Ballet Rambert

Ballet Rambert, orange and grey book

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Marie Rambert

Born in 1888 in Poland founder of Ballet Rambert

Her parents sent her to Paris to study medicines, where she saw performances by Isadora Duncan and was inspired to dance herself. She admired Duncan’s freedom of movement and dress and her use of classic music as inspiration for her pieces. 

She joined Duncan’s brothers dance group and began to give her own dance recitals which were inspired by Isadora.

She studied dance for 3 years at the Jaques-Dalcroze school in Germany. Dalcroze taught eurhythmics (a method of understanding a piece of music by interpreting rhythm and melody through physical movement. 

In 1912, Aged 24, she was an expert in eurhythmics and was chosen by Diaghilev to work as assistant to dancer Vaslav Nijinsky at the Ballet Russes. She worked with Nijinsky to choreograph ‘The Rite of Spring’ who used unusually stylised, awkward and violent movements to express rhythmic movements. 

With inspiration from Russian dancers, Marie trained seriously in classical ballet for the first time. She danced in the corps de ballet of several Ballet Russes productions. By working with BR she admired the ballets of classical choreographers such as Petipa and Fokine. 

Nijinsky left BR and Rambert followed shortly.

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Marie Rambert (continued)

With the outbreak of WW1 she settled in England; making a living by teaching ballet and dancing occasionally in private homes. 

She married English playwright, Ashley Dukes and gave her ideas and support in the years to come. They had 2 daughters who both became dancers and teachers of ballet. 

Marie’s energy, lively mind and confidence drove her company. She had the ability to seek undiscovered talent in others and bullied them into proving themselves. 

Ballet Rambert produced important dancers and choreographers who have enriched dance both in Britain and abroad. She introduced her dancers to books, poetry, music and paintings. This gave her dancers and productions a intelligent and dramatic quality.

In 1962, she was honoured by being made a Dame Commander of the British Empire, in recognition of her life’s work for ballet in Britain. 

Right into her 90’s she gave her company much support, watching rehearsals and giving advice and criticisms. 

In 1984, she died aged 94.Before the 20’s there was no ballet company in Britain. Visits from foreign companies encouraged interest in dance but it wasn’t regarded as a serious art form. 

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The Rambert School of Ballet

In 1092, Rambert collected her dancers together and opened a ballet school in West London. It was just a rented studio where she taught. 

She had some outstandingly gifted pupils who she moulded into dancers of great talent. 

In 1926, first public performance from the ‘Marie Rambert Dancers’. They performed a ballet, ‘A Tragedy of Fashion’, it was also Fredrick Ashton’s first choreography.

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Frederick Ashton

Born in South America

Impressed by seeing Anna Pavlova dance.

In 1924, arrived in Rambert’s studio.

He had ambition to be a great dancer like Nijinsky but didn’t become a major dancer in the company. More a choreographer.

After he improvised in the studio, Rambert picked him out as a choreographer and pushed him into making his first ballet, ‘A Tragedy of Fashion’. Ashton and Rambert danced in the piece. Diaghilev was highly complimentary.

Over the following years Ashton choreographed more ballets for Rambert including Capriol Suite in 1930.

In the 1930’s, Ashton was the main contributor to the repertory of the company. 

He choreographed 11 dances for the ballet between 1931 and 35. 

His style was elegant and witty and showed concern for classical dancing. 

In 1935, Ashton left to join Vic-Wells Ballet as principal choreographer. 

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The Mercury Theatre

In 1927, Ashley Dukes brought a church hall and converted it into a studio and theatre for his wife’s school.

It had a small stage and an audience capacity of 150.

There was a stair case at the back of the stage which Ashton incorporated into his choreography sometimes. 

Many great dancers and choreographers have tried their first steps on this stage.

The Mercury was home to Ballet Rambert until the mid 60’s.

Part of the school remains there.

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The Ballet Club (1930-39)

Formed in 1930, performances began in 1931. The aim was to promote ballet by forming a society of supporters by offering regular performances.

Intended to foster new creative talent among British choreographers, composers and designers by allowing them to experiment.

Performances took place mainly on a Sunday evening. Due to lack of money, dancers had to dance elsewhere during the week. 

Occasionally mid week shows took place. Dancers would be paid a few shillings each. Barely covering their expenses. Her dancers lived to perform and willingly gave up their Sundays. 

From the mid 1930’s the company put on long seasons at the mercury theatre. In 1934, gave it’s 1st West End season.

In 1935, the name Ballet Rambert was adopted.

Marie believed that British ballet tradition should be firmly based on classical heritage. She was concerned with continuing the innovations of Ballet Russes.After the death of Diaghilev and Anna Pavlova their companies broke up. Many Russian dancers moved to England to share their training.

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Foreign dancers

Tamara Karsavina

She was first to arrive and from Ballet Russes.

She agreed to appear as a guest dancer in the first extended season.

She taught Fokine’s ‘Les Sylphides’ to Rambert’s dancers and performed the leading role. It was very successful.

