of a variety bill which opened at the London Coliseum on 15 March 1920. Photo: Domenic. RBS/MOR

Ursula Moreton (1903–1973) was a British dancer and teacher. She studied ballet with Enrico Cecchetti, and learned mime from Francesca Zanfretta, later becoming an important teacher of both disciplines. She was 17 years old when she made her début at the London Coliseum, in The Truth about the Russian Dancers (1920), a play featuring the Diaghilev Ballets Russes star, Tamara Karsavina. 

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Photograph of Ursula Moreton as the Chinese Porcelain Princess in the Diaghilev Ballets Russes productions of The Sleeping Princess, Alhambra Theatre, London 1921. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/115

Ursula Moreton OBE (1903–1973) enjoyed a long and varied career as a dancer, teacher and ballet director. After performing as a Soloist in a variety of London’s major venues, she joined the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, appearing in their influential production of The Sleeping Princess at the Alhambra Theatre (1921), also dancing with the Massine-Lopokova Company in the early 1920s. Moreton taught at Ninette de Valois’ Academy of Choreographic Art (the direct precursor of The Royal Ballet School) from its foundation in 1926. She perfomed regularly with the Camargo Ballet Society (1930–33), and with the Vic-Wells Ballet (later the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, then The Royal Ballet) from 1931. 

 

Moreton was de Valois’ close assistant and Company Ballet Mistress from the earliest days of the Vic-Wells Ballet. When a second Company was formed under de Valois’ directorship, Moreton became its Assistant Director (1946–52): initially called the Sadler’s Wells Opera Ballet, it would eventually become the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Ursula Moreton was Ballet Principal of The Royal Ballet School (1952–65), succeeding Arnold Haskell as Director (1965–68).

Édouard Espinosa

Teacher of the French School

Signed photograph of Édouard Espinosa, 1934. Photo: Yvonne. RBS/AHDL

Édouard Espinosa (1871–1950) was born in Moscow.  He became a pupil of his father, Léon Espinosa (1825–1904), a brilliant dancer of Spanish origin who had been trained at the Paris Opera. In 1872 the Espinosa family moved to London, where Édouard became a highly influential teacher. In 1920 he co-founded the Association of Operatic Dancing, alongside P J S Richardson and others.

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Photograph of Édouard Espinosa reproduced in Édouard Espinosa, Ballet Elementary Syllabus and Technique of Operatic Dancing (London: E K Espinosa & Y Espinosa, 1928, ninth edition 1961). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

Édouard Espinosa (1871–1950) was born in Moscow, into an influential balletic dynasty; his father, Léon, enjoyed a brilliant career in Paris and Moscow, where he worked closely with Marius Petipa. In 1872 the Espinosas moved to London, where Édouard later worked with his father, producing and choreographing for all aspects of the theatre. Édouard eventually became Ballet Master for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and several other theatres in London, Paris, Berlin and New York.

 

Édouard’s mother and five siblings were all dancers and teachers. Édouard himself married Eve Louise Kelland, an actress and singer, and their two children also became involved in ballet. Édouard was a highly influential teacher in Britain, his pupils included Phyllis Bedells and Ninette de Valois. In 1920, he co-founded the Association of Operatic Dancing (later the Royal Academy of Dance). In 1930, he broke away from that organisation, and with his wife (who in 1928 had started The Dancer magazine under the name of Louise Kay), he set up the British Ballet Organisation.

The Association of Operatic Dancing

The Royal Academy of Dance, or RAD

Poster advertising two performances at the Crane Hall in Liverpool presented by the Association of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain, undated.  The poster announces that the Association’s President, Adeline Genée, will speak on the ‘Aims and Objects’ of the Association of Operatic Dancing. RBS/TUR/POS/1

The Association of Operatic Dancing (now the Royal Academy of Dance, or RAD) was founded in London on 31 December 1920 by P J S Richardson and a group of eminent teachers and dancers, including Adeline Genée, its founding President.  The RAD was established as an examination body, in order to improve the national standard of teaching in Classical ballet. 

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Nicholas Sergeyev

Russian Imperial Ballets in London

Photograph of Nicholas Sergeyev. On the wall behind him are written (in the form of a dancing figure) the names of ballets he revived for the Vic-Wells Company, giving the dates he mounted them: Coppélia 1933, The Sleeping Princess 1939, Lac des Cygnes 1934, Giselle 1934, Casse Noisette 1934 (in the headdress). Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Print held in the ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/2/146

Nicholas Sergeyev (1876–1951) trained at the Imperial School, joining the Mariinsky Theatre in 1894; he became a Soloist, then Rehearsal Director. In 1918 Sergeyev left Russia, taking with him the Stepanov notation scores of 21 major works, effectively importing the Classical-Romantic ballet repertoire to the West.  In 1921 he mounted Petipa’s masterpiece, re-titled The Sleeping Princess for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes in London.

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Print of a caricature of Nicholas Sergeyev by Nicolai and Sergei Legat, c1905. RBS/LEG/5

Nicholas Sergeyev (1876–1951) trained at the Imperial School, joining the Mariinsky Theatre in 1894, where he became a Soloist.  He mastered Vladimir Stepanov’s system of dance notation, using it to notate the Mariinsky Ballet repertoire, and helping Alexander Gorsky to introduce Stepanov notation into the Imperial School curriculum. Sergeyev duly progressed to become régisseur [Rehearsal Director] with responsibility for notation at the Mariinsky Theatre, and then régisseur generale.

 

In 1918 Sergeyev left Russia for the West, taking with him the (incomplete) notated scores of 21 major works.  These effectively imported the Classical-Romantic ballet repertoire from Russia to the West. Sergeyev used them to mount key productions of these works for Diaghilev (1921), Spessivtseva (Paris Opera, 1924), the Camargo Society (1932), de Valois’ Company (1933–46), the Markova-Dolin Ballet (1935), the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1938) and Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet (1941–48). Sergeyev’s original notation scores are kept in the Harvard Theater Collection.

Diaghilev awakens The Sleeping Princess 

Alhambra Theatre, London

Painting by C E Turner evoking a scene from Act I of The Sleeping Princess as performed by the Diaghilev Ballets Russes at London’s Alhambra Theatre; reproduced in the journal, The Sphere, 18 February 1922. RBS/EPH

Diaghilev’s London production of The Sleeping Princess (1921) was so-called to avoid confusing it with the popular English pantomime, The Sleeping Beauty. Although famously interested in the new, Diaghilev also revered ballet’s heritage, and decided to introduce Europe to the full grandeur of Russia’s Imperial Ballet.  Sergeyev mounted the work using his notation of Petipa’s original; Nijinska provided significant additional staging.

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Bronislava Nijinska

Unique choreographic genius

Photograph of Bronislava Nijinska, c1936, reproduced in a programme for the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1936. Photographer unknown. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/4

Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) was a ballet choreographer at the forefront of 20th century Modernism. Her career began as a dancer of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre (1908–11), and the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1909–14). She later re-joined Diaghilev’s Company as Principal dancer and Ballet Mistress (1921–25). Her assistance in staging The Sleeping Princess (1921) brought her unique choreographic genius to the attention of Diaghilev. 

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Photograph of Bronislava Nijinska, c1936, reproduced in a programme for the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1936. Photographer unknown. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/4

Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) was of Polish descent. Her parents were both dancers and her brother was the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky. After training at the Imperial Theatre School and with Cecchetti, Nijinska emerged as a dancer of exceptionally strong technique and personality. She joined the Mariinsky Theatre, then danced with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes as a Soloist. At first overshadowed by her remarkable brother, she later rejoined Diaghilev’s Company, becoming a Principal dancer and an extraordinary choreographer. Her works included Les Noces (1923), Les Biches (1924), Le Train bleu (1924) and, with George Balanchine, Romeo and Juliet (1926).

 

Nijinska directed several small troupes of her own, most notably the Ballets Nijinska (1932–4). She settled in Los Angeles, where she founded a school in 1941. In the course of a long career she continued to work prolifically as a choreographer and teacher with companies worldwide: these included the Paris Opera, the Buenos Aires Teatro Colón, the Ida Rubinstein Company, de Basils’ Ballets Russes, the Polish Ballet, the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, and The Royal Ballet.

The Cecchetti Society

Founded in London

Framed painting entitled ‘Maestro Cecchetti taking class painted by Vereker Hamilton c1924’. RBS/OBJ

The Cecchetti Society was founded in London to perpetuate the teaching method of Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928). His structured training exercises were recorded over two years (1920–22) by the dance writer, Cyril Beaumont, and Cecchetti’s former pupil, Stanislas Idzikowsky. Cecchetti himself helped to complete the volume, A Manual of Classical Theatrical Dancing (Cecchetti Method), published in London in 1922.

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Massine-Lopokova Ballet

English touring Company

Photograph of Ninette de Valois (centre back) as Cupidon in a series of divertissements entitled Fanatics of Pleasure with Lydia Lopokova and Léonide Massine (centre) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1922.  Photographer unknown. RBS/STA/NDV/PHO/5/6                    

Léonide Massine and Lydia Lopokova, were both great stars of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. Together they formed a short-lived ballet company, which toured the English provinces during 1922–3, culminating with a three week season at the Royal Opera House. Ninette de Valois and Ursula Moreton were members of the Massine-Lopokova Ballet, gaining invaluable experience performing with these consummate artists.

Ninette de Valois

Joins the Diaghilev Ballets Russes

Pencil and pastel drawing by Elizabeth Polunin, undated, depicting Ninette de Valois in costume as one of the partygoers in the ‘Rondeau’ scene; this was her original corps de ballet role in Les Biches (1924). RBS/NDV/EPH  

Ninette de Valois was the première danseuse of a major London Revue entitled You’d be Surprised, which opened at the Royal Opera House and transferred to the Alhambra Theatre (January–May 1923). Choreography was by Léonide Massine, with two additional scenes created by de Valois herself. In September of that year, de Valois was invited to join the Diaghilev Ballets Russes.

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Nijinska’s Les Noces (1923)

and Les Biches (1924)                                     

Newscutting (London, June 1926) from a scrapbook created by Gilbert Barker (between 1919–26): photograph of a rehearsal for Nijinska’s Les Noces (premièred in Paris, 13 June 1923). Photographer unknown. RBS/BAR/1/2

Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) created two masterworks for Diaghilev: Les Noces [The Wedding] (1923), a monumental work with music by Igor Stravinsky and designs by Natalia Goncharova; and Les Biches (1924). The risqué title literally translates as ‘the does’ (female deer), implying nubile young women. Set to Francis Poulenc’s witty music, with modern designs by Marie Laurenҫin, it is also known as The House Party.

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George Balanchine

20th century Master Choreographer

Photograph of George[s] Balanchine with Vera Nemchinova, from a programme for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, 1925. Photo: W S Campbell. RBS/PRG/RUS/1/20

George Balanchine (1904–1983) became the most influential ballet choreographer of the 20th century. He was distinguished by his deep knowledge of Classical music, and the Imperial Russian ballet tradition in which he was trained in St Petersburg [then Petrograd] (1914–21). Whilst on tour in Germany in 1924 he was hired by Diaghilev, becoming  chief choreographer of the Ballets Russes within a year.

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Photograph of George Balanchine aged about 31, reproduced in a programme for the Jubilee Season of the de Basil Ballets Russes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden c1935. Photo: Piaz. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/1

Part 1, early life: George Balanchine (1904–1983)

Born in St Peterburg, of Georgian descent, he was christened Georgi Balanchivadze. He trained at the Imperial School, St Petersburg (later Petrograd Ballet School), graduating into the Company (then known as GATOB; later the Kirov) in 1921. His works for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes included Apollo (1928); this marked the start of a life-long collaboration with Igor Stravinsky, and is often called the first ‘neo-Classical’ ballet. 

 

After Diaghilev’s death in 1929 Balanchine worked with various European companies, including his own ‘Les Ballets 1933’, but an invitation from Lincoln Kirstein to go to the United States proved to be definitive. With Kirstein (1907–1996), a writer and patron, Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet (1934) and Ballet Society (1946)  from which grew the New York City Ballet. Key works from this formative period in America include Tchaikovsky’s Serenade (1934), Le Baiser de la fée and Jeu de cartes (both set to Stravinsky scores, 1937), Concerto Barocco and Ballet Imperial (set to Bach and Tchaikovsky respectively, in 1941), and The Four Temperaments (music by Hindemith, 1946).

