sun 21/07/2024

British ballet's secret weapon, funny and dangerous | reviews, news & interviews

British ballet's secret weapon, funny and dangerous

British ballet's secret weapon, funny and dangerous

RIP Alexander Grant, eccentric mime and dancer with a panther's spring in his step

Alexander Grant as Sancho Panza in 'Don Quixote': a showstopping personality© Roger Wood/Royal Opera House Collections

You hear the names of the princes and romantic heroines in ballet, but the global success of 20th-century British ballet had much to do with its dramatic acuity and nuancing, the unexpected side characters who in the ballets of Ashton and MacMillan were vastly more interesting than the stock supporting roles of 19th-century ballet.

Alexander Grant was the key man in the growth of sophistication in British ballet in the Forties and Fifties, a character performer of powerful personality, and a performer who could out-dance almost any leading man.

He died on Friday, aged 86, in London, and obituaries have all, naturally, highlighted the great character roles created for his remarkable talents: the loveable simpleton Alain in Ashton's La fille mal gardée, where a red umbrella proved a more faithful friend than the girl he was supposed to marry, and Bottom the weaver in Ashton's Shakespeare ballet The Dream, in which Grant wore a huge donkey head and capered on pointe so sweetly that he stole everyone's heart, not just Titania's.

But this clip on YouTube of Grant leading the Three Ivans, an exhausting Cossack-style number now rarely seen in productions of The Sleeping Beauty, shows his exceptional athleticism and showstopping charisma.

Watch Alexander Grant perform in The Sleeping Beauty

Grant became the owner of Ashton's La fille mal gardée when the choreographer died in 1988, and taught it tirelessly around the world. One of its most delightful episodes is a threesome that poor Alain thinks is a twosome with his intended - little does he realise that his awkward partnering allows her boyfriend constantly to come between them. A rare clip of him teaching this to dancers in the National Ballet of Canada (where he had just arrived as director) exists on YouTube - the last few seconds show Grant's ability to switch on a complete personality at will with the tilt of his head.

Watch Alexander Grant teach the pas de trois in La fille mal gardée

Though I can't find film of Grant himself as Alain, here is his younger brother Garry in the same role in the 1981 Royal Ballet film with Lesley Collier and Michael Coleman as the deceiving lovers. The threesome begins at about 6 mins 30 secs in.

Watch Garry Grant perform in La fille mal gardée



Ah, Pigling Bland in the 1971 film, trotters on point: unforgettable! RIP.

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