Alicia Markova

She was also from Ballet Russes. She performed for the company and created many roles in Ashton’s ballets. 

Enrico Cecchetti

Italian ballet master and inspired teacher of the BR.  In 1918, he moved to London and opened a school. 

His teaching made a valuable impact on the development of dance training in this country and his work was continued by other teachers. 

Marie Rambert trained with him until leaving England in 1923, he influenced her teaching.

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Antony Tudor

Major choreographer to emerge from Rambert’s studio during the ballet club era. 

He worked as an accountant so attended classes from 4 p.m.

Impressed by his dedication Rambert gave his the job as secretary and stage manager, allowing to devote his time fully to dance. 

Two years later he began to choreograph.

He made ballets such as ‘The Planets’ and made some ballets for TV.

He mixed classical movement with modern choreography. For example ‘Dark Elegies’.

In 1937, Tudor left the Ballet Club to form his own company.

The company broke up at the beginning of the war and Ballet Rambert took over some of it’s repertory. 

In 1939, Tudor was invited to America to join the American Ballet Theatre.

Ballet Rambert still present his early works. 

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The War years

Caused difficulties for the continuation of Ballet Rambert.

Evening performances were banned, many theatres closed down and Ballet Club was ended.

Most of the male dancers had to fight in the war but would return when on leave. 

The Arts Theatre put on some lunchtime performances which were popular.

The Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (C.E.M.A.) took on management of Ballet Rambert to help in the war effort and raise morale. 

Ballet Rambert toured all around Britain dancing in all sorts of places.

Activities during the war were beneficial to ballet in the future. 

The widespread performances were very popular and audiences who would’ve usually not experienced ballet were able to.

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Development into a company

After the war the Arts Council still supported Ballet Rambert. 

The company received an annual grant which increased over the years. 

The company was able to grow to 36 dancers. 

An orchestra was employed regularly to accompany the dance pieces. 

In 1946, Ballet Rambert’s first season at Sadler’s Wells. 

The summer season at Sadler’s Wells happened annually. The company could fill the audience of 1,500.

The company had outgrown the Mercury and suffered badly from not having it’s own London Theatre.

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Classical Productions

Ballet Rambert remounted a series of classical ballets.

They produced versions of classical and romantic ballets. 

The ballets had been produced on a limited budget and showed Rambert’s ability to achieve the highest possible artistic standards. 

In 1946, the company created it’s first full-length ballet Giselle.

In 1957, The company dance Coppelia which became the greatest attraction during this period. 

In 1965, a new version of Giselle was created

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The Ballet Workshop

During 1951 to 55- Ballet Workshop provided a venue where choreographers could experiment.

It was run at the Mercury by Rambert’s daughter Angela with husband, David Ellis.

Regular performances were given on Sunday evenings to packed audiences.

Dancers from established companies were keen to appear. 

It presented works by 40 choreographers. 

Commissioned many new composers and designers.

When it outgrew the Mercury Theatre, the Ballet Club was shut down.

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Norman Morrice

Trained at the Rambert School.

In 1953, he joined the company.

In 1958, he was given the chance to choreograph.

He was interested in making ballets with modern themes with realistic characters.

He was appointed associate choreographer and created a new ballet every year.

In the early 1960’s, he visited the USA to study developments of modern dance.

He was impressed by Martha Graham, Glen Tetley, Merce Cunningham and Anna Sokolow.

He returned to Britain thinking that Ballet Rambert should go in this direction. 

1966- Morrice outlined, to Marie, his plan for the future. This was to reduce the company to 20 dancers of soloist standard, reduce the orchestra size and introduce contemporary training in the style of Martha Graham. He also wanted to create new contemporary repertory, combining it with the best work from the companies past. 

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Norman Morrice (continued)

Marie seized this idea and insisted on Morrice being associate director. .

In July 1966, The old-style Ballet Rambert gave its last performance. 

In November 1966, the New Ballet Rambert gave its first performance.

Marie withdrew herself from the day-to-day running of the company and Morrice became co-director. 

Morrice also continued to choreograph and gave ballet Rambert a dozen new ballets. 

In 1974, he left to become a freelance choreographer and was later appointed artistic director of the Royal Ballet.

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Policies of the new Ballet Rambert

In the 1960's, classical ballet and modern styles were perceived as being completely different to each other.

Rambert and Morrice hoped to fuse the two techniques together and create choreography combining the two.

The company returned to the ideals of the Ballet Club days, being a truly creative company. 

It encouraged new choreographers to emerge.

They found that the contemporary style didn’t work well with the old ballets and so it was decided to drop most of the old ballets other than some of Tudor’s work. 

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Rebuilding the company

In 1966, it took 4 months to reorganise and rehearse the new company. Although this was made possible by the Arts Council grant. 

David and Angela Ellis took over the Rambert School of Ballet at the Mercury Theatre. Ballet Rambert moved out and the relationship between the school and company ended.

