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Personal profile

Personal profile

My professional dance experience is both practical and academic: I was trained at Elmhurst Ballet School, attaining the Advanced Certificate of the Royal Academy of Dance in 1978. I then pursued a varied career as a professional dancer, also teaching at the London Studio Centre (1980–86). As a choreographer, I have maintained a thirty-year association with the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain, of which I am now a Trustee. I hold the Diploma of The Royal Ballet School Teachers’ Training Course (Dip. RBS TTC), and ran my own ballet school in Clapham (1991–97). I taught Benesh Movement Notation at The Royal Ballet School from 1994–2000, also teaching Dance GCE and GCSE (AQA Board) there from 1992, and becoming Head of Academic Dance Studies at The Royal Ballet School in 2005. In 2015 I stepped down from the post in order to focus more on research and writing. I have developed a major resource for The Royal Ballet School website in the form of a Ballet History Timeline illustrated by material from the School’s Special Collections (launched February 2017); the White Lodge History Timeline was subsequently developed under my direction (and launched in early 2020). I continue to teach Royal Ballet School Upper School students at Covent Garden, on the Foundation Degree in Classical Ballet and Dance Performance.  


I was awarded a Masters degree in Dance at the University of Surrey in 1997; this included studies in dance anthropology (with Dr. Theresa Buckland), dance analysis (with Prof. Janet Adshead-Lansdale) and twentieth century ballet history (with Dr. Joan White).  My M.A. thesis was an investigation into the life and career of Ana Ricarda (1918–2000), an American dancer and choreographer associated with the Markova-Dolin Company during the 1940s, and the Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas during the 1950s. Ricarda specialised in the Classical Spanish dance form, Escuela Bolera, which I had studied under her as a student at The Royal Ballet School.  Primary sources for my thesis were recorded interviews with Ricarda, and her personal documentary archive; I was later instrumental in placing this material with the Theatre and Performance Collections of the V&A Museum. The experience introduced me to the related fields of archival research and collections management, and convinced me of their critical value for historical studies.


From 1997 I have been responsible for the care and management of The Royal Ballet School’s Special Collections.  In 2009 the Outreach department of the School opened the White Lodge Museum & Ballet Resource Centre, as a means of providing access to its Special Collections and the historic site of White Lodge. I curated the Museum content and displays from the project’s conception through to the Museum’s closure in 2015 (caused by a change in government funding). I wrote a fifty-page illustrated booklet, A True Heritage: the story of The Royal Ballet School and Companies, which was published as a student and visitor resource by The Royal Ballet School (2010). 


Other relevant projects I have helped to develop at The Royal Ballet School include a series of lectures and master classes, entitled ‘A Focus on Style’ (Sept 2012 – March 2013). Five day-long seminars explored the pedagogic and stylistic hallmarks of the French, Italian, Danish and Russian ballet Schools, culminating in a seminar tracing their influence on Ninette de Valois and the emergence of a so-called English School and choreographic ‘style’. I contributed five papers outlining the history of each of these Schools, and was the main presenter throughout the day for the final seminar on de Valois and the English School. This work forms the basis of my chapter entitled 'Ballet Styles and Schooling: Shared Roots, Different Cultures' in a forthcoming book, Essential Guide to Ballet Practice and Performance, edited by Jennifer Jackson (Marlborough: Crowood Press, 2021). 


I also organised and contributed to a one-day symposium, held at The Royal Ballet Upper School in Covent Garden, entitled The Many Faces of Robert Helpmann (27 October 2013).  Together with the Symposium Chair, Prof. Richard Allen Cave, I co-edited the resulting volume of papers and accompanying DVD. This was published by Dance Books under the title of Robert Helpmann: the Many Faces of a Theatrical Dynamo (October 2018). 



Research interests

My area of interest is the early career of Ninette de Valois (1898–2001). She was the dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, writer and theorist, who founded The Royal Ballet School (1926), The Royal Ballet (1931), Birmingham Royal Ballet (1946) and the Turkish State Ballet (1948). Through primary source research and a review of early twentieth century dance literature, I have been investigating de Valois’ formative career within the context of the British theatrical dance scene, focusing on the period between the two World Wars, and 1925-35 in particular. In 1920-21 will be conducting research through practice, working with six final-year students of The Royal Ballet School as part of their BA Degree dissertation. Using choreographic notes made by de Valois' assistant, Ursula Moreton c. 1925, my purpose is to examine the influences behind de Valois’ concept of dance theatre, as manifested in her early, experimental choreography.