Nicolai Legat

Russian ‘Perfection’ in England

Portrait of Nicolai Legat on the balcony of his studio at Colet Gardens, painting in oil by Auguste Albo, dated 1929. RBS/OBJ/on loan from Mimi Legat

Nicolai Legat, the great Ballet Master of the Mariinsky, St Petersburg, finally left Russia with his wife in 1923.  Legat went on to teach in Paris, then London, where he eventually settled. He succeeded Enrico Cecchetti as Ballet Master to the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1925–6), establishing his renowned studio at Colet Gardens, West Kensington, c1928,  where he taught until his death in 1937.

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Nijinska’s Théâtre Chorégraphique

Touring the English provinces

Nijinska's Théâtre Chorégraphique 1925. Bronislava Nijinska in Holy Etudes, with two unidentifed dancers. Photo: Claude Harris. RBS/SON/PHO/2

Bronislava Nijinska’s Théâtre Chorégraphique was a ‘chamber ensemble’ of dancers, led by Nijinska herself, which toured the English provinces during 1925.  The repertoire was made up of highly varied short pieces by Nijinska: their choreographic vigour and bold designs were captured in remarkable photographs by Claude Harris. Even today, the uncompromising nature of Nijinska’s work retains its power to challenge, surprise and entertain.

Constant Lambert’s Romeo and Juliet

An English score for Diaghilev

Photograph of Serge Lifar as Romeo in the Diaghilev Ballets Russes production of the Lambert/Nijinska/Balanchine Romeo and Juliet (1926), designed by Max Ernst and Joan Miró. Photo: Lenare. RBS/HAS/PHO/2/13

Diaghilev increasingly sought novelty, and often notoriety, from the creators of new work for his Ballets Russes Company; his famous demand to ‘astonish me!’ was reportedly made of Jean Cocteau as early as 1914.  True to form, Diaghilev’s production of Romeo and Juliet (1926) was unexpected in every way, not least because he chose to use a score by a little-known Englishman.

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Marie Rambert Dancers

Frederick Ashton’s early works

Photographic plate showing Frederick Ashton and Marie Rambert (centre), with E Vincent and F James, in A Tragedy of Fashion (1926), reproduced in Lionel Bradley, Sixteen years of Ballet Rambert, 19301946 (London: Hinrichson, 1946). Photographer unknown. RBS/AHDL

Frederick Ashton’s first ballet, A Tragedy of Fashion (1926), was prompted by the encouragement of Marie Rambert. She was a Polish dancer and teacher who had joined Diaghilev’s Company in 1913, then settled in England. In 1926 she formed the Marie Rambert Dancers with graduates from her School.  Rambert nurtured the early creativity of several major choreographers, most notably Ashton and Antony Tudor.

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The Academy of Choregraphic Art

Ninette de Valois’ School

The official opening of the Academy of Choregraphic [sic] Art in 1926. L-R: (back row) Vladimir Polunin, Anton Dolin, Edwin Evans, Margaret Craske, Elizabeth Polunin, Col E Cameron; (centre, middle row) Lydia Lopokova; (front row) Ninette de Valois, Ursula Moreton, Frances James, Marie Rambert. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

The Academy of Choregraphic (Choreographic) Art, the direct precursor of The Royal Ballet School, was founded in 1926 by a 28 year-old dancer, teacher and choreographer, Ninette de Valois. Those attending the official opening included several fellow associates of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, the dancers Lydia Lopokova, Anton Dolin, Marie Rambert, and Ursula Moreton; and the scenic artists Elizabeth and Vladimir Polunin.

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Photograph of Ninette de Valois by Mesdames Morter, c1932, reproduced in the Dancing Times, March 1932.  Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

Part 2, early years continued: Ninette de Valois OM CH DBE (1898–2001). By the age of 28 de Valois had spent half her life in the professional theatre; she was ready to put into practice her conviction that England should have an indigenous ballet, built upon the model of the old Schools attached to the opera houses of Continental Europe and Russia. To that end, she left the Diaghilev Ballets Russes in 1925 – although she returned briefly as a guest artist in 1926 and 1928 –  in order to open her own school.  This she did in modest premises at Roland Gardens, Gloucester Road, West London.

 

Mary Clarke, in her history of de Valois’ School and Companies, wrote that, ‘[Frederick] Ashton’s own strongest memory of the Roland Gardens studio is of de Valois banging a hole in her new linoleum with the stick she used to make dancers keep time.  Her classes were not easy: prepared herself to give every ounce of energy to her work, she expected others to be willing to work just as hard.’ (Clarke, 1955)

Lilian Baylis

‘The Lady’ of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells

Photograph of Lilian Baylis (centre) surrounded by her volunteer workers in ‘wardrobe’, backstage at the Old Vic Theatre, c1930. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO

Lilian Baylis (1874–1937) was a visionary who laid the foundations for Britain’s national drama, opera and ballet companies through her work as the Manager of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres. Known affectionately as ‘The Lady’, she was famous for her extreme frugality – there were then no government subsidies for the Arts. Baylis was deeply committed to making the best theatre accessible to everyone.

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Photograph of Lilian Baylis (1874–1937), Manager of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

Lilian Baylis CH (1874–1937) is celebrated as the selfless guiding spirit behind the founding of several major British institutions: the Royal National Theatre, English National Opera, and The Royal Ballet School and Companies. A trained musician, she was educated in England and South Africa. Baylis was the niece of Emma Cons (1837–1912), the famously philanthropic educationalist and reforming Manager of the Victoria (‘Old Vic’) Theatre. Baylis returned to England to assist her aunt, and on Cons’ death in 1912, took over as Manager of the Old Vic. She also led the campaign to restore Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which was duly re-opened under her direction in 1931.

Lilian Baylis had a mildly eccentric appearance, in part due to an illness which had left her with a twisted lip. She became a legend of the British theatre: ‘her combination of homely simplicity, frugality and piety aroused mixed emotions of loyalty, amusement and affection.’ (Bland, 1981)

The Abbey Theatre, Dublin

De Valois’ School in Ireland

Advertisement for The Academy of Choregraphic Art [sic], London and Dublin, Dancing Times 1928. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

The Abbey Theatre School of Ballet was founded by Ninette de Valois in Dublin, 1927, at the personal request of the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Between 1927 and 1934, while de Valois continued to build her ballet School and Company in London, she worked with Yeats at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and established a School in Ireland.

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Balanchine’s Apollo (1928)

Neo-Classicism in ballet

Photograph of Serge Lifar as Apollo and Alice Nikitina as Terpsichore in Balanchine/Stravinsky’s Apollon musagètes (1928), Diaghilev Ballets Russes. Photo: Sasha. RBS/HAS/PHO/2/21

Originally titled Apollon musagètes this landmark one-act work was created for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes in 1928, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. It explored the relationship between the musical score and the language of Classical ballet in a new and highly inventive way. Still performed regularly, it is thought of as the first neo-Classical ballet.

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British Ballet Organisation

BBO founded in London

Published information about the British Ballet Organisation, including a chart tracing the teaching-line of the Espinosa family. Pages from Édouard Espinosa, Ballet Elementary Syllabus and Technique of Operatic Dancing (London: E K Espinosa & Y Espinosa, 1928, ninth edition 1961). RBS/AHDL

The British Ballet Organisation, or BBO, was founded in 1930 by Édouard Espinosa and his wife, Eve Louise Kelland. Édouard was an internationally renowned ballet teacher, who had danced and directed extensively in major theatres in London and abroad. Eve was an Australian-born actress and singer; she also founded The Dancer magazine, under the name of Louise Kay, in 1928.

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The Camargo Society

The seedbed of British ballet

Pencil drawing by by Nicolai Legat,  featuring caricatures of the founders of the Camargo Society: (top left) Philip Richardson, (centre right) Edwin Evans, and (below right) Arnold Haskell. Legat jokingly referred to the trio as ‘the Unholy Trinity’. Undated, c1930. RBS/MIM/5/2

The Camargo Society (1930–1933) was a London-based subscription club formed to nurture British ballet by commissioning new works, with music, choreography and design by British artists.  The Society was named in honour of Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo (1710–1770), often called the ‘first ballerina’, who was a pioneering star of the Paris Opera.

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Arnold Haskell

Author and ‘balletomane’

Bronze head of Arnold Haskell by Jacob Epstein, c1947. The sculptor, Epstein, and writer, Haskell, had earlier collaborated on a publication entitled The Sculptor Speaks; A Series of Conversations on Art (London: Doubleday, 1932). RBS/OBJ

Arnold Haskell (1903–1980) was a graduate of Cambridge University who became a prolific dance writer, educator and facilitator. With Philip J Richardson, editor of the Dancing Times, Haskell co-founded the Camargo Society in 1930. A passionate devotee of the Diaghilev and de Basil Ballets Russes companies, he also became an important advocate of those working to establish a national ballet in England. 

Caricature of Arnold Haskell by Nicolai Legat, pencil sketch on embossed notepaper, undated, c1930. RBS/MIM/4/1

Arnold Haskell CBE (1903–1980) first learned about ballet by attending the London seasons of Diaghilev’s great Company.  He became an authority on the art form, later championing the influential de Basil Ballets Russes tours of America (1933–34) and Australia (1938–39). He was also an important advocate of those working to establish a national ballet in England.  In 1934, Lilian Baylis and Ninette de Valois discussed with Haskell the idea of combining dance training with academic lessons at the Sadler’s Wells School. The plan was delayed by the advent of war (1939–45); Haskell was eventually appointed Director of the School (1947–65), and oversaw the introduction of an academic curriculum.

 

Haskell edited the Ballet Annual (1947–1963). His many books include Balletomania (1934); Diaghileff (1935) with Walter Nouvel; the influential The National Ballet, a History and a Manifesto (1943); and two autobiographies, In His True Centre (1951) and Balletomane at Large (1972). Arnold Haskell was married to Vivienne, sister of the great British ballerina, Alicia Markova.

Façade (1931)

Ashton’s popular ‘hit’

Photograph of the Vic-Wells Ballet in a revival of Frederick Ashton’s popular ballet, Façade (1935 revival). Annotations record the dances performed by each group of characters, including the ‘Polka’ featuring Margot Fonteyn (kneeling, wearing a straw hat) and the ‘Tango’ with Ashton himself (lying down, centre). Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/16

Façade (1931), an enduringly popular one-act ballet by Frederick Ashton, was first produced by the Camargo Society. The music is William Walton’s humorous setting of Edith Sitwell’s ‘nonsense’ poems; the playful designs are by John Armstrong. An immediate success at London’s Cambridge Theatre, the original cast was led by Ashton himself, and two former Diaghilev ballerinas, Lydia Lopokova and Alicia Markova. 

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Lydia Lopokova

Mrs John Maynard Keynes

Signed photograph, studio portrait of Lydia Lopokova, inscribed ‘Yours sincerely Lydia Lopokova 1919’. Photo: Bassano Ltd. RBS/HAS/PHO/3/18

Lydia Lopokova (1891–1981) was born in St Petersburg; she trained at the Imperial Theatre School and was a student of Fokine, graduating into the Mariinsky Ballet in 1909. Lopokova’s ebullient personality made her a hugely popular star of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, particularly in England, where she settled. Her brother, Fedor Lopokov [Fyodor Lopukhov] (1886–1973), became an important Soviet choreographer-director.

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Rambert’s Ballet Club

The Mercury Theatre

Photograph of Frederick Ashton and Alicia Markova in Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1934), the only ballet that Ninette de Valois choreographed for Rambert’s Company. Ashton left the Ballet Club to join the Vic-Wells Ballet the following year, but remained in close contact with his mentor, Rambert. Photographer unknown. RBS/AST/1

In 1931 the ‘Marie Rambert Dancers’ became known as the ‘Ballet Club’, a permanent ballet company based at the small, but fashionable, Mercury Theatre in London’s Notting Hill Gate. The venture was run as a social club by Rambert and her husband, the playwright Ashley Dukes; a popular bar, adorned with 19th century ballet lithographs, helped to attract a loyal and informed audience. 

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Anton Dolin

Star presence in de Valois’ Job (1931)

Photograph of Anton Dolin as Satan in Job (1931), a Camargo Society production choreographed by Ninette de Valois to a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Photo: Felix Fonteyn. RBS/PHO/1/27(4)

Anton Dolin (1904–1983) was a Soloist with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes from 1923–25 and again in 1929. A founding member of the Camargo Society, he created the role of Satan in Ninette de Valois’ Job (1931). Dolin was the first British male ballet star; his role as Principal Guest Artist with the Vic-Wells Ballet (1931–35) proved crucial to the success of the new Company.

