Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rambert at 90: the ballet company that made British dance a homegrown hit

Marie Rambert had no idea she was making history when she and her little dance troupe made their debut at the Lyric Hammersmith 90 years ago. Her raggle-taggle bunch of student dancers faced stiff competition in London that year: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes were dancing two packed seasons, including the British premiere of Bronislava Nijinska’s monumental Les Noces, a glowing restaging of The Firebird, and the return of two of the company’s star ballerinas, Tamara Karsavina and Lydia Lopokova. Meanwhile, the Cochran revue boasted work by the great Leonid Massine.

Adding to Rambert’s troubles was the prejudice, still strong among the British public, that ballet was a foreign art form: Russian with a dash of Italian and French. A homegrown ballet company could only be an amateur aberration.

Still, Rambert had her advantages. A cosmopolitan Pole married to the British playwright Ashley Dukes, she had been attached to Diaghilev’s company before the war, so had her own sprinkling of Russian stardust. She was armed with a ferocious amount of personality: childlike, gushing enthusiasm combined with an autocratic style of command. And crucially, she had an eye for talent.

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