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Dame Beryl Grey DBE

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An extraordinary event took place yesterday in London when Dame Beryl Grey, the former Sadler’s Well’s ballerina, was ably and most interestingly interviewed by Ross Alley, who elicited full and remarkable information on this much loved dancer’s career.

It was followed by a Master Class in excerpts from Act II Swan Lake with Jia Zhang and Junor Souza from the English National Ballet.

The venue was Ivy House, former home of the legendary Anna Pavlova, which for the last five years has become the permanent home of the London Jewish Cultural Centre that offers a wide range of cultural and educational events and has celebrated both Anna Pavlova and ballet from its inaugural event in 2005.

Dame Beryl arrived looking both extremely youthful and elegant in a very smart tailored black outfit that elegantly revealed her beautiful slim figure and shapely legs. Yes, Dame Beryl was born in 1927.

Ross Alley guided Dame Beryl through her life history revealing that she was something of a wunderkind aged 10 years after studying with Phyllis Bedells, (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_Bedells).

Ninette de Valois immediately recognised her talent and she was offered a scholarship at the Sadler’s Wells School and by the age of 14 had begun appearing with the Sadler’s wells Ballet. In 1942 Robert Helpmann created the role of “The Nightingale” for her in his ballet, “The Birds” and the following year she was the Duessa in Ashton’s, “The Quest.”

Her career was taking off in the provinces during the Second World War where her first major role was that of Giselle aged 17 and in 1946 she was dancing Aurora at London’s Royal Opera House.

Dame Beryl was to essay an extraordinary number of roles at Covent Garden and her Ivy House audience was thrilled to see early films of her dancing made by her late husband. Though the latter films were silent, Ross Alley a lecturer at London’s Birkbeck College and a former rehearsal pianist of some standing, confidently sang Tchaikovsky’s music for those members of the audience less familiar with Swan Lake Act II.

These films together with excerpts from television recordings, revealed Beryl Grey both in brilliantly sustained elegiac and technical form, clearly revealing her great artistry.

Ross Alley directed Dame Beryl towards discussing her career away from the Royal Ballet when in 1957 she pursued an international career in which extraordinarily she was to guest with both the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet Companies. This was of course the first time any western ballerina had appeared on the Soviet stage. Dame Beryl spoke length about her Russian partner Yuri Kondratov with affection during her interview and afterwards to a group of admirers familiar with her Russian exploits.

In the Second Part of the afternoon’s programme, Dame Beryl confidently and most subtly coached the delightful young couple from English National Ballet explaining quite clearly why the changes she imposed were necessary and both they and the audience were delighted with the results.

Though restricted by the available stage space, Jia Zhang as Odette showed us a confident and beautifully schooled Odette which Dame Beryl authoritatively and gently refined both the shape of her port de bras and the shape and height of arabesques, thus achieving subtle changes to the breathing out of the choreography.

Junor Souza First Artist with the English National Ballet originally from Rio de Janeiro was an elegant, ardent and youthful Siegfried. Here Dame Beryl illustrated moments where a change in the weight of his movements led to a more effective characterisation of his role.

This was an afternoon of an exhibition of refined taste and illumination by a most famous dancer, in which she exhibited enthusiasm, subtlety and joy communicating in such an effective manner, I was at times deeply moved by the most respectful way she spoke of colleagues and her dancing years.

This event has followed on from previous ballet programmes and will continue later this year with Ursula Hageli, Ballet Mistress of the Royal Ballet in “Dance for a Day”, see:- http://www.ljcc.org.uk/events/1542-dance-for-a-day.html

In 2012 the LJCC will celebrate the centenary of Anna Pavlova taking ownership of Ivy House as her permanent home, with a wide range of events, together with an exhibition of Pavlova related memorabilia.

A special thank you has to go to Irene Newton who has taken over the presentation of music and dance activities at Ivy House and is enthusiastic about the ballet content of its programmes.


Dame Beryl Talking most interestingly on BBC radio programme, "Desert Island Discs."


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Thank you, Leonid -- when I was a little girl (emphasis on "little"), my favorite uncle, knowing that I loved ballet, gave me a short biography of Beryl Grey, which I enthusiastically read until I came upon the fact that she encountered problems being accepted, because she was "too tall." I closed the book. How could being "too tall" be a problem, I wondered.... being far too short myself. (Still am!)

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