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Photograph of Anton Dolin, undated. Photo: Madame D’Ora [Dora Kallmus], Paris. RBS/PHO/2/43

Anton Dolin KBE (1904–1983). Born Sydney Francis Patrick Chippendall Healey-Kay; he assumed the stage name of Anton Dolin. The leading British male dancer of his generation, his teachers included Astafieva, Nijinska, Cecchetti and Legat. Dolin first appeared with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes as a pageboy in The Sleeping Princess (1921). He joined the Company as a Soloist from 1923–25 and again in 1929, creating roles in ballets by Nijinska and Balanchine. Dolin appeared widely as a Principal dancer in major London theatres. His role as a leading guest artist with the Vic-Wells Ballet (1931–35) was crucial to the success of the Company. He later became a guest artist and choreographer for [American] Ballet Theatre (between 1940–46).

 

Dolin and his celebrated dance partner, Alicia Markova, formed the London-based Markova-Dolin Company (1935–38), which re-formed to tour the USA (1945–48). Dolin and Markova eventually co-founded the [London] Festival Ballet (1950), which Dolin directed until 1960; the Company became the English National Ballet in 1989.  From 1961–64, Dolin was the Director of the Rome Opera Ballet, after which he continued to teach internationally.   

The Vic-Wells Ballet

De Valois’ young Company

Programme for a performance at the Old Vic Theatre by the Vic-Wells Ballet, 24 October 1931. During the Company’s first complete season of ballets, 1931/2, they performed at both the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres in London. Anton Dolin appeared as Principal Guest Artist for the season. RBS/EPH

The founding of the Vic-Wells Ballet: in 1931 de Valois’ School, the Academy of Choregraphic [Choreographic] Art, moved into the newly-restored Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Six female graduates now formed the core of a repertory company, soon called the Vic-Wells Ballet. In May 1931 the Company presented their first full evenings of ballet, first at the Old Vic, and then at Sadler’s Wells.

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Constant Lambert

‘An English Diaghilev’

Photograph of Constant Lambert conducting, undated. The presence of a microphone (visible top left) indicates that the photograph was taken during a recording session or rehearsal for a radio broadcast. Photographer unknown. RBS/NDV/PHO

Constant Lambert (1905–1951) ranked high among the most gifted English composer-conductors of his day; he was a multi-faceted intellectual who was once described by Ninette de Valois as ‘our only hope of an English Diaghilev’.  He became the Music Director of the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1931, and is acknowledged as the Founding Music Director of The Royal Ballet.

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The Vic-Wells School

Resident at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Advertisement in the Dancing Times, October 1933, announcing Sadler’s Wells Theatre as ‘England’s home of ballet’, and claiming that ‘The Vic-Wells School of Ballet is the only School in England attached to a Theatre’. By kind permission  Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

In 1931 de Valois’ School moved from the Roland Gardens studio to Sadler’s Wells, and it soon became known by the same name as her young Company, the ‘Vic-Wells Ballet’. The senior students of the Vic-Wells School would often swell the ranks of the corps de ballet, performing regularly with the Company at both the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres.

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Alicia Markova

Diaghilev’s youngest star

Signed photograph of Alicia Markova, c1934. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/107

Alicia Markova, DBE (1910–2004), born Lilian Alicia Marks, was the first internationally recognised English prima ballerina. Under the stage name of Alicia Markova she danced solo roles with the Diaghilev Ballets Russes from the age of 14. She joined the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1932 and was the Company’s leading ballerina for three years, before embarking on a successful international career, principally partnered by Anton Dolin. 

Signed photograph of Alicia Markova, c1934. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/Knight Coll

Alicia Markova (1910–2004) was trained by the great Russian teachers, Astafieva and Legat, and the Italian master, Cecchetti.  She was celebrated for her unforced technical brilliance and lightness. In 1925, she joined the Diaghilev Ballets Russes at the exceptionally young age of 14. Following Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Markova became the leading ballerina of the Camargo Society, the Vic-Wells Ballet, and Rambert’s Ballet Club (1931–35). Her support of these emerging organisations was crucial to the success and development of early British ballet. 

 

In 1935 she and her famous dancing partner, Anton Dolin, formed the Markova-Dolin Company, which toured extensively across England and the United States. Their Company was re-named the London Festival Ballet (at Markova’s suggestion, to mark the Festival of Britain in 1951), and eventually became the English National Ballet. From 1963–69 Markova was the Director of Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. She continued to teach and coach well into her old age.

The Green Table (1932)

The Ballets Jooss

Page from a programme for the dance company Ballets Jooss, featuring Kurt Jooss’s most influential ballets, The Green Table (July 1932) and The Big City (November 1932), undated. RBS/JOO

Kurt Jooss’ powerful anti-war masterpiece, The Green Table (1932), was a highly Expressionistic work, based on the Medieval ‘Dance of Death’ [‘Danse Macabre’] in which various characters are summoned by Death in a ritualistic dance. Its satirical view on the futile posturing of politicians (meeting around a green table) was justified: by the end of the decade, humanity would be overwhelmed by another World War. 

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Page from a programme for the Ballets Jooss dance company, featuring photographs of ‘The Gentlemen in Black’, a section from Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table (1932). Photographer unknown. RBS/JOO

Kurt Jooss (1901–1979) was a German dancer, teacher, choreographer and director; he studied in Stuttgart under Rudolf von Laban, becoming his assistant in Mannheim and Hamburg (1922–23). Jooss was appointed ballet master in Münster in 1924 and founded the Neue Tanzbühne with the Estonian dancer Aino Siimola (later his wife), Sigurd Leeder, and Hein Heckroth. After moving to Paris to study ballet with Lubov Egorova (1926), he returned to Germany as dance director of the Essen Folkwang School (1927), where he co-founded the Folkwang-Tanztheatre-Experimentalstudio (1928) with his lifelong associates, Sigurd Leeder and Fritz Cohen.

 

In September 1930 Kurt Jooss became the Ballet Director of the Opera House in Essen, and his Folkwang-Tanztheater-Studio moved there, sometimes touring as the Folkwang Tanzbühne.  After The Green Table (1932) won the choreographic competition held by Les Archives Internationales de la Danse in Paris, Jooss and his company left Essen to tour Europe as the Ballets Jooss.  On refusing to sack their Jewish colleagues, Jooss and his associates had to flee Germany. During World War II they were based in England, establishing the Jooss-Leeder School and touring internationally, until the Ballets Jooss disbanded (1947). Jooss returned to Essen in 1949, re-establishing the Folkwang Tanztheatre, which folded in 1953, although the School flourished. Its most celebrated graduate was Pina Bausch, with whom Jooss established the Folkwang Tanzstudio (FTS) in 1962.  Kurt Jooss retired in 1968.

Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo

In the wake of Diaghilev

Cover of a programme for the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, June-September 1936, illustration by Ivan Bilibine, dated 1936. RBS/PRG/RUS/4/4

Les Ballets Russes (de Monte Carlo) is the title claimed by a series of inter-related, but competing, ballet companies formed in the wake of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. That legendary Company, founded by Diaghilev in 1909, disbanded after his death in 1929. The first of its would-be successors was established in 1932 by Colonel Wassily [Vassily] de Basil and René Blum.

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Léonide Massine

Creates the ‘symphonic ballet’

Front of a programme for a Season of Russian Ballet given by the Colonel de Basil Ballet Russes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 26 July 1934; the programme includes three ballets by Léonide Massine: Scuola di Ballo, La Boutique fantasque, and Les Présages. RBS/PRG/RUS/3/15

Léonide Massine (1895–1979) was the founding choreographer and Principal dancer of Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, established by its co-directors, Colonel de Basil and René Blum in 1932. For this new Company, Massine created the first of his controversial ‘symphonic ballets’, Les Présages (1933), set to Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.                     

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Photograph of Léonide Massine showing a film of his work to members of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo Company. Reproduced in a programme for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden), 26 July 1938. Photographer unknown. RBS/PRG/RUS/6/4

Part 2 (biography continued from part 1): Léonide Massine (1895–1979) Following his early career as a dancer and choreographer for Diaghilev, Massine was later associated with both the de Basil and Blum Ballets Russes companies; also with American Ballet Theatre and several European companies, including the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London.  Massine enjoyed huge international success in character roles that he performed in his own ballets, such as that of the quirky Barman in Union Pacific (1934), and the rich Peruvian in La Gaîté Parisienne (1938). His vivid on-screen appearances and choreography for the Powell/Pressburger films, The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951), made him a household name.

In later life he was a guest teacher of choreographic composition at The Royal Ballet School (1968–76), after which he published his findings in a theoretical volume Massine on Choreography (London: Faber & Faber, 1976). He also wrote an autobiography, My Life in Ballet (London: Macmillan, 1968). Massine was married several times, to the dancers, Vera Savina, Eugenia Delarova and Tatiana Orlova; his children were Tatiana Massine and the dancer-choreographer Lorca Massine.

The Vic-Wells Ballet

Imports the Classical repertoire

Photograph of Ninette de Valois as Swanhilda and Stanley Judson as Franz in the Vic-Wells production of Coppélia (1933). After the opening performances, de Valois took over role of Swanhilda from the Diaghilev star, Lydia Lopokova. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/NDV/PHO

The Vic-Wells Ballet and the Imperial Russian Classical repertoire: from 1933 Nicholas Sergeyev successively mounted several cornerstone productions of the 19th century Classical repertoire for de Valois, who believed that ‘the classics’ would school and educate her dancers, whilst informing and enthusing the growing audience for ballet.

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Robert Helpmann

A compelling theatricality

Signed postcard of Robert Helpmann as Prince Siegfried in Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake] (Vic-Wells revival, 1934) in a later revival by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Dated (on reverse) October 1944. Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MB/PHO/2/58  

Robert Helpmann (1909–1986) was the first internationally recognised Australian-born ballet dancer, becoming famous for his compelling theatricality and a ‘chameleon-like’ versatility. He joined Anna Pavlova’s Company for its tour of Australia (1926–27). On his arrival in London in 1933, Ninette de Valois accepted him into the Vic-Wells Ballet, even before she had seen him dance, remarking: ‘I can do something with that face’!

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Photograph of Robert Helpmann, c1933. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/81(9)

Robert Helpmann KBE (1909–1986) was a multi-talented individual. A youthful career in his native Australia included a tour with Anna Pavlova’s Company (1926–27), and several years of performing in musical comedy. He moved to England in 1933, and joined the Vic-Wells Ballet, where he rapidly rose to prominence. He was particularly crucial to British Ballet during World War II: as a foreign national he was exempt from armed service, becoming the Company’s leading man and choreographing several ground-breaking works, including Hamlet (1942) and Miracle in the Gorbals (1944).  

 

Helpmann enjoyed enormous success as an actor and director of both stage and screen, performing Shakespeare at the Old Vic and Stratford; also going on tour to America and Australia with such stars as Vivien Leigh and Katharine Hepburn. He later returned to Australia, becoming the Co-Director (with Peggy van Praagh) of the Australian Ballet from 1965, and its Director from 1975-76. Helpmann appeared with Moira Shearer in the hugely successful Powell/Pressburger films, The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951) for which he also devised some of the choreography. Perhaps most famously, Helpmann created the iconic character of The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and significant cameo roles in several other notable films.

Choreography by Ninette de Valois

Vic-Wells Ballet repertoire 

Original design by Sophie Fedorovitch, costume for Ninette de Valois as The Tight-Rope Walker in the 1935 revival of her ballet Douanes (1932), set in a French Customs House of 1859. Annotated and signed in pencil by the artist. RBS/DES/1

Ninette de Valois was a highly accomplished choreographer whose work formed the early core of the Vic-Wells Ballet repertoire during the 1930s and early 40s. At the same time, her formidable talents and determination set the rising standards in every other sphere of School and Company life - in her multiple roles of Principal dancer, Director and teacher.

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Les Rendezvous (1933)

Frederick Ashton’s Vic-Wells début

Photograph of the pas de trois from Ashton’s Les Rendezvous (1933), L-R: Stanley Judson, Ninette de Valois and Robert Helpmann. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/49

The first ballet of note that Ashton made for the Vic-Wells Ballet was Les Rendezvous (1933), following Regatta (1931), which had already faded from the repertoire. Ashton was to join de Valois’ Company on a permanent basis in 1935. His career in England began as a dancer and choreographer with Rambert’s Ballet Club and the Camargo Society; he also worked in musical theatre and review.

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Frederick Ashton

The English choreographic style

Photograph of Michael Somes and Margot Fonteyn in Ashtons’ Horoscope (1938); it was set to music by Constant Lambert, who dedicated his score to Fonteyn. The designs were by Sophie Fedorovitch, Ashton’s close collaborator. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/26

Frederick Ashton (19041988) began his career with Marie Rambert, later joining the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1935. A dancer with flair who emerged as a choreographer of real genius, he is celebrated as the Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet. His versatile ballets are full of lyricism, poetic evocation, subtle comedy and sublime musicality; they have come to embody the English choreographic style. 

