Gala for Dame Beryl Grey
Dame Beryl Grey in The Sleeping Beauty, which she plans to remount for the Royal Swedish Ballet this fall.
Courtesy The Royal Ballet
Gala for Dame Beryl Grey
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
March 10, 2002
Reviewed by Margaret Willis
They came from all over the world to pay tribute to this remarkable woman. The charity gala, celebrating the seventy-fifth birthday of Dame Beryl Grey and benefiting the Dance Teacher’s Benevolent Fund and the Wayne Sleep Scholarship Fund, was a happy occasion among friends whose lives had been touched in some way by this gracious former ballerina, including many enthusiastic fans who have followed her career and are known as the “Grey Brigade.”
When Beryl Grey was just 14 years old, she made her debut as Odette in the second act of Swan Lake with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. On her 15th birthday, she danced the full ballet in the dual role of Odette/Odile. According to Grey, she was the first British ballerina to perform in Russia and the first Western ballerina to work in China. After dancing to rapturous acclaim all over the world, she finally hung up her ballet shoes and in 1968 became the first female artistic director of London Festival Ballet. She was made Dame of the British Empire in 1988 and today continues to play a big part in British ballet, serving as patron on many balletic organizations and committees This fall she plans to remount her version of The Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Swedish Ballet
Onstage at Sadler’s Wells Theatre were balletic personalities from her past?among them, Eva Evdokimova, Patrice Bart, Galina Samsova, Petter Jacobsson, Alexander Grant?who offered often humorous anecdotes about her, before introducing the dancers. These included principals from the Royal Swedish Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Rambert Dance Company, English National Ballet, and Northern Ballet Theatre. Among the highlights were: the stunning Chilean ballerina Marcela Goicoechea, strongly partnered by Irek Mukhamedov, who flew through a pas de deux from Ronald Hynd’s Rosalinda; the wonderful Estonian couple Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur, in a sparkling and exhilarating Don Quixote grand pas; and boys from the wEnglish National Ballet School who offered an exacting, controlled dance with a girl on a pole (choreographed by Antony Dowson). Students from The Royal Ballet School performed a whirling waltz by Christopher Wheeldon. Wayne Sleep, now in his mid-50s, did a tap dance to a ditty published in 1949 in Punch magazine when several ballerinas were off ill (“Miss May and Miss Grey are still away / Though Fonteyn and Shearer were there today . . . “). He stunned the audience with his ever-faster turns, and there was an audible releasing of breath in the audience when he finished his routine safely.
After the overture of the Panorama from The Sleeping Beauty, the opening sequence, collaged together by Christopher Hampson, showed four young Royal Ballet dancers in practice clothes in brief extracts of Grey’s most famous roles. At the finale, again with music from The Sleeping Beauty, the stage filled with dancers and guests, and the slim, dark-haired Grey expressed her gratitude for the evening, remarking, “The lovely things people have said are usually reserved for a person when she’s dead! I’m grateful to be here to hear them.”