The company moved to a church hall, experiencing bad conditions. But in 1971 a generous grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation allowed them to move into a converted furniture warehouse in Chiswick, West London. It was big enough for 2 dance studios, administrative officers, a wardrobe and carpentry workshop. 

Morrice faced the task of rebuilding a new audience for Ballet Rambert which took several years.There was prejudice against modern dance among the ballet-going public who were disappointed in the change. 

Critics expressed reservations about the new artistic policies and reviews were not always good. There were people, however, who were very excited at the prospect of something new. Responses grew in favour and a new audience began to develop.

The new-style Ballet Rambert had a strong appeal to young people. Morrice started a programme of talks, master classes and demos at colleges and schools. It was very popular.

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Rambert Dance Unit

In 1972, the Dance Unit was set up.

It involved 4 dancers who travelled around the country.

They taught and performed in colleges, halls and small theatres.

It was so successful that it put too much strain on finances and had to be stopped a year later. 

In the late 1960’s Rambert had become a well-integrated company, consisting of mainly new dancers. 

After the links with the school stopped dancers were taken on from a variety of backgrounds, often from foreign companies. 

Morrice moulded this diverse talent into a strong group of committed individuals.Christopher Bruce was one of these dancers.

In 1973, Ballet Rambert was well established enough to present it’s first season as a contemporary company at Sadler’s Wells (8 years after its last performance).

Since then it usually performs at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

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Glen Tetley

American choreographer and major influence on establishing the new Ballet Rambert. 

In 1967, Morrice invited Tetley to help create new repertory for the company.

He had first performed with Martha Graham’s company and then created his own. 

He choreographed Pierrot Lunaire (danced by Bruce) hailed as a masterpiece.

His works combine classical and contemporary styles, ideally suited to Ballet Rambert’s policies. 

He gave the dancers an understanding of contemporary exercises.

In 1967, he gave the company 4 ballets.

He continued his close association with Ballet Rambert for many years returning to create new ballets .

In 1979, Tetley choreographed a full-length production of the Tempest. It had immense success in the UK and abroad.

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Established as a creative force in modern dance

At first choreography showed a strong American influence.

Morrice hoped that British tradition of contemporary dance would develop from this. 

Within a short Rambert members were creating choreographies of their own. 

Collaborative productions were done with the Central School of Art and Design. Art students and dancers worked together to produce ballets.

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Christopher Bruce

Ballet Rambert produced Christopher Bruce. He and Tetley had a strong influence on shaping the companies style. 

Trained at the Rambert School and joined the company towards the end of its classical period. In 1967, he danced in Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire.

He was soon recognised as a gifted dancer and was developing his talent as a choreographer.

In 1969, he made his first ballet ‘George Frideric’.

Bruce blends modern and classical dance including jazz and folk styles. His choreographies are emotional and dramatic working closely with music and design. He deals with social and political themes. Despite serious themes his ballets usually include comedy.

50th birthday of the company- Bruce choreographed ‘Girl in the Straw Hat’ based on a picture of Marie.

1975-79- Bruce was associate director for Ballet Rambert. 

He resigned to become a freelance choreographer.He is still an associate choreographer for the company.

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Mercury Ensemble

Ballet Rambert’s musical range widened since it became contemporary.

The Mercury Ensemble is an orchestra.

It isn’t a resident orchestra but musicians are employed as required for ballets. 

Today, Ballet Rambert’s music is live when possible. 

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John Chesworth

In 1974, appointed artistic director for Ballet Rambert.

Had trained in the school and join the company in 1952.

In 1966, he was made assistant to the directors and helped to reorganise the company.

In 1970, he was made associate director, choreographing 7 ballets.

He encouraged creative work and invited guest choreographers to widen repertory (including Siobhan Davies, Robert North and the LCDT)

He was interested in expanding Ballet Rambert’s  presentation of contemporary dance. 

He wanted to develop the companies educational activities. 

In 1975, the company choreographed a new children’s show ‘Take a Running Jump’.

In 1980, Chesworth left after directing for 6 years.

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Rambert Academy

In 1979, Rambert Academy was set up. Much like how Rambert School of Ballet was. 

It offered professional training in ballet and contemporary as well as the opportunity to study A levels. 

Gary Sherwood (dancer for The Royal Ballet) was the first director. 

Pupils danced in some Ballet Rambert productions.

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Rambert Ballet School

Rambert Academy and Rambert School of Ballet were combined, merging students together.

In 1982, the annual grant from the Arts Council had risen to half a million pounds allowing the company to tour Britain for half the year. 

In 1983, 3 ballets for Rambert’s past were restaged it tribute to Marie. 

The company is very different today in it’s style than it was when it was formed. 

However, it’s artistic policies are still very close to those of the early days and it’s creative roots of the Ballet Club are back. 

It reached out to audiences, especially young people encouraging a growth in popularity.

In 1982, Marie died. 

In the 1980’s, Robert North was director.

Morrice and Rambert said ‘A company cannot stand still if it is to safeguard the future.’

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