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Photograph of Margot Fonteyn and Frederick Ashton in Ashton’s Nocturne (1936), set to music by Delius, with designs by Fedorovitch (annotated in pencil ‘Nocturne No. 5’). The Fonteyn/Ashton artistic partnership was central to the emergence of an English lyric style. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/1/38

Part I (biography continued in part 2): Frederick Ashton KBE (19041988). Ashton was born in Ecuador, and first encountered ballet on seeing Anna Pavlova dance in Lima, Peru in 1917. However, it was not until the 1920s that he was able to study with Léonide Massine and Marie Rambert in London. Rambert soon recognised Ashton’s potential as a choreographer, encouraging him to make his first ballet, A Tragedy of Fashion (1926), designed by his close friend and long-time collaborator, Sophie Fedorovitch (1893–1953). Ashton joined Ida Rubinstein’s company in Paris, under Bronislava Nijinska’s direction (1928). He returned to perform and choreograph for Rambert's Ballet Club and the Camargo Society; from this period, his ballet Façade (1931) still remains in the repertoire. 

 

Ashton’s first notable work for de Valois’ Vic-Wells Ballet was Les Rendezvous (1933). Appointed Resident Choreographer of the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1935, his new ballets for the Company demanded a greater musical sensibility and Classical purity from its young dancers, helping to shape the emergence of an English lyric style.  He created a small role for Margot Fonteyn in Le Baiser de la fée (1935); their initially tentative collaboration was followed by a lifetime of ballets in which Fonteyn was an inspiration, including such early works as Apparitions (1936), Les Patineurs (1937), A Wedding Bouquet (1937), Horoscope (1938) and Dante Sonata (1940).

Margot Fonteyn

England’s Prima Ballerina Assoluta

Signed postcard of Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of The Sleeping Beauty (Royal Opera House revival, 1946). The postcard is signed by Fonteyn, and inscribed 26 November 1946 (on reverse). Photo: Mandinian © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/MB/PHO/2/259

Margot Fonteyn (1919–1991) was foremost among the graduates of the Vic-Wells School in the early 1930s.  She was nurtured by de Valois to become the Company’s leading ballerina, following Alicia Markova’s departure in 1935. During Fonteyn’s long career she inspired the choreographer, Frederick Ashton, and formed a succession of famous dance partnerships with Robert Helpmann, Michael Somes and Rudolf Nureyev.

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Photograph of Margot Fonteyn aged 18, with her mother, Mrs Hookham; a portrait by Gordon Anthony, who noted (on reverse) that Fonteyn made her debut as Giselle in the same year (1937). Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/STA/GA/PHO/4/8

Margot Fonteyn DBE (1919–1991). Christened Margaret (‘Peggy’) Hookham, she became a pupil of the Vic-Wells School in 1934 and joined the Vic-Wells Ballet later that same year. After Markova’s departure as the Company’s leading ballerina in 1935, Fonteyn, who was gifted with perfect physical proportions and great artistic adaptability, assumed the position at an unusually early age. In his 1936 ballet, Apparitions, Frederick Ashton created the first of many leading roles for Fonteyn, which revealed her innate musicality, lyricism and purity of line.

Fonteyn’s long career can be measured by three great and contrasting dance partnerships, which marked its progress: with Robert Helpmann (from 1936), Michael Somes (principally from 1946) and Rudolf Nureyev (from 1962). Fonteyn reached iconic status in her partnership with Nureyev, who had defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. Their extraordinary partnership saw Fonteyn’s career extend well into her fifties. Named Prima Ballerina Assoluta of The Royal Ballet in 1979, Fonteyn remained the supreme ballerina of her generation, and Ashton’s greatest muse.

The Markova-Dolin Ballet

British Ballet abroad

Souvenir programme from the Markova-Dolin Coronation Season, 1937. The Coronation being celebrated in Great Britain was that of King George VI. RBS/PRG/MDB/2

Alicia Markova’s most celebrated dance partner was Anton Dolin. Together they formed the London-based Markova-Dolin Company (1935–38), which re-formed to tour the USA (1945–48). Markova and Dolin eventually co-founded the [London] Festival Ballet (1950), which Dolin directed until 1960; the Company became known as English National Ballet in 1989. 

Architects of a national ballet

De Valois’ chief associates

Page 1/5: letter from Constant Lambert to John Maynard Keynes, 16 September 1935, in which he discusses the music for a new ballet, Apparitions, suggesting it would be ‘ideally suited to Fred’ [Frederick Ashton]. RBS/COR/3/1

By 1935 Ninette de Valois had assembled the chief architects of her Company:  Constant Lambert, appointed Company Music Director four years earlier, had become an indispensable artistic adviser to de Valois, her choreographers and dancers; Frederick Ashton was her new resident choreographer; Margot Fonteyn had just succeeded Markova as the Company’s leading ballerina; she was now partnered and mentored by the popular and versatile Robert Helpmann.

The Rake’s Progress (1935)

De Valois’ Hogarthian ballet

Photograph of Harold Turner as The Dancing Master in de Valois’ ballet The Rake’s Progress (1935). Turner possessed an exceptionally precise technique, and de Valois made full use of this in her ballet, basing his part on a real historical figure, the celebrated 18th century dancing master, John Essex. Photo Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO 

The Rake’s Progress (1935) exemplified de Valois’ belief that a national ballet should reflect its native culture. Based on the famous series of paintings by William Hogarth, charting the downfall of a profligate ‘rake’ in 18th century London, the ballet boasted English music by Gavin Gordon and designs by Rex Whistler. It is one of two works by Ninette de Valois that remain in the repertoire, the other is Checkmate (1937).

Harold Turner

Virtuoso dancer and teacher

Watercolour sketch of 'Harold Turner in his studio' Hampstead, January 1938, by Lindsay; the drawing occupies the page of a large scrapbook. RBS/TUR/PRE

Harold Turner (1909–1962) was a British dancer and teacher. He first studied with Alfred Haines in Manchester, then with Marie Rambert in London from 1927. Turner danced with several groups and companies, including those of Anton Dolin, Tamara Karsavina and Rambert’s Ballet Club (192832). He appeared as a guest artist with the Sadler's Wells Ballet, joining the Company in 1935 as a Principal.

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Photograph of Harold Turner as an American Sailor in a 1930 revival of Massine’s ballet, Les Matelots (1925). Photographer unknown. RBS/TUR/PHO/1

Harold Turner (1909–1962) took up ballet at the relatively late age of 16, but flourished due to his unusual facility. A student of Rambert’s from 1927, Turner danced with several companies, including those of Dolin, Karsavina and Rambert (1928–32). In Rambert’s Ballet Club, Turner created roles in Ashton's Nymphs and Shepherds (1928), Leda (1928), and Capriol Suite (1930); he also scored a notable hit in Susan Salaman’s short ballet, Le Rugby (1930). Turner appeared frequently as a guest Principal with the Sadler's Wells Ballet, joining the Company in 1935.

 

During World War II Turner left de Valois’ Company to appear with Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet 1941-2/3. He then served in the RAF, later re-joining the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. He became a notable demi-caractère performer, enjoying particular success in the 1947 Covent Garden revivals of Massine's La Boutique fantasque (1919) and The Three-Cornered Hat (1919). Turner joined the teaching staff of the Sadler's Wells School in 1951, also becoming ballet master of the Covent Garden Opera Ballet. He was rehearsing for a return to the stage in Massine's The Good Humoured Ladies (1962 revival) when he died, backstage at the Royal Opera House. He was married twice, to the dancers Mary Honer and Gerd Larsen.

Lilac Garden (1936)

Antony Tudor and Ballet Rambert

Photograph of Antony Tudor’s Jardin aux lilas [Lilac Garden] (1936), featuring a performance at the Mercury Theatre by dancers of Ballet Rambert. Photographer unknown. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

Jardin aux lilas [Lilac Garden] (1936) was choreographed by Antony Tudor for Ballet Rambert, and premièred on the intimate stage of the Mercury Theatre in January 1936. Set to the intensely romantic Poème by the French composer, Ernest Chausson (1855–1899), the Edwardian period designs were by Hugh Stevenson. The original cast of mis-matched lovers was Maude Lloyd, Hugh Laing, Peggy van Praagh and Antony Tudor.

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Sophie Fedorovitch

Theatre designer

Front cover of a catalogue featuring a costume design by Fedorovitch for Ashton’s ballet Nocturne (1936). Catalogue for an exhibition of the work of Sophie Fedorovitch (1893–1953) mounted by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1955. RBS/WIL/FED

Sophie Fedorovitch (1893–1953) was a Russian-born painter and theatre designer who settled in London in 1920. She met Frederick Ashton through Marie Rambert, and designed his first ballet, A Tragedy of Fashion (1926). Fedorovitch and Ashton became close friends and artistic collaborators; the sophisticated simplicity, elegance and ‘chic’ of her designs both reflected and developed his innate choreographic style.  

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Checkmate (1937)

The Vic-Wells in Paris

Photograph of de Valois’ ballet Checkmate (1937), with Harold Turner and Pamela May c1937. They are pictured wearing the original designs by Edward McKnight Kauffer, which were later abandoned when the Company was caught up in the Nazi invasion of Holland. Photo: Lipnitzki. RBS/TUR/PHO/56

Checkmate (1937) represents an allegorical chess game between Love and Death. Made during the rise of Fascism in Europe, de Valois’ ballet shows the forces of evil triumphing in the face of weakness. It was premièred in Paris, with June Brae and Harold Turner as the pitiless Black Queen and the chivalrous Red Knight; Robert Helpmann and Pamela May were the feeble Red King and his gentle Queen.

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Pamela May

Ballerina of versatility and style

Photograph of Pamela May as Aurora in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, c1946, Sadler’s Wells Ballet production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1946), designed by Oliver Messel. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/110

Pamela May OBE (1917–2005) was an English dancer, born in Trinidad. She entered London’s Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1933, and the Company in 1934, later studying further with Preobrajenska and Egorova in Paris. Her close friends were Margot Fonteyn and June Brae, with whom she shared many leading roles. May’s distinctive glamour, pure Classicism and theatrical versatility gained her a huge following.

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Signed postcard featuring a photograph of Pamela May as Mlle Theodore in de Valois’ ballet, The Prospect Before Us (1940).  Photo: Gordon Anthony © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO2/110

Pamela May OBE (1917–2005) studied ballet with Freda Grant in London, before entering London’s Vic-Wells Ballet School in 1933, joining the young Company in 1934, almost at the same time as Margot Fonteyn and June Brae. For several years, the Vic-Wells Ballet performed at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, where the beautiful May, Fonteyn and Brae were nicknamed ‘the Triptych’ by their admirers; all three met their future husbands there, apparently at the same party.

 

Pamela May created significant leading roles in several new ballet by Ashton and de Valois. In the traditional Classical repertoire, May was a strong-willed Swanhilda in Coppélia, an icily glamorous Myrtha in Giselle, and a charming Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty. During the first visit of the Sadler's Wells Ballet to New York in 1949, May was much admired as the second of the Auroras after Fonteyn. From 1952 she performed mimed roles with great distinction until retiring from the stage in 1982; during this time she was also an important teacher of Classical technique and mime at The Royal Ballet School (1954–1978), and a Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Dancing.

June Brae

Ballerina of bright delicacy

Cover of the Dancing Times, Christmas Number of December 1945, featuring a photograph of June Brae.  The label announces that June Brae is ‘to dance again’, a reference to her return to the stage following a period of retirement after 1942. Photographer unknown. By kind permission Dancing Times. RBS/AHDL/DT

June Brae (1917–2000) was an early star of the Vic-Wells Ballet, which she joined in 1935, after studying at the Sadler’s Wells School from 1933. A beautiful and versatile dancer, noted for her particular combination of delicacy and gaiety, she also conveyed great authority in her created role of the Black Queen in de Valois’ Checkmate (1937).

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Postcard featuring a photograph of June Brae as the Débutante and Frederick Ashton as the Dago in the Tango number from his ballet Façade (1931), revival c1937. Photo: Mandinian © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/SIN

June Brae (1917–2000) was an English dancer, brought up in China. She studied ballet with George Goncharov in Shanghai, where she met her life-long friend, Margot Fonteyn. Brae was a leading light of the Vic-Wells Ballet, which she joined in 1935, having studied at the Sadler’s Wells School from 1933. She was an exact contemporary of Pamela May, who joined de Valois’ School in the same year; both went on to become much-loved stars of British Ballet as their careers developed in tandem.

