Posted on June 19, 2013
David Wall, one of the UK’s greatest male dancers, died on June 18, 2013. Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, and Tamara Rojo, director of English National