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The Royal Ballet
General Information
Name The Royal Ballet
Previous Names Vic-Wells Ballet
Sadler's Wells Ballet
Year Founded 1931
Founder Dame Ninette de Valois
Prima Ballerina Assoluta Dame Margot Fonteyn
Location Royal Opera House
Covent Garden
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Senior Staff
Chief Executive Tony Hall (ROH)
Artistic Director Dame Monica Mason
Musical Director Barry Wordsworth
Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor
Parent Company Royal Opera House
Sister Company Birmingham Royal Ballet
Associate School Royal Ballet School
Formation Principal Guest Artist
Principal Character Artist
First Soloist
First Artist
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The Royal Ballet is an internationally renowned classical ballet company, based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, England. The largest of the three major ballet companies in Great Britain, the Royal Ballet was founded in 1931 by Dame Ninette de Valois, it became the resident ballet company of the Royal Opera House in 1946 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1956, becoming recognised as Britain's flagship national ballet company. The Royal Ballet was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century, and continues to be one of the world's most famous ballet companies to this day. The company employs approximately 100 dancers and has purpose built facilities within the Royal Opera House. The official associate school of the company is the Royal Ballet School, and it also has a sister company, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, which operates independently. The Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Royal Ballet is the late Dame Margot Fonteyn.



In 1926, the Irish-born dancer Ninette de Valois founded the Academy of Choreographic Art, a dance school for girls.[1] Her intention was to form a repertory ballet company and school, leading her to collaborate with the English theatrical producer and theatre owner Lilian Baylis. Baylis owned the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres and in 1925 she engaged de Valois to stage dance performances at both venues.

Sadler's Wells reopened in 1931 and the Vic-Wells Ballet and Vic-Wells Ballet School were established in premises at the theatre. These would become the predecessors of today's Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School. Prior to her return to Britain, Ninette de Valois had been a member of the Ballets Russes, one of the most renowned and influential ballet companies of the 20th Century. The company disbanded in 1929 following the death of its founder Serge Diaghilev and when de Valois formed the Vic-Wells Ballet, she employed some of the companies former stars including Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin who joined as Principal dancers and Tamara Karsavina who worked with the company as an advisor.

After losing the link with the Old Vic theatre, in 1939 the company was renamed Sadler's Wells Ballet and the school became Sadler's Wells Ballet School[2] both continuing at Sadler's Wells theatre until 1946 when the company was invited to become the resident ballet company of the newly re-opened Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, under the direction of David Webster. The company relocated to the opera house the same year in 1946, with their first production at the venue being Sleeping Beauty.

Following the relocation of the company the school was relocated to its own premises in 1947 and a sister company was established to continue performances at Sadler's Wells, called Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, under the direction of John Field. In 1955, the sister company temporarily lost its link with Sadler's Wells and returned to the Royal Opera House as a touring unit of the main company.

In 1956, a Royal Charter was granted for both companies and the school and they were subsequently renamed the Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.[3]

The Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet returned to Sadler's Wells theatre in 1970, whilst continuing to tour the country, however in 1987, the company was invited to be come the resident ballet company at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It relocated to Birmingham in 1990, being renamed Birmingham Royal Ballet and it ceased to be part of the Royal Ballet in 1997 when it was made independent of the Royal Opera House, with Sir Peter Wright as Artistic Director. Birmingham Royal Ballet retains close relationships with both the Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School, although it now has its own associate ballet school, Elmhurst School for Dance.

In 1964 the Royal Ballet established "Ballet for All" under the direction of Peter Brinson. Between 1964 and 1979 "Ballet for All" toured throughout the country presenting around 150 performances per year and reaching around 70,000 people each year. In 1976 the Royal Opera House established its schools matinee programme.

Today, the Royal Ballet remains the resident ballet company at the Royal Opera House, conducting its own tours internationally and it continues to be the parent company of the Royal Ballet School, which is now based at White Lodge, Richmond Park and premises in Floral Street which are adjacent to and have direct access to the Royal Opera House.



During its formative years, the Sadler's Wells Ballet would become one of the first ballet companies outside Russia to stage full productions of ballets by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, which were central to the repertory of the Imperial Russian Ballet. In order to have these ballets in the repertoire of her newly formed company, de Valois employed the services of Nicholas Sergeyev, a former régisseur of the Imperial. He staged productions of Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty; Petipa and Ivanov's Swan Lake and The Nutcracker; Petipa and Cecchetti's production of Coppélia; and Petipa's Giselle. Created with the aid of choreographic notation written in St. Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century, these works have been included in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet ever since, although the company now uses Sir Peter Wright's 1984 production of The Nutcracker, which also utilises some of Sergeyev's notation. Despite having worked with other ballet companies, Sergeyev's revivals of these ballets in London are regarded as the foundation point of the traditional classical ballet repertoire, and led to them being restaged throughout the world. Sergeyev is considered to have made one of the most significant contributions to the popularity of ballet worldwide, and the choreographic notation and other materials relating to it have been preserved as part of the theatre collection of the Harvard University Library, known as the Sergeyev Collection.