 

Brae created a wide range of roles in the early Vic-Wells repertoire, and also excelled in the Classical repertoire: she was the Lilac Fairy when The Sleeping Princess was first staged by Sergeyev for the Company in 1939. She danced the role of the Ballerina in Helpmann’s short-lived experimental ballet Adam Zero (1946), for which she returned especially from an early retirement in 1942. She also took the lead in Andrée Howard’s Assembly Ball (1946). She then retired definitively – apart from a special guest appearance in 1981, dancing in a revival of de Valois’ The Rake’s Progress (1935) to mark The Royal Ballet’s 50th Anniversary.

London’s ‘ballet wars’

Competing Ballets Russes companies

Photograph of L-R: Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova, Tatiana Riabouchinska and Alexandra Danilova (seated on floor), c1936. Recruited by Balanchine for the Blum/de Basil Ballets Russes in 1932, Toumanova, Baronova (both aged 14) and Riabouchinska (aged 12) soon became known as the ‘baby ballerinas’. Photographer unknown. RBS/HAS/PHO/3/21.

London had taken to its heart the beautiful young dancers and glamorous repertoire of the two rival Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo companies, directed by Colonel de Basil on the one hand, and René Blum together with Léonide Massine on the other.  ‘In 1938 there was a hectic summer when both companies were in London at the same time...

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The Sleeping Princess (1939)

‘Mariinsky style in Islington’

Front cover of the gala programme for a State Performance in honour of the French President, featuring Acts I and III of The Sleeping Princess performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 22 March 1939. The monogram of King George VI [GR, or George Rex] forms part of the design. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

Petipa’s masterpiece was originally called The Sleeping Beauty (1890). The most exacting of all Classical ballets, Acts I and III were mounted by Sergeyev for de Valois’ Company in 1939; the production involved 70 dancers, 30 of whom were students from the School. With 200 costumes and four sets, designed by Nadia Benois, it was a hugely ambitious enterprise for such a young organisation.

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The Sadler’s Wells Ballet

The ‘Vic-Wells’ re-named

Photograph of students at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, c1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

The Vic-Wells Ballet was based at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from 1931, but also remained associated with the Old Vic Theatre. However, after 1935 the Company no longer performed at the Old Vic, and it soon became known simply as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. In January 1940 the School officially became the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School; the Company changed its name the following year.

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Sadler’s Wells Ballet in wartime

World War II (1939–1945)

Photograph of L-R: Harold Turner, Margot Fonteyn, Pamela May, Frederick Ashton and Gerd Larsen c1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/TUR/PHO/58

The gruelling years of World War II turned the Sadler’s Wells School and Company into a national institution; through ceaseless touring – and continued performances through the intense bombing raids of the ‘Blitz’ – they embodied glamour and endurance in the midst of wartime deprivation. They worked for ‘ENSA’, the Entertainments National Service Association, ‘fondly nicknamed Every Night Something Awful’! (Anderson, 2006)

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Dante Sonata (1940)

Forces of Darkness and Light

Original painting by Constance Anne Parker, signed and dated 25 July 1940, watercolour, pencil, chalk and charcoal. Depicting a scene from Frederick Ashton’s ballet Dante Sonata (1940), it shows Sophie Fedorovitch’s linear design for the backcloth, based on John Flaxman’s drawings. RBS/OBJ

Dante Sonata was first performed on 21 January 1940.  Affected by the general feeling of dread that prevailed at the outbreak of World War II, Frederick Ashton thought of basing a ballet on Dante’s Inferno. Constant Lambert then suggested, and arranged for the ballet, Liszt’s intensely passionate piano music, the Fantasie quasi Sonate: D’Après une lecture de Dante [After Reading Dante].

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Holland 1940: invasion and escape

Sadler’s Wells Ballet in danger

Letter from Tyrone Guthrie, Director of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatres, to Jill Gregory, a member of the Vic-Wells Ballet, 29 April 1940.  He offers her the opportunity to withdraw from a wartime tour of Holland and Belgium; however, he reminds her that ‘Miss de Valois and I look upon this tour as being of important national service’.  RBS/COR/6/1

The Sadler’s Wells Ballet embarked on a British Council tour of Holland in May 1940, a few days before the sudden Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. As the country was being occupied the Company made a dramatic escape, huddled in the hold of a cargo ship. They had to abandon valuable musical scores and costumes, but counted themselves extremely lucky to reach England. 

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Ballet in London’s West End

Albery’s New Theatre

Photograph taken backstage at Bronson Albery’s New Theatre, the wartime home of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. L-R: Constant Lambert, Ninette de Valois and Robert Helpmann. Photo: J W Debenham © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO

In September of 1940, the London ‘Blitz’ began; Sadler’s Wells Theatre ‘front of house’ was commandeered as a refuge for Islington’s bombed-out families, so the Company also became homeless.  The situation was saved by Sir Bronson Albery, who in January 1941 gave the Sadler’s Wells Ballet use of the New Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in London’s West End, for the duration of the war.

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Robert Helpmann’s early ballets

Wartime dance-dramas

Original painting depicting a set design by Leslie Hurry, painted by Martin Sutherland. Hurry’s set design was for Robert Helpmann's ballet, Hamlet (1942), a distilled and dream-like version of Sheakepeare’s play. Sutherland’s painting of it was made for an exhibition celebrating Hurry’s career (1987). RBS/OBJ/Monica Mason Coll

Robert Helpmann was the leading male dancer of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet throughout the war; being an Australian national, he was exempt from military service. However, most men in the Company were called up, including the resident choreographer, Frederick Ashton. In his absence Helpmann created several new dramatic ballets, which had a significant impact on audiences, and also on the Company itself.

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Beryl Grey

A prodigy of British Ballet

Photograph of Beryl Grey as Odette in Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake], undated.  Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

Beryl Grey (b 1927) was celebrated for her remarkable technique, quick intelligence, and the gracious warmth of her performances. A Sadler’s Wells teacher once declared that she could not see how to instruct young Beryl, who could already ‘do everything’!   Grey was just 14 when she joined the Company in 1941; she danced her first Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on her 15th birthday, 11 June 1942.

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Photograph of Beryl Grey backstage, tying the ribbons of her pointe shoes, undated. Photo: P A Reuter © PA Images. RBS/PHO

Beryl Grey DBE, was born Beryl Groom in London, 1927. Her teachers included Ninette de Valois, Vera Volkova,  and later Audrey de Vos. Grey was just 14 when she joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1941; she danced her first Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on her 15th birthday. The title role in Giselle followed aged 17; her other celebrated roles in the Classical repertoire included the Queen of the Wilis, and both Aurora and the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty. Grey married the Swedish Osteopath, Sven Gustav Svenson, in 1950, and was a Principal Guest Artist of the Royal Opera House, Stockholm in 1953 and 1955. She left The Royal Ballet in 1957, to become the first English dancer to perform with the Kirov in Leningrad and the Bolshoi in Moscow (1957–58).  She also danced and taught in Peking and Shanghai in 1964.

 

Beryl Grey was both a Governor and Artistic Director of London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) from 1968–79. She was made a Vice President of the Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) in 1980; also Chairman (in 1984), then President (from 1991), of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. In 1997 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award by the RAD for her services to ballet.

Vera Volkova

The West Street Studio

Photograph of Vera Volkova teaching Margot Fonteyn c1950. She had first met the young Fonteyn in Shanghai, where they both lived for a time. Fonteyn became one of Volkova’s most devoted students in London, frequenting her famous West Street Studio. Photo: Felix Fonteyn. RBS/VOL

Vera Volkova (1904/51975) was a Russian ballet dancer and inspirational teacher who was highly influential as the leading authority outside the Soviet Union on the Vaganova system of Classical ballet training. Between 1942–50 Volkova taught at her own studio in West Street, Central London, which famously became a magnet for some of the greatest dancers of the era, both from England and abroad.

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    1. Photograph of Vera Volkova teaching at her West Street Studio in London, c Volkova’s lessons began at West Street during World War II, and continued there until 1950. During the war, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet was based close by, at the New Theatre on St Martin’s Lane.  Photo: Helga Sharland. RBS/VOL/EXH(15)

Vera Volkova (1904/51975) began training relatively late, studying with Maria Ramonova, Nicolai Legat and Agrippina Vaganova at the Akim Volynsky School of Russian Ballet [Russian Choreographic School], Petrograd/Leningrad (1920–25). She then toured with various ensembles in China, Japan and South East Asia, settling in Shanghai in 1929. There, while performing in a trio with Serge Toropov and George Goncharov, she began to teach. Supported by her future husband, the British architect Hugh Finch Williams, Volkova next started a ballet school in Hong Kong in 1932. After moving to the UK in 1936, she opened her West Street Studio in London in 1942.

At the same time, Volkova joined the teaching staff of The Sadler’s Wells Ballet (1943–50). Her influence was significant to the Royal Opera House productions of Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (1946) and Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1946). In 1950 Volkova become the Director of Ballet at La Scala, Milan. The following year she joined the artistic staff of The Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, where she remained for 28 years, until her death on 5 May 1975. Her students in Denmark included Erik Bruhn, Peter Martins and later, Rudolf Nureyev. She was made a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog (1956).

Sadler’s Wells Ballet at Covent Garden

The Sleeping Beauty awakes!

Postcard issued by the Medici Society, featuring a photograph of Margot Fonteyn as the Princess Aurora and Robert Helpmann as Prince Florimund in Act III, The Awakening, of The Sleeping Beauty (1946). Photo: Frank Sharman © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO

On 20 February 1946 the Sadler’s Wells Ballet re-opened the Royal Opera House after the war. Having earned the affection of the British public through ceaseless wartime touring and performances, the Company now became resident at Covent Garden; it had evidently outgrown Sadler’s Wells Theatre in both size and national status. The Company rose to the occasion with a landmark production of The Sleeping Beauty.

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Symphonic Variations (1946)

Ashton’s Classical statement

Photograph of the original cast of  Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1946). L-R: Henry Danton, Moira Shearer, Michael Somes, Margot Fonteyn, Brian Shaw and Pamela May.  Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO

Symphonic Variations (1946) has been called the ‘signature piece’ of The Royal Ballet, and Ashton’s greatest work. It was the first ballet he created at the Royal Opera House, after the Company became resident at Covent Garden. With a cast of just three men and three women, its pared down Classicism was a masterful, if counter-intuitive, response to the vast theatre.

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Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet

New touring Company formed

Press photograph of members of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, c1946. Annotated with the names of the dancers, L-R: Nadia Nerina [then Nadia Moore], Pauline Wadsworth, Leo Kersley, Michael Hogan, Pamela Chrimes, Anne Heaton, Nigel Burke. Photo: Daily Graphic, RBS/PHO

A second ballet company was formed whose base remained at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Initially overseen by Ursula Moreton and Peggy van Praagh, its function was to undertake regional tours and to develop emerging talent. John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan were foremost among many aspiring choreographers who created their first professional works for the new touring Company.

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Peggy van Praagh

Teacher and Director

Cutting from a scrapbook created by Ursula Moreton: photograph of Peggy van Praagh at her home in Hampstead, dated May 1940. Photographer unknown. RBS/MOR/1

Peggy van Praagh DBE (1910–1990) danced with Ballet Rambert, creating leading roles in Antony Tudor’s early works (1933–38). She joined Tudor’s London Ballet in 1938, becoming co-Director (1939–40). A Principal dancer with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet from 1941, she was appointed Ballet Mistress with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet in 1946, then Assistant Director (1951–55), at a time of exciting development in the Company.

Cuttings from a scrapbook created by Ursula Moreton: article entitled ‘Two dancers at home’, dated May 1940. Peggy van Praagh and Maude Lloyd were joint Directors of Antony Tudor’s the London Ballet (1939–40), and both created leading roles in several of Tudor’s early works. Photographer unknown. RBS/MOR/1

Peggy van Praagh DBE (1910–1990) studied with Tamara Karsavina, Margaret Craske and Vera Volkova, among others; she made her debut with Anton Dolin’s London Company in 1929. A leading dancer with Ballet Rambert (1933–1938), she joined Antony Tudor’s London Ballet in 1938. Van Praagh created roles in several of Tudor’s seminal works, including Jardin aux lilas (1936) and Dark Elegies (1937). She became the joint Director, with Maude Lloyd, of Tudor’s London Ballet (1939–40).

 

Van Praagh appeared as a Principal dancer with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet from 1941, being appointed Ballet Mistress to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet in 1946, and succeeding Ursula Moreton as Assistant Director (1951/2–55).  In 1962 she became the Artistic Director of the newly formed Australian Ballet, remaining in post for over 22 years, establishing high standards and winning international recognition for the Company. Van Praagh was a world authority on the Cecchetti method of Classical ballet, which she taught at both The Royal Ballet School and at the Australian Ballet School.