Much of my interest in pursuing further study of de Valois’ career dates back to the creation of a major international conference (1–3 April 2011), which I instigated in 2006, and then organised over the ensuing five years. Entitled Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist, the multi-disciplinary event took place over three consecutive days at the Royal Opera House, The Royal Ballet Upper School in Covent Garden and the Lower School at White Lodge. The conference marked the first occasion on which I worked with Prof. Richard Cave, Prof. Elizabeth Schafer and Dr. Libby Worth from RHUL; the project also received RHUL support through Prof. Katie Normington. I contributed to the subsequent publication, and co-edited with Marius Arnold-Clarke the four hours of video material that accompanied it on DVD. (Cave, Richard and Libby Worth, eds. Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist. Alton: Dance Books, 2012. Print.) The entire project allowed for some fresh in-depth analysis of de Valois’ work. As a result, multiple contradictory viewpoints emerged, indicating to me that there was an urgent need to conduct further research into de Valois’ life and legacy. Specifically, I felt that new primary source investigations were needed, which should be supported by a critical examination of the constraints and opportunities that shaped de Valois’ career, and of the contemporary British dance landscape in which she operated.


Very few aspects of de Valois’ work have been subjected to lengthy, in-depth analysis, the most notable exceptions being Beth Genné’s The Making of a Choreographer, Ninette de Valois and Bar aux Folies-Bergère (USA: Society of Dance History Scholars, 1996.  Print.) and Richard Allen Cave’s detailed monograph examining de Valois creative role in the experimental productions of Terence Gray, and the dance-dramas of W.B. Yeats (Collaborations, Ninette de Valois and William Butler Yeats. Alton: Dance Books, 2011. Print). Building on Cave’s work, I would like to examine the dynamic interplay between de Valois’ radical work with Gray in Cambridge and Yeats in Dublin, and consider how this related to her principal occupation in London during the same period (1926–34). De Valois was then based at the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, working closely with Lilian Baylis, who was the guiding force behind both Theatres. The relationship between de Valois and Baylis was central to their parallel enterprises, and will be a major focus of my research.


The context and significance of my research:

The writings and career of Ninette de Valois (1898 – 2001) were a testament to her belief that classical ballet is a vital and significant branch of Britain’s national theatre. The Royal Ballet, which she founded in 1931, is internationally recognised as one of the world’s great ballet companies. However, in its homeland, across the full spectrum of socio-economic groups, classical ballet itself is widely considered to be an irrelevant art form.


When she set out to found a national ballet in 1920s Britain, however, Ninette de Valois had no such qualms about the limitations or contemporary relevance of classical ballet.   Her career as a dancer, choreographer and director unfolded in the wake of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, through which ballet had became a central tenet of the birth of European Modernism: to give two outstanding examples, Stravinsky wrote his epoch-making score, Le Sacre du printemps (1913) for Nijinsky to choreograph, and Picasso designed a ‘cubist ballet’, Parade (1917), to be choreographed by Massine, with music by Satie. De Valois repeatedly insisted that it was a mastery of classical principles which had provided the necessary basis for such innovation, and that this was fundamental to true, evolutionary, development. For this reason, during the 1930s she took the extraordinarily ambitious step of staging several major ballets of the nineteenth century Tchaikovsky-Petipa canon for her fledgling ballet Company in London, thereby importing ballet classicism to the West.  Her purpose was not to corner the market with ‘exclusive’ ballets, but to expose British dancers and audiences to traditional ballet in its most rigorous and demanding form, in order to raise standards of technique and performance, and to enrich the choreographic palette.


De Valois and her principal collaborators – Lilan Baylis, Constant Lambert, Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann – well understood that classical ballet originated not only in courtly spectaculars, but that its roots lie equally in European folk dances and popular theatre, such as the Commedia dell’ Arte.  It was therefore no accident that in 1926 de Valois and Baylis set out to found a national ballet company in ‘the people’s theatres’ of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, located in the (then) unfashionable areas of Waterloo and Islington.  Twenty years later, in 1946, that company became resident at the Royal Opera House, and in 1956 it was awarded a Royal Charter, becoming fully recognised as a flagship of the national establishment. During this rapid rise in status, the nature of de Valois’ enterprise inevitably changed: in re-examining the formative years of The Royal Ballet, I want to question what may have been lost of its founding ethos and early creative ambition, which might inform and inspire its current and future direction.