Prima Ballerina Assoluta

The Royal Ballet is one of the few ballet companies in the world to having staged performances by three dancers considered to be Prima Ballerina Assolutas, two having studied at the Royal Ballet School. Margot Fonteyn spent her entire career dancing with the company and was appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta by Queen Elizabeth II. Alessandra Ferri began her career with the Royal Ballet and was later appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of La Scala Theatre Ballet in Milan. The third is Dame Alicia Markova, who having been mentored by Ninette de Valois as a member of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, was invited to become one of the founder dancers of the Royal Ballet, becoming the company's first Prima Ballerina, and later being recognised as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta. The Royal Ballet is also credited with having staged performances by one of the only male dancers to hold the male equivalent of the title, Roberto Bolle, who was appointed an Etoile of La Scala Theatre Ballet and who continues to be a Principal Guest Artist with the Royal Ballet.


The Royal Ballet has six ranks of dancers in ascending order:

  • Artist: the lowest rank in the company and dancers at this level form the Corps de ballet. There are more dancers at Artist level than any other rank in the Royal Ballet and nearly all are trained at the Royal Ballet School, with most graduates of the school entering the company at this level.
  • First Artist: a rank for the most senior members of the Corps de Ballet. Dancers at this level have the opportunity to perform some of the Corps de Ballet's more featured rôles, such as the Dance of the Cygnets in Swan Lake. First Artists will occasionally be cast in minor Soloist rôles if they are being considered for promotion.
  • Soloist: there are normally 15-20 soloists in the company. As the title suggests, dancers at this level perform the majority of the solo and minor rôles in a ballet, such as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet or one of the Fairies in The Sleeping Beauty.
  • First soloist: the rank where dancers are being considered for promotion to principal level. A dancer at this rank will dance a varied repertoire of the most featured soloist rôles, whilst understudying and having the opportunity to perform leading rôles when a Principal dancer is either injured or unavailable.
  • Principal character artist: the rank given to members of the company who perform important character rôles in a ballet. These rôles are normally very theatrical and often include character dance and ballet mime. Examples include Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty or Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. Most Principal Character Artists in the Royal Ballet are older dancers who have been high ranking members of the company.
  • Principal: the highest rank in the Royal Ballet and dancers at this level exclusively perform the leading and most featured rôles in a ballet. To be a principal is to be recognised as one of the leading dancers in the company and a number of the world's most celebrated dancers have been principals with the company.

The Royal Ballet also has special ranks for visiting dancers, they are "guest artist and "principal guest artist".

The Company

The Royal Ballet employs approximately 100 dancers and a complete list is shown below. The company also has an Executive, Artistic and Music staff, including the following:

  • Artistic Director - Monica Mason OBE, a graduate of the Royal Ballet School and former Principal dancer and Senior Répétiteur with The Royal Ballet
  • Administrative Director - Kevin O'Hare, a graduate of the Royal Ballet School and former dancer with The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet[4]
  • Music Director - Barry Wordsworth, a British conductor and junior alumnus of the Trinity College of Music
  • Company Manager - Andrew Hurst, a Royal Ballet School graduate who was previously General Manager for Phoenix Dance Company.[5]
  • Resident Choreographer - Wayne McGregor, an award winning choreographer, most noted in the field of contemporary dance and as Artistic Director of Random Dance company.[6]