John Cranko

South African choreographer

Postcard featuring Elaine Fifield and David Poole in John Cranko’s hugely popular comic ballet, Pineapple Poll (1951). Photo: Denis de Marney, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/1/43

John Cranko (1927–1973) was born in South Africa and attended Cape Town University Ballet School. In 1946 he came to London to continue his training at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School, soon joining the Company where he created several popular ballets. Cranko went on to direct and choreograph for the Stuttgart Ballet, leading the Company to worldwide acclaim from 1961 until his untimely death.  

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Photograph of John Cranko (1927–1973), the South African dancer and choreographer; he was a contemporary and friend of fellow-choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan, at the Sadler’s Wells School. Photo: Alec Murray. RBS/PHO

John Cranko (1927–1973) revealed an early aptitude for choreography, creating his first ballet A Soldier’s Tale at the age of 15, while a student of Dulcie Howes at Cape Town University Ballet School. In 1946 Cranko left South Africa to continue his training at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School. De Valois encouraged his talent for choreography, and aged 23 he stopped dancing to focus on making ballets. Cranko went on to choreograph for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, Ballet Rambert, New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera and La Scala, Milan.

 

Following his 1957 production of Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas at Covent Garden, Cranko was invited to be a guest choreographer for the Stuttgart Theatre; in 1961 he became its Ballet Director. Several of Cranko’s full-length narrative works remain in the international repertoire, most notably his Romeo and Juliet (1962), Onegin (1965) and The Taming of the Shrew (1969).  His early death from a heart attack in 1974 was a great shock and loss to the ballet world. The Stuttgart Ballet School, developed under his direction, was re-named the John Cranko School in his memory.

Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas

American dancers in Europe

Cover of a programme for the Marquis de Cuevas’ Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 17 August 1948. RBS/PRG/CC/8

Marquis George de Cuevas (1885–1961) was a Chilean aristocrat, who took over Serge Lifar’s Company, Nouveau [New] Ballet de Monte Carlo, in 1947. This eventually became the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, which enjoyed a glittering history, touring the world until its dissolution in 1962, the year after de Cuevas’ death. Bronislava Nijinska was the Company’s chief Ballet Mistress from 1945.

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Photograph of the Marquis George de Cuevas reproduced in a programme for the Marquis de Cuevas’ Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo, 1949–50 Season. Photo: Serge Lido. RBS/PRG/RUS/9/1

Marquis George de Cuevas (1885–1961) was a Chilean aristocrat (originally Jorge Cuevas Bartholin), who became an American citizen in 1940. After marrying into the wealthy Rockefeller family in 1927, he lived in a flamboyantly extravagant manner, and was able to pursue his directorial ambitions. His wife’s money enabled him to found Ballet International in New York in 1944. Three years later, he moved to Europe and bought out Serge Lifar’s Nouveau [New] Ballet de Monte Carlo, which eventually became the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas. The Marquis’ deep pockets attracted major talent to his Company, and facilitated extensive international tours.

 

The Marquis de Cuevas was an outlandish but largely popular figure in France: his nostalgia for the French ancien régime [the pre-Revolutionary order] of the 17th  and 18th centuries inspired him to give legendary balls – in one of these he appeared as Louis XIV, ‘the Sun King’, while his corps de ballet performed Act II of Swan Lake, dancing upon a huge raft floating on a lake. 

Sadler’s Wells Ballet School

Moves to Barons Court

Photograph of 45 and 46 Colet Gardens, Barons Court, London. No 45, the left-hand building in the photograph, is Colet House, the first site acquired by the School. It had been the studio of Nicolai Legat, who taught many of the pioneers of British ballet there in the 1920s and 30s. No 46 was eventually acquired for the School in 1955. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/4/8

The Sadler’s Wells School was based at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from 1931, where the students worked alongside the Company. However, it was not a suitable building in which to combine vocational training with a full-time academic education, so the School Governors decided to lease the former Froebel Institute, at No 45 Colet Gardens, Barons Court in West Kensington, where the School became resident in 1947.

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Winifred Edwards

Sadler’s Wells Ballet teacher

Opera glasses belonging to Winifred Edwards (c1950). Miss Edwards often attended ballet performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where she was always recognisable in a black lace ‘mantilla’ scarf (covering her immaculate hair) and wearing gloves. She also carried these fine opera glasses, using them to observe her former students’ performances. RBS/EDW/3

Winifred Edwards (1895–1989) danced with Anna Pavlova’s Company under the stage-name of Vera Fredova [Fredowa]. An English dancer and ballet teacher, she joined the staff of the Sadler's Wells Ballet School in September 1947, at the start of Arnold Haskell's directorship. She remained a key member of the teaching faculty until 1955, later returning to become Senior Mistress from 1959–61.

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Photograph of Winifred Edwards with one of her students, the future Principal ballerina, Antoinette Sibley.  Then aged 16, Sibley still attended the Sadler’s Wells (later The Royal Ballet) School. The snapshot was taken during Summer School, 1955, in the small garden of the School premises at Barons Court.  Photo: Simon Rae Scott, from an original print, photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/4/8/4

Winifred Edwards, who performed as Vera Fredova (1895–1989), was an English dancer and ballet teacher. A student of Miss Hutton Moss, Freda Gaunt, Vera Mosolova, Enrico Cecchetti and Ivan Clustine, she joined Anna Pavlova’s Company as Vera Fredova [Fredowa]. She was among the first of Pavlova’s ‘English girls’, dancing with her Company from 1912–16. She then joined the American ballet troupe run by Theodore Koslov, later becoming a teacher and partner at Koslov’s schools based in San Francisco and Dallas (1919–34).

 

On returning to the United Kingdom, Edwards worked on an ecological survey in Dorset, and with the British Red Cross during World War II.  After attaining her Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) Advanced Teacher’s Certificate, aged 53, Edwards started teaching at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School in September 1947, where she remained a key member of the teaching faculty until 1955, returning to become Senior Mistress 1959–61. She also taught for the RAD until 1963, after which she continued to teach privately. Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour and Deanne Bergsma were among Edwards’ many notable students.

Ninette de Valois founds the Turkish State Ballet

‘Madam’s Turkish Adventure’

Ninette de Valois, standing in the grounds of the Turkish Embassy in London, c1957–60. RBS/NDV/PHO

In 1947 Ninette de Valois was approached by the Government of Turkey and the British Council, asking her to help establish a national vocational ballet school in Istanbul. De Valois duly visited Turkey with her friend and close colleague, Joy Newton, to audition the first intake of students, aged between seven and 10 years old. The Turkish State Ballet School officially opened in January 1948.

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Joy Newton

De Valois’ confidante in Turkey

Envelope, postmarked 5 May 1951, addressed to Joy Newton in Ankara, Turkey; handwritten by Ninette de Valois. RBS/JN/COR

Joy Newton directed the Turkish State Ballet School, ‘for the first few years of its existence…more or less on the lines of the Sadler’s Wells School…By 1950, the original intake…had expanded to over one hundred students and the school was now moved to Ankara, the state capital, to become a department of the State Conservatoire of Music and Drama.’ (Glasstone in Cave & Worth (eds), 2012)

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Alexander Grant

A great character dancer

Postcard featuring a photograph of Alexander Grant as the Barber in the 1947 Sadler’s Wells Ballet revival of Léonide Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot (1943). This role gave Grant his first notable success with the Company. Photo: Mandinian © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/SIN

Alexander Grant (1925–2011) was born in New Zealand. During World War II he sang and danced to entertain troops onboard ships in the Pacific. He joined the Sadler’s Wells School on a scholarship in 1945/6, soon appearing with the Company and later becoming a Principal (1950–76). Grant’s ebullient demi-caractère dancing and powerful acting ability inspired Frederick Ashton to create many important roles for him.

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Signed photograph of Alexander Grant, aged five, performing a ‘Cossak Dance’. It is inscribed on the front, ‘To Madam [Ninette de Valois] With my greatest admiration and fondest love Alexander’. On the reverse, de Valois has written (in inverted commas): “When we were very young”, probably a humorous reference to the well-known children’s book of poetry by A A Milne, published under that title in 1924. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/2/71

Alexander Grant (1925–2011) was born in New Zealand, where he studied with Kathleen O’Brien and Jean Horne, passing the examinations of the Royal Academy of Dancing. During World War II he sang and danced to entertain troops onboard ships in the Pacific. He came to England, joining the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School on a scholarship in 1945/6. Within months he began to appear with the Company, and in 1947, a revival of Léonide Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot (1943) gave Grant his first notable success. Grant’s ebullient demi-caractère dancing was likened to that of the great Léon Woizikowsky, an earlier interpreter of Massine’s ballets.

Grant was also a powerful actor, outstanding as the tragic puppet in the title role of Fokine’s Petrushka (1911), revived for The Royal Ballet in 1957. A Principal of the Company from 1950–76, Grant’s most enduring legacy lies in the much-loved character parts he inspired Frederick Ashton to create, most memorably, Alain in La Fille mal gardée (1960) and Bottom in The Dream (1964). Grant ran ‘Ballet for All’ for The Royal Ballet (1971–75), and was the Director of Canadian National Ballet (1976–83).

Associate Students

Sadler’s Wells Ballet School

Original framed drawing by Clifford Hall depicting a young student, Lisa, wearing the ballet uniform of an Associate student of the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, c1946. On loan to The Royal Ballet School Collections

An ‘associate student’ programme had been established by the (then) Vic-Wells Ballet School as early as 1931, to encourage children with an aptitude for ballet. Once the Sadler’s Wells School moved to Barons Court in 1947, more space became available to expand the Associate Programme, and in 1948 Margaret Graham was duly appointed to teach and develop the Associate student  work.

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Moira Shearer

Ballerina and star of The Red Shoes (1948)

Cutting from a scrapbook, taken from an unidentified magazine: photograph of Moira Shearer as Vicky and Léonide Massine as The Shoemaker in the Powell/Pressburger film The Red Shoes (1948). Photo: Raymond Kleboe. RBS/Mahalski Coll

Moira Shearer (1926–2006) was a Scottish ballerina, and also a Hollywood star. Born in Dunfermline, she studied with Nicolai Legat, 1936/7, and at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School from 1940. She joined the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1941, where she was a leading Principal from 1944–52. In 1948 she became an international film star, following the success of her Hollywood debut in the Powell/Pressburger film, The Red Shoes (1948).

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Photograph of Moira Shearer with her husband, Ludovic Kennedy (left) and her teacher, Vera Volkova, accompanied by, Frank Schaufuss (right), then a Principal dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet, at the Kongelige Teater [KGL Theatre], Copenhagen, c1951. Photo: Skandinavisk Presse. RBS/VOL/41

Moira Shearer (1926–2006) began training in Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), coming to the Sadler’s Wells School in 1940. She appeared with International Ballet in 1941, joining the Vic-Wells (soon the Sadler’s Wells) Ballet later that year. She danced as a Principal with the Company from 1944–52, returning as a guest in 1953; also with Festival Ballet (1954). She became a film star following her screen debut in The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, 1948); subsequent films included The Tales of Hoffmann (Powell/Pressburger, 1951), The Man Who Loved Redheads (French, 1954), and Black Tights (Young, 1961), choreographed by Roland Petit.

 

At the Royal Opera House, Shearer alternated as Aurora, the Lilac Fairy and Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty (1946). She was in the original cast of Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1946), and premièred the title role in his Cinderella (1948), as Fonteyn was injured. Shearer featured in several Massine revivals for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (1947), creating the role of the Princess in his Clock Symphony (1948). In 1950, Shearer married Ludovic Kennedy, by whom she had four children. She focused increasingly on acting, appearing as Titania to Helpmann’s Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Old Vic at the Edinburgh Festival, 1954). In 1978 she returned to the stage in The Cherry Orchard by Chekov and Hay Fever by Coward.  She served on the Scottish Arts Council (1971-73).

Ashton’s Cinderella (1948)

First British three-act ballet

Photograph of Moira Shearer in the title role of Ashton’s Cinderella (1948), created for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Cinderella’s headscarf loosely framed Shearer’s glorious red hair, but when Fonteyn assumed the role, she tied the scarf more tightly at the nape of her neck, creating a distinctive look for the part which endures to this day. Photo: Roger Wood © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/2/149

The great stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, inspired Frederick Ashton to create an extraordinary range of works, including his Cinderella (1948), set to Serge Prokofiev’s darkly magical score.  The first three-act ballet to be created for an English ballet company, it represented Ashton’s personal homage to Marius Petipa’s Imperial Russian ballets of the late 19th century.

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Michael Somes

A masculine ideal for British ballet

Front cover of Ballet Today, November 1950, featuring a photograph of, L-R: Moira Shearer, Frederick Ashton, Michael Somes and Margot Fonteyn, taken during the second tour of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet to the United States. Photo: Walter E Owen (New York). RBS/EPH

Michael Somes (1917–1994) was awarded the first male scholarship to the Vic-Wells School in 1934, joining the Company in 1936.  He was made a Principal in 1938, but his career was interrupted by active service during World War II. On his return, he soon became the leading man of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, and Fonteyn’s principal partner.  He inspired Ashton to create 24 roles for him.

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Photograph of Michael Somes in a publicity image created for the film studios of J Arthur Rank, undated. RBS/PHO/2/154

Michael Somes (1917–1994) was a student of Édouard Espinosa and Phyllis Bedells, before gaining the first male scholarship to the Vic-Well's School in 1934. He joined the Company two years later, becoming a Principal in 1938. His career was disrupted by service in the Armed Forces during World War II, but he returned to Sadler’s Wells in 1945. On Helpmann’s resignation from the Company in 1950, Somes became the Company’s leading man, and Margot Fonteyn’s principal partner until 1961, when he retired from dancing. 

 

During his career Somes performed the leading male roles in all the major 19th century Classics, coming to embody a new British ideal of the strong and handsome ballet Cavalier. Frederick Ashton created 24 roles for him, in seminal ballets such as Symphonic Variations (1946), Cinderella (1948), and Ondine (1958). Somes also created the mimed role of Lord Capulet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet (1965). Michael Somes was Assistant Director of The Royal Ballet throughout Ashton’s Directorship (1963–70), and continued in the pivotal role of principal répétiteur [rehearsal manager] until 1984.

Agrippina Vaganova

The codification of the Russian School

Photograph of Agrippina Vaganova teaching students of the Leningrad State Choreographic Institute, c1935. (Formerly called the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet School, its change of name reflected the new politics of the Soviet Union, and the renaming of St Petersburg, known as Leningrad from 1924.)  The students pictured here include the future great ballerina, Alla Shelest (centre). Photographer unknown. RBS/VOL/129

Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951) shaped and codified the Russian School. The methodical training programme she established at the Leningrad State Choreographic Institute (from 1920) remains hugely influential. It was set out in her teaching manual, Fundamentals of Classic Dance, first published in Leningrad (1934) and New York (1937); reissued as Basic Principles of Classical Ballet in New York (1946), London (1948), and many subsequent editions world-wide.

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Copy of an original photograph of Agrippina Vaganova as Odile in Act III of Swan Lake, dated 1912; the original print was signed by Vaganova, inscribed in Russian and dated 1947; this photographic copy belonged to her student, Vera Volkova. Photographer unknown. RBS/VOL/130

Agrippina Vaganova (1879–1951) remains highly influential around the world today, due to the methodical training programme she established through her teaching practice and publications. Her own teachers included Lev Ivanov, Ekaterina Vazem, Nicolai Legat and later Olga Preobrajenska.  Vaganova graduated from the Imperial School, joining the Mariinsky Ballet in 1897.  Promoted to Principal late in her career, despite being dubbed by Svetlov ‘the queen of variations’, she retired the following year in 1916. After teaching for three years at Akim Volynsky’s Russian School of Ballet, in 1920 she joined the staff of the former Imperial School, by then called the Petrograd Ballet Institute, soon to be renamed the Leningrad Ballet Institute (1924).

 

In 1934 Vaganova published her seminal teaching manual, Fundamentals of Classic Dance (later called Basic Principles of Classical Ballet) in Russia. She was also a choreographer, and the Artistic Director (between 1931–1937) of the former Imperial Ballet Company in Leningrad, known from 1935 as the Kirov Ballet. Vaganova’s training manual was translated into English by Anatole Chujoy; it was published in New York (1937 and 1946), then in London (1948). Vaganova continued teaching in Russia until the year of her death; her many students included Galina Ulanova and Vera Volkova.

Sadler’s Wells: first American Tour

British Ballet on the world stage

Front cover of Time Magazine, 14 November 1949 (Atlantic Overseas Edition), from a scrapbook created by Winifred Edwards. By featuring an image of Margot Fonteyn on its cover, Time Magazine accorded to England’s Prima Ballerina a remarkable accolade generally reserved for statesmen and other figures of international significance. Photo: Boris Chaliapin. RBS/EDW/2

In 1949, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet embarked on their first tour of America and Canada.  The tour was a triumphant success, netting $75,000 for the British Treasury (a huge sum in today’s equivalent value), and firmly establishing Ninette de Valois’ young Company on the world stage.  To promote British fashion, every member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet was outfitted with couture clothes and accessories for both daytime and evening.

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Peter Wright

Director Laureate of Birmingham Royal Ballet 

Postcard featuring a photograph of, L-R: Peter Wright as Benno, Svetlana Beriosova as Odette and Michael Hogan as Prince Siegfried in Act II of Le Lac des cygnes [Swan Lake] with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, c1950– Photo: Baron. RBS/PHO/2/16

Peter Wright KBE (born 1926) danced with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, 1949–55, and was made Assistant Ballet Master while still performing with the Company. After a varied freelance career, in 1970 he became Associate Director of The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.  From 1975–95 he was the Director of the Royal Ballet Touring Company, later called the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, and eventually Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

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Photograph of Peter Wright, who had the title of Director Laureate of Birmingham Royal Ballet conferred upon him by Princess Margaret in 1995. Photo: Anthony Crickmay © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/2/171

Peter Wright KBE (born 1926) saw his first ballet at the age of 16, and promptly auditioned (unsuccessfully) for the Sadler’s Wells School.  Fortunately, a friend was the son of Kurt Jooss, a German choreographer then living in England to escape Nazi persecution. Jooss accepted Wright as an apprentice in 1943; he went on to dance with the Ballets Jooss (1945–47 and 1951–52). After further ballet training with Vera Volkova, Wright joined the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (1949–51 and 1952–55).  De Valois soon appointed him Assistant Ballet Master of the Company, where he created his first ballet The Blue Rose (1957).  He also taught at The Royal Ballet School (1957–59).

 

In 1961 Wright joined Stuttgart as Ballet Master, invited by the Company’s new Director, John Cranko. He remained until 1967, contributing to the astonishing rise of Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet to international acclaim. Wright mounted a production of Giselle for Stuttgart in 1965, the first of many revivals of the 19th century repertoire for which he is world-renowned. After a varied freelance career, including work for the BBC, Wright became Associate Director of The Royal Ballet in 1970, under the new Directorship of Kenneth MacMillan. Wright was the Director of the Royal Ballet Touring Company, later called the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, and eventually Birmingham Royal Ballet, from 1975–95, becoming Director Laureate on his retirement.

A Vic-Wells Anniversary Gala

The Sadler’s Wells Ballet ‘comes of age’

Letter from Ninette de Valois to Guinevere Parry, 11 April 1950. The first performances of the Vic-Wells Ballet are generally dated to May 1931, but de Valois’ letter refers to ‘the first ballet performance having been given at the Old Vic [on 13th] December 1928’. The ballet in question was her own one-act work, Les Petits Riens.  Hence the apparent miscalculation of the Company’s 21st Birthday celebrations. RBS/PAR/COR

The 21st Birthday celebrations of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet marked the Company’s ‘coming of age’, as it was termed by the British press.  A joyful gala was held at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, presided over by HRH The Princess Margaret, then President of the Sadler’s Wells Foundation, and a life-long supporter of Ninette de Valois’ enterprise.

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HRH The Princess Margaret

Opens the new Sadler’s Wells School

Photograph of HRH The Princess Margaret, who presided over the official opening of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School at Colet Gardens, Barons Court, in 1951. The Princess was presented with a bouquet by a young student; they are seen here with Arnold Haskell, Director of the School from 1947–65. Photo: The Sport & General Press Agency Ltd. RBS/PHO/7/3/2

Sadler’s Wells Ballet School was fully recognised by the Ministry for Education as a Primary and Secondary Grammar School in 1951: in that year HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, officially opened the premises, amid much publicity and celebration. The Princess was President of The Sadler’s Wells Foundation (1951–1956), and then became President of The Royal Ballet (1956–2002).

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Benesh Movement Notation

British system of recording movement

Photograph of Joan Benesh (1920–2014) teaching Benesh Movement Notation at The Royal Ballet School c1957/8. The student is Geoffrey Cauley, who became a member of The Royal Ballet Company in 1960, a freelance choreographer, and eventually the Director of Zürich Ballet in 1973. Photo: Camera Press. RBS/PHO/4

Benesh Movement Notation is named after Rudolf and Joan Benesh, a husband and wife team who devised the system from 1947. Joan was a dancer with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (from 1951); Rudolf was an accountant, musician and painter.  Initially championed by Margot Fonteyn, in 1954 the system was first trialled at the Sadler’s Wells School by teacher, Anna Carne.

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White Lodge

The Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park

Blazer badge for the School uniform of The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge in Richmond Park, c1956. The machine-embroidered fabric design incorporates the iconic image of the West Front of White Lodge. RBS/OBJ/CLO/40

White Lodge in Richmond Park was acquired for students of the Sadler’s Wells (soon to be The Royal Ballet) School up to the age of 16. The lease was signed in 1954, and in September 1955 White Lodge opened its boarding facilities. Work continued to prepare the Salon as a dance studio and the former Stables as academic classrooms; all were ready for use by January 1956.

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The Company rejoins the School

New headquarters at Barons Court

Photograph of No 46 Colet Gardens, Barons Court, West London. From 1955, this became the Sadler’s Wells (soon to be The Royal Ballet) Company’s headquarters and rehearsal studios. It was directly adjascent to the former Froebel Institute building, where the School had become resident in September 1947. Photographer unknown. RBS/PHO/3

The Sadler’s Wells School was now well-established at Barons Court in West London. In 1955, No 46 Colet Gardens, directly adjascent to the original School building, was purchased to become the rehearsal and administrative headquarters of the Company.  Thus, for the first time since before the outbreak of World War II, the School could once more work alongside the Company, as had always been intended.

Kenneth MacMillan

Choreographer for a new generation

Postcard featuring a photograph of Maryon Lane and David Poole in Kenneth MacMillan’s first commissioned work, Danses Concertantes (1955), made for the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet. The ballet featured designs by Nicholas Georgiadis, who became MacMillan’s lifelong collaborator. Photo: de Marney © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. RBS/PHO/2/94

Kenneth MacMillan (1929–1992) graduated from the Sadler’s Wells School in 1946, joining the Sadler’s Wells Opera (later Theatre) Ballet.  A dancer of great promise, he also began to choreograph in 1953. His first commissioned work, Danses Concertantes (1955) revealed a remarkably innovative talent. Strongly influenced by contemporary cinema and theatre, MacMillan explored complex and disturbing subject matter through his highly individual use of the Classical vocabulary.

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Photograph of Kenneth MacMillan (1929–1992), portrait Photo: Baron. RBS/PHO/2/106

Part 1 (biography continued in part 2): Kenneth MacMillan KBE (1929–1992) was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, later moving to Great Yarmouth, England, where he studied ballet with Phyllis Adams. He was accepted into the Sadler’s Wells School in 1945, having forged a request for an audition from his father, who did not want him to be a dancer. In 1946 he became a founding member of the Sadler’s Wells Opera (later Theatre) Ballet, before joining the Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House in 1948. Although he showed potential as a true danseur noble, he suffered increasingly from stage fright, and found the traditional Classical repertoire uninspiring. 

 

Returning to the smaller Company at Sadler’s Wells in 1952, MacMillan began to experiment with choreography, producing two innovative works for the Sadler’s Wells Choreographic Group: Somnambulism (1953) and Laiderette (1954). Following the success of his first commissioned work, Danses Concertantes (1955), MacMillan was appointed Resident Choreographer to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet. From the start, his work extended the dramatic and emotional range of Classical ballet, often depicting the struggle of individuals at odds with an oppressive world. Early works included House of Birds (1955), Noctambules (1956) and The Burrow (1958).

Birthday Offering (1956)

25th Anniversary of Sadler’s Wells Ballet

Photograph of Birthday Offering, 5 May 1956, L-R: Svetlana Beriosova, Rowena Jackson, Elaine Fifield, Margot Fonteyn (centre), Nadia Nerina, Violetta Elvin, Beryl Grey. Photo: Roger Wood © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections. RBS/PHO/1/3(5)

The ballet was a 25th ‘birthday offering’ by Frederick Ashton: his gift to Ninette de Valois and the Company she had created, and a celebration of the magnificent line-up of seven ballerinas and their ‘cavaliers’ that his choreography so brilliantly exploited. The leading ballerina remained Margot Fonteyn, partnered by Michael Somes; their qualities exemplified the English lyric style.

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HM Queen Elizabeth II

Awards Royal Charter to Sadler’s Wells Ballet

The Royal Charter, awarded by HM Queen Elizabeth II to The Royal Ballet School and Companies on 31 October 1956, incorporating the Coat of Arms of The Royal Ballet © Royal Opera House. By kind permission ROH Collections .

On 31 October 1956 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II granted a Royal Charter to the Sadler’s Wells School; the Sadler’s Wells Company resident in Covent Garden since 1946; and the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, which now flourished at the ’Wells. Her Majesty also became Patron of the ‘three-fold institution’. For the School and both Companies, this was a moment of great pride.

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More coming soon

We hope you have enjoyed the Timeline, and that you will return to discover more as we develop it.  In due course, the Timeline will extend further back in time, and forward to the present. 

A Timeline of British Ballet

 

Our Ballet History Timeline tells the story of ballet in Britain, and how it relates to the wider history of Classical ballet as a theatre art form. Set out as an easy-to-explore linear chronology, the Timeline is illustrated by archival treasures from The Royal Ballet School Special Collections, allowing these wonderful items to be seen online for the first time, and appreciated within their proper historical context.

Current chapters:

Select 'continue' below to access the following chapters

Prologue: Marius Petipa and the Imperial Russian Ballet 1860–1897

The Birth of Modern Ballet: the Diaghilev Ballets Russes 1898–1919

Early British Ballet: foundations and pioneers 1920–30

Early British Ballet: building a repertoire 1931–38

World War Two: a national ballet for Britain 1939–46

Formative Years: The Royal Ballet 1947–56

©The Royal Ballet School 2016

All rights reserved
No part of this online resource may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without full acknowledgement of the copyright holders, except for permitted fair dealing under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The Royal Ballet School has made all reasonable efforts to reach artists, photographers and/or copyright owners of images used in this online resource. It is prepared to pay fair and reasonable fees for any usage made without compensation agreement.

For full credits and references, click on the Information and Bibliography Tabs

A Ballet History Timeline

The Royal Ballet School Special Collections curated online

 

Our Ballet History Timeline tells the story of ballet in Britain, and how it relates to the wider history of Classical ballet as a theatre art form.  Set out as an easy-to-explore linear chronology, the Timeline is illustrated by archival treasures from The Royal Ballet School Special Collections, allowing these wonderful items to be seen online for the first time, and appreciated within their proper historical context. 

An ongoing project:  the Timeline has been created by The Royal Ballet School to mark the 90th year since it was founded by Ninette de Valois in 1926. The Timeline traces the early years of a national ballet in Britain, especially the formation of The Royal Ballet School and its two affiliated Companies, The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. A click on each main image in the Timeline will open it; many items have further ‘Read more’, ‘Biography’ or ‘Gallery’ tabs to investigate. In due course, the Timeline will extend further – back in time, and forward to the present – so that more of the fascinating material held in The Royal Ballet School Special Collections can be explored online.  We hope you enjoy our Ballet History Timeline, and that you will return to discover more as we develop it.  

Contact us

The Royal Ballet School Special Collections Ballet History Timeline is an ongoing project.  You can email us at:  collections@royalballetschool.org.uk

We would greatly welcome your comments on our developing Ballet History Timeline, and will take careful note of all suggestions and feedback.  Please be aware, however, that we are unable to enter into individual discussions concerning the ‘Timeline’ project.

Text and selection of archival material: Anna Meadmore

Images preparation: Camilla Forti and Anna Fineman

Additional research: Patricia Linton and Elizabeth Marshall

Data input and proofing: Camilla Forti

Project coordinator: Annalise Cunild

Design: Lee Rennie at tonicbox

Collections photography: Jacob Schulelewis

The Royal Ballet School is extremely grateful to the following organisations and individuals for permission to include illustrative material for which they hold the copyright:

Royal Opera House Collections: Photographs by Frank Sharman, Donald Southern, and Roger Wood

Theatre and Performance Collections, Victoria and Albert Museum: Photographs by Gordon Anthony, Anthony Crickmay, JW Debenham, Edward Mandinian, Denis de Marney, and Houston Rogers

Dancing Times, London. Editor Jonathan Gray

The Estates of Felix Fonteyn, Serge Lido, Roy Round and Tom Blau

Thanks

Our Ballet History Timeline builds on content originally developed for the Julia Farron Ballet Resource Centre, an information database formerly located in White Lodge Museum (2009-15).

The Royal Ballet School is extremely grateful that this vital work was made possible by generous donations from: Julia Farron, the Foyle Foundation, the Idlewild Trust and an anonymous donor.

©The Royal Ballet School 2016

All rights reserved

No part of this online resource may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without full acknowledgement of the copyright holders, except for permitted fair dealing under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The Royal Ballet School has made all reasonable efforts to reach artists, photographers and/or copyright owners of images used in this online resource.  It is prepared to pay fair and reasonable fees for any usage made without compensation agreement.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography and references

 

Anderson, Z. (2006) The Royal Ballet, 75 Years.  London: Faber and Faber.

Arne, K., Flindt, V. (2008) Bournonville Ballet Technique. Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Au, S. (2002) Ballet and Modern Dance. Revised ed. London and New York: Thames and Hudson.

Beaumont, C. (2008) The Ballet Called Giselle. New ed. Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Bremser, M. (ed.) (1993) International Dictionary of Ballet, Volumes 1 and 2. Detroit, London and Washington DC: St James Press.

Brinson, P., Crisp, C. (1980) A Guide to the Repertory, Ballet and Dance.  London: David & Charles/Pan Books.

Bland, A. (1981) The Royal Ballet, the first 50 years.  London: Threshold/Doubleday.

Bruhn, E., Moore, L. (1961) Bournonville and Ballet Technique.  London: Adam & Charles Black.

Buckle, R. (1993) Diaghilev. New ed. London: Orion.

Buckle, R. (2013) Nijinsky: A Life of Genius and Madness. New ed. Crisp. C. (intro.) United States: Pegasus Books.

Cave, R.A., Worth, L. (eds.) (2012) Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist.  Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books, 2012.

Cave, R.A. (2011) Collaborations, Ninette de Valois and William Butler Yeats.  Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Chazin-Bennahum, J. (1994) The Ballets of Antony Tudor, Studies in Psyche and Satire. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clarke, M. (1955) The Sadler’s Wells Ballet, a History and An Appreciation.  London: Adam & Charles Black.

Clarke, M. (1962) Dancers of Mercury, the Story of Ballet Rambert. London: Adam & Charles Black.

Clarke, M., Crisp, C. (1992) Ballet an Illustrated History. Revised ed. London: Adam & Charles Black.

Coton, A.V. (1946) The New Ballet, Kurt Jooss and his work.  London: Dennis Dobson.

Craine, D., Mackrell, J. (2004) The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Revised ed.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Daneman, M. (2005) Margot Fonteyn. New ed. London: Penguin.

De Valois, N. (1937) Invitation to the Ballet. London: John Lane, Bodley Head.

De Valois, N. (1957) Come Dance With Me.  London: Hamish Hamilton.

De Valois, N. (1977) Step by Step. London: WH Allen.

Fokine, M. and Chujou, A. (ed.) (1961) Fokine: Memoires of a Ballet Master. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Fonteyn, M. (1975) Autobiography. London: W.H. Allen.

Garafola, L. (1989) Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.  New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garafola, L. (ed.) (1997) Rethinking the Sylph: New Perspectives on the Romantic Ballet (Studies in Dance History). United States: Wesleyan.

García-Márquez, V. (1999) The Ballets Russes, Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932 – 1952.  New York: Alfred Knopf.

García-Márquez, V.  (1995) Massine: A Biography. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Guest, I. (2014) The Romantic Ballet in England. Revised ed. Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Guest, I. (1980) The Romantic Ballet in Paris.  New ed. London: Dance Books.

Guest, I. (1988) The Dancer’s Heritage, A Short History of Ballet. Revised ed. London: Dancing Times.

Guest, I. (1997) The Ballet of the Enlightenment, The Ballet d’Action in France from 1790-1793. London: Dance Books.

Hall, C. (2005) Imperial Dancer, Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs.  Stroud: Sutton Publishing.

Haskell, A.L. (1943) The National Ballet, a History and a Manifesto.  London: Adam & Charles Black.

Haskell, A.L. (1951) Ballet. Revised 4th ed. London: Pelican.

Haskell, A.L., Bonham Carter, M. and Wood, M. (eds.) (1955) Gala Performance.  London: Collins.

Homans, J. (2010) Apollo’s Angels, a History of Ballet.  New York: Grantia.

Kant, M. (ed.) (2007) The Cambridge Companion to Ballet.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karsavina, T. (1982) Theatre Street: the Reminiscences of Tamara Karsavina. 3rd revised ed. London: Dance Books.

Kavanagh, J. (1997) Secret Muses: the Life of Frederick Ashton. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kirstein, L. (1984) Four Centuries of Ballet, Fifty Masterworks. New York: Dover. First published (1970) as Movement and Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet.  New York: Praeger.

Lawson, J. (1964) A History of Ballet and Its Makers.  London: Isaac Pitman and Sons.

Mackrell, J. (1997) Reading Dance. London: Michael Joseph.

Mackrell, J. (2008) Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes.  London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

MacDonald, N. (1975) Diaghilev Observed by Critics in England and the United States, 1911-1929.  London: Dance Books.

Manchester, P.W. (1946) Vic-Wells: A Ballet Progress.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Meinertz, A. (2007) Vera Volkova – a biography.  Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Morris, G. (2012) Frederick Ashton’s Ballets: Style, Performance, Choreography.  Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Nijinska, B., Nijinska, I. (eds.) and Rawlinson, J. (trans.) (1992) Bronislava Nijinska: Early Memoirs. New ed. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Norton, L. (2004) Léonide Massine and the 20th Century Ballet. North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Parry, J. (2009) Different Drummer, the Life of Kenneth MacMillan.  London: Faber and Faber.

Pritchard, J., Hamilton, C. (2012)  Anna Pavlova: Twentieth Century Ballerina.  United Kingdom: Booth-Clibborn Editions.

Rambert, M. (1972) Quicksilver, the Autobiography of Marie Rambert.  London: Macmillan.

Reyna, F., Wardroper, P. (trans.) (1965) A concise History of Ballet.  London: Thames and Hudson.

Scheijen, S. (2010) Diaghilev: A Life.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sorley Walker, K. (1987) Ninette de Valois, Idealist Without Illusions.  London: Hamish Hamilton.                         

Sorley Walker, K. (2009) Robert Helpmann, a Rare Sense of the Theatre.  Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Vaganova, A. (1969) Basic Principles of Classical Ballet. 4th ed.  New York: Dover.

Vaughan, D. (1999) Frederick Ashton and His Ballets. New ed. London: Dance Books.

Volynsky, A., Rabinowitz, S. (trans. and ed.) (2008) Ballet’s Magic Kingdom: Selected Writings on Dance in Russia, 1911-1925. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Wiley, R. J. (ed.) (1985) Tchaikovsky’s Ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford University.

Wiley, R. J. (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. New ed. Alton, United Kingdom: Dance Books.

Woodcock, S. C. (1991) The Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet.  London: Sinclair-Stevenson.

Other sources:

Bailey, D. (dir.) (1990) Out of Line, a documentary film portrait of Kenneth MacMillan.  United Kingdom: Landseer production for BBC Television.

Busby, S., Meadmore, A. (2009) Text from the Ballet and White Lodge History Timelines developed for The Royal Ballet School, White Museum & Ballet Resource Centre.

Harman, A., Linton, P. (1997) The Royal Ballet School; events of the past 50 years. Illustrated booklet. London: The Royal Ballet School.

Lawson, J. (circa 1969) Unpublished ‘History of Ballet’ teaching resource, The Royal Ballet School Special Collections.

Linton, P. (2014) Unpublished research, ‘Ballet Biographies’. The Royal Ballet School Special Collections.

Meadmore, A. (2010) A True Heritage, The Story of The Royal Ballet School and Companies Illustrated booklet. London: White Lodge Museum, The Royal Ballet School.

Contact

The Royal Ballet School Special Collections Ballet History Timeline is an ongoing project.

We would greatly welcome your comments on our developing Ballet History Timeline. Please fill out the contact form below or you can email us. Please be aware, however, that we are unable to enter into individual discussions concerning the 'Timeline' project.