A picture chronicle of my career, part one

School and Stuttgart

I was fortunate enough to be among the first students at White Lodge, Richmond Park, the home of the junior section of the Royal Ballet School. For some reason I was put in a class with far older boys, which resulted in staying on for an extra year, before moving to the Upper School at Baron’s Court.

Royal Ballet Junior School at White Lodge in the late 1950s.
Here, I play recorder along with Anthony Dowell and Geoffrey Cauley.

All through my early youth I had admired John Cranko’s ballets, and in the summer of 1961, while still a student at the Royal Ballet Senior School, I took myself to Stuttgart to audition for his company there. I heard nothing for several months, but was summoned with a contract just before his Romeo and and Juliet opened that December. It was a wonderful six years during which John made some of his most famous ballets, all of which I danced in: as well as R&J there were Card Game, Onegin, Flute & Harp Concerto, L’Estro Armonico and many more. Coming to know those ballets well enabled me to describe how he made them in my recent book Cranko: the Man and his Choreography.

Richard Cragun and Anita Cardus in one of my very first ballets for the Noverre Gesellschaft in Stuttgart.

Scottish Ballet

Peter Cazalet and Domy Reiter as King and Jester in The Throne, the first ballet I made for what was still Western Theatre Ballet before the company moved to Scotland. The Throne was set to Prokofiev’s wonderful Visions Fugitives. The designer, Terence Emery, constructed a marvellous throne made from fibre glass, sculpted to form the shapes of mummified former kings. I received scathing reviews, which depressed me for quite a while.
Me as Hilarion in Peter Darrell’s production of Giselle for Scottish Ballet. I also did this role in Peter Wright’s first production in Stuttgart Ballet and again in his Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet version. Later when I directed productions of Giselle I taught the role to dancers as far afield
as Johannesburg, Durban, Glasgow, Wellington and Sydney.

Me, Elaine MacDonald and Bronwen Curry in my Match for Three Players. Extraordinary music – a contest between two cellos with percussion acting as umpire!

During my time with Sottish Ballet I became more and more interested in modern dance. The ballet master, Harry Haythorne, helped me apply for an Arts Council scholarship to study at the Martha Graham School in NYC for 10 months. Soon after I returned I made Arriving Bellevue Sunday…. I’d been impressed by Pasolini’s film Theorem and this ballet was the result. The set and costume design was by the very talented Margaret Mary Preece who sadly died far too young.

Ken Wells as the Stranger with Amanda Olivier, Kit Lethby, Patricia Rianne, Nicholas Carroll and Bronwen Curry on the balcony as Mary the maid in Arriving Bellevue Sunday….

Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet

When I joined the Royal Ballet, the entire organisation was in a state of flux, Sir Fred (Ashton) had retired and protracted re-organisation was going on … and on. The touring section was, for a time called the New Group. But audiences made it clear that they wanted the classics back in repertory and before long we were doing lots of Coppèlias and Giselles plus, fortunately, several Ashton ballets and some interesting new works. Peter Wright gave me the opportunity to choreograph Migrations, and later The Entertainers for SWRB.

I choreographed Migrations first for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. The first to dance the lead woman was Patricia Ruanne, but pictured here is Dawn Weller with members of Pact Ballet.
Kim Reeder and Margaret Barbieri in The Entertainers, a very gentle little ballet that I made for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1974 to music by Pergolesi. The most striking thing about the ballet was the set by Terence Emery, a series of stages within a stage.

I danced the role of Moondog in The Lady and the Fool many times during the 1970s, here with Margaret Barbieri. I have always thought that this ballet is unfairly thought of as over-sentimental. I write about Cranko’s treatment of the story at length in my book Cranko: the Man and his Choreography.

I danced as a soloist with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet for seven years, but I felt that I needed to get out into the wide world, with more opportunities to choreograph. Little did I imagine what would follow!