Principal Dancers

Name Nationality Training Other Companies
(inc. guest performances)
Carlos Acosta
Principal Guest Artist
 Cuba Cuban National Ballet School English National Ballet
National Ballet of Cuba
Houston Ballet
Leanne Benjamin  Australia Royal Ballet School Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet
English National Ballet
Deutsche Oper Ballet
Roberto Bolle
Principal Guest Artist
 Italy La Scala Theatre Ballet School La Scala Theatre Ballet
National Ballet of Canada
English National Ballet
Stuttgart Ballet
Federico Bonelli  Italy Turin Dance Academy Zürich Ballet
Dutch National Ballet
Alina Cojocaru  Romania Kiev Ballet School
Royal Ballet School
Kiev Ballet
Lauren Cuthbertson  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Mara Galeazzi  Italy La Scala Theatre Ballet School
Johan Kobborg  Denmark Royal Danish Ballet School Royal Danish Ballet
Sarah Lamb  United States Boston Ballet School Boston Ballet
David Makhateli  Georgia Royal Ballet School Birmingham Royal Ballet
Dutch National Ballet
Houston Ballet
Roberta Marquez  Brazil Maria Olenewa State Dance School Municipal Theatre Ballet, Rio de Janeiro
Steven McRae  Australia Hilary Kaplan
Royal Ballet School
Laura Morera  Spain Royal Ballet School
Marianela Núñez  Argentina Colón Theatre Ballet School
Royal Ballet School
Rupert Pennefather  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
The Arts Educational School, Tring Park
Ivan Putrov  Ukraine Kiev Ballet School
Royal Ballet School
Tamara Rojo  Spain Victor Ullate Ballet School
David Howard & Renato Paroni
Viacheslav Samodurov  Russia Vaganova Ballet Academy Mariinsky Ballet
Dutch National Ballet
Thiago Soares  Brazil Centre for Dance, Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre Ballet, Rio de Janeiro
Edward Watson  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Zenaida Yanowsky  France Anatol Yanowsky & Carmen Robles Paris Opera Ballet
Miyako Yoshida
Principal Guest Artist
 Japan Royal Ballet School Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet

Principal Character Artists

  • Elizabeth McGorian
  • Vanessa Palmer (Guest Artist)
  • Gillian Revie
  • Genesia Rosato
  • Christopher Saunders
  • William Tuckett

First Soloists

  • Ricardo Cervera
  • Deirdre Chapman
  • Yuhui Choe
  • Helen Crawford
  • Bennet Gartside
  • Valeri Hristov
  • Hikaru Kobayashi
  • Jose Martin
  • Sergei Polunin
  • Yohei Sasaki


  • Christina Arestis
  • Victoria Hewitt
  • Ryoich Hirano
  • Jonathan Howells
  • Paul Kay
  • Bethany Keating
  • Kenta Kura
  • Iohna Loots
  • Brian Maloney
  • Laura McCulloch
  • Kristen McNally
  • David Pickering
  • Samantha Raine
  • Johannes Stepanek
  • Gemma Sykes
  • Eric Underwood
  • Thomas Whitehead

First Artists

  • Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani
  • Leanne Cope
  • Olivia Cowley
  • Vanessa Fenton
  • Francesca Filpi
  • Melissa Hamilton
  • Nathalie Harrison
  • Elizabeth Harrod
  • Cindy Jourdain
  • Emma Maguire
  • Ernst Meisner
  • Pietra Mello-Pittman
  • Sian Murphy (Assistant Ballet Mistress)
  • Ludovic Ondiviela
  • Romany Pajdak
  • Liam Scarlett
  • Michael Stojko
  • Lara Turk
  • Andrej Uspenski
  • Jonathan Watkins
  • James Wilkie


  • Ruth Bailey
  • Claire Calvert
  • Jacqueline Clark
  • Celisa Diuana
  • Tristan Dyer
  • Benjamin Ella
  • Kevin Emerton
  • Hayley Forskitt
  • Elsa Godard
  • James Hay
  • Fernando Montaño
  • Erico Montes
  • Demelza Parish
  • Gemma Pitchley-Gale
  • Leticia Stock
  • Akane Takada
  • Dawid Trzensimiech
  • Sabina Westcombe

Prix de Lausanne Apprentice

  • Rina Nemoto

Sir Frederick Ashton

Sir Frederick Ashton was the founder choreographer of the Royal Ballet. Previously a dancer with the Ballet Rambert, Ashton started his career as a choreogapher under the direction of Dame Marie Rambert, before joining the Royal Ballet as its associate choreographer when the company was founded in 1931. He created the majority of the companies early works and staged their first performance at the Royal Opera House, a production of The Sleeping Beauty in 1946. Ashton was appointed Artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 1963-1970, when he retired from the post. He continued to work as a choreographer internationally, with his final work being the Nursery Suite, for a gala performance by the Royal Ballet School at the Royal Opera House in 1986. His numerous ballets have since been staged by leading dance companies worldwide and feature strongly in the programming of the Royal Ballet today.

Choreographic works

Ashton created over 100 original ballet works and numerous other productions, some of the most notable including:

  • A Month in the Country
  • Birthday Offering
  • Cinderella
  • Dante Sonata
  • Daphnis and Chloë
  • Façade
  • Regatta
  • Rhapsody
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Symphonic Variations
  • The Dream
  • Verdi Capricci
  • French Allegra

Wayne McGregor

Prior to his appointment as Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet, Wayne McGregor has already established himself as an award winning dancer, choreographer and director. His first choreography for the Royal Ballet, was Fleur de Peux, a solo work created in 2000 on Vivianna Durante. This led to further commissions by the Royal Ballet, including Symbiont(s) in 2001, Qualia in 2003 and Engram in 2005. He also created the ballet brainstate in 2001, as a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and his own company, Random Dance. McGregor was appointed Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet in 2006, the first person to hold the post in sixteen years, and the first to be selected from the world of contemporary dance.

Choreographic works

McGregor's works for the Royal Ballet include:

  • Fleur de Peux
  • Symbiont(s)
  • Qualia
  • Nimbus
  • Infra


First performing together with the Royal Ballet in Giselle on February 21, 1962, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev would form what has been called the greatest ballet partnership of all time. The partnership would lead to both dancers being noted amongst the most famous ballet dancers of all time and came at the peak of what is now widely regarded as the most successful period in the Royal Ballet's history.

On March 12, 1963, the couple premiered Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, the first ballet created for them and one which become their signature piece. Performed to two piece of piano music by Franz Liszt, the ballet starts with Marguerite on her deathbed, and the story is told in flashback until the moment Armand arrives to hold her for the last time before she dies. Nureyev had planned the piece specifically for Fonteyn and the piece was critically acclaimed as Fonteyn's dramatic peak, with fifty photographers attending the dress rehearsal and twenty one curtain calls at the premiere performance. The final performance of the ballet starring Fonteyn and Nureyev was staged at a gala at the London Coliseum in 1977 and it was not performed again until 2003. Against the wishes of Frederick Ashton that it not be performed by any other dancers than Fonteyn and Nureyev, it was revived as part of a Royal Ballet triple-bill, starring Nureyev's protegee Sylvie Guillem and the Royal Ballet star Jonathan Cope.

The Fonteyn-Nureyev partnership lasted for many years until Fonteyn's retirement from the Royal Ballet in 1979, aged 60. In 1970 after Frederick Ashton retired as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, there were many calls for Nureyev to be announced as his successor, however Kenneth MacMillan was given the position and Nureyev left the Royal Ballet as a Principal soon after, to be a guest dancer Internationally, later becoming Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983. Fonteyn and Nureyev had a lifelong relationship both on and offstage and were close friends until Fonteyn's death in 1991. Nureyev is quoted as saying of the partnership that they danced with "one body, one soul".

Ross Stretton

Born in Canberra, Australia in 1952, Ross Stretton trained at the Australian Ballet School, later becoming a Principal dancer with the Australian Ballet company. He then moved to America, where he danced with the Joffrey Ballet and as a Prinipal dancer with American Ballet Theatre before retiring as a dancer in 1990. He was appointed Regisseur of American Ballet Theatre, becoming Assistant Director of the company in 1993. After returning to Australia, he was Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet from 1997-2001.

Following Sir Anthony Dowell's retirement as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet in 2001, the board of the Royal Opera House announced Stretton as his successor, with a three year contract, however he resigned the post after 13 months, in September 2002. Stretton's appointment and subsequent departure from the Royal Ballet generated an unprescedented level of media attention for the Royal Ballet in recent years, due to controversy caused by his management of the company. Following his resignation, Stretton returned to Australia where he worked as a teacher and consultant until his death from cancer in 2005.

A number of controversial issues and allegations lead to Strettons depature from the Royal Ballet:

  • Principal dancer Sarah Wildor quit the company after a dispute over casting[7]
  • Constant cast changes apparently lead to numerous arguments with Principal dancers[8]
  • Principal Character Artist David Drew declared Stretton's appointment as "a disaster for the company" in the Mail on Sunday[8]
  • Lady MacMillan threatened to withdraw performing rights to works by her late husband Sir Kenneth MacMillan[9]
  • Stretton's programming was badly received by critics[10]
  • Equity announced that dancers planned a vote no-confidence in Stretton[10]
  • Strike action and union involvement was threatened due to Stretton's management style[8]
  • Allegations were made that Stretton engaged in sexual liaisons and affairs with various dancers[8]

Johan Kobborg

On 17 March 2007, The Daily Telegraph, published an article announcing that the Royal Ballet's Principal dancer Johan Kobborg may be the primary candidate to become the next Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet when Monica Mason's tenure as Director ends in 2012. Mason has been Director of the Royal Ballet since 2002, following the brief Directorship of the late Ross Stretton. Mason was due to leave the Royal Ballet in 2010, but her contract has been extended until 2012, when London will host the Olympic Games. Johan Kobborg joined the Royal Ballet as a Principal in 1999 and continues to be one of the companies leading stars. In 2007, he turned down the invitation to bid for the Directorship of the Royal Danish Ballet but in the article he is quoted as saying of the Royal Ballet:

"Of all the companies in the world, leaving aside the special case of Paris, the Royal Ballet can do anything they want. Many, many people want to run it. It is the most secure place on earth. It doesn't have to do The Nutcracker or Jack and the Magic Beanstalk to survive. All the possibilities are there. If I was asked to run it, I would say yes, definitely."[11]

Royal Opera House, Manchester

The Royal Opera House and Manchester City Council are currently in the planning stages of a new development known as Royal Opera House, Manchester. The proposal is for the Palace Theatre in Manchester to receive an £80m refurbishment, creating a first-class theatre capable of staging productions by both the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera. The Royal Opera House would take residence of the theatre for an annual 18 week season, staging 16 performances by the Royal Opera, 28 performances by the Royal Ballet and other small scale productions. The proposals would establish the Palace Theatre as a designated base for the Royal Opera House companies in the North of England, as a producing house for new ballet and opera, and as a traininng centre for all aspects of theatre production. The proposals could potentially lead to the creation of 700 hundred jobs for local people. [12][13]

The proposals have been approved by Andy Burnham MP the Secretary of State for Culture, and accepted by a number of public bodies. However the plans are currently being revised to address the concerns put forward by those who are opposed to the plans. Issues that have been raised include:

  • How will the refurbishment of the Palace Theatre be funded?
  • Will the proposals impact negatively on The Lowry, a theatre and arts complex in nearby Salford?
  • Will the Manchester season present the same standard of performance as the Royal Opera House in London?

Laurence Olivier Awards

The Royal Ballet company is a multiple Laurence Olivier Award winning company. The following is a complete list of award won by the company and its staff since the awards were established in 1978. These include awards presented to the company for a production of a particular ballet, to individual dancers for their performance in a specific rôle, to deigners for their work on a specific production and to other members of the Royal Ballet staff for achievements in dance

  • 1978 - Production of the Year in Ballet, for a production of Sir Frederick Ashton's A Month in the Country
  • 1980 - Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Ballet, for a production of Gloria
  • 1981 - Outstanding First Achievement of the Year in Ballet, awarded to Bryony Brind for her performance in The Royal Ballet's Dances of Albion
  • 1983 - Outstanding Individual Performance of the Year in a New Dance Production, awarded to Alessandra Ferri for her performance in the Royal Ballet's Valley of Shadows
  • 1983 - Outstanding New Dance Production of the Year, for a production of Sir Frederick Ashton's Requiem
  • 1992 - Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Dance, for a production of William Forsythe's In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated
  • 1992 - Society of London Theatre Special Award, awarded to the Royal Ballet's founder and director Dame Ninette de Valois in recognition of her achievements in dance
  • 1993 - Best New Dance Production, for a production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree
  • 1995 - Best New Dance Production, for their production of Fearful Symmetries
  • 1995 - Outstanding Achievement in Dance, awarded to lighting designer Peter Mumford for the Royal Ballet's Fearful Symmetries
  • 2007 - Best New Dance Production, for their new production Chroma, choreographed by Wayne McGreggor
  • 2008 - Best New Dance Production, for the company premiere of George Balanchine's ballet Jewels
  • 2008 - Outstanding Achievement in Dance, for the company premiere of George Balanchine's ballet Jewels


Notable former dancers

Notable people

Guest Dancers


Artistic Directors

See also


  1. ^ Lynn Garafola (2005). Legacies of twentieth-century dance. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819566748. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  2. ^ "The Royal Ballet School - a brief history". 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  3. ^ "Royal Ballet - British ballet company". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  4. ^ on Retrieved 12 December 2009
  5. ^ On Retieved 12 December 2009
  6. ^ "Wayne McGregor To Become Resident Choreographer At The Royal Opera House". Huliq News. 3 December 2006. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  7. ^ "Royal Ballet shocked as Wildor quits". Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2001. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Swanning off, the ballet boss accused of affairs". Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2002. 
  9. ^ "Double whammy that toppled ballet boss". Daily Telegraph, 27 September 2002. 
  10. ^ a b "Ross Stretton". Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2005. 
  11. ^ "Johan Kobborg: I'd jump at the chance to run the Royal Ballet". Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2008. 
  12. ^ Article from the Guardian about Royal Opera House Manchester
  13. ^ Article from BBC NEws about Royal Opera House Manchester
  14. ^ Dalya Alberge (19 December 2002). "Dancers' joy over choice of Royal Ballet director". The Times. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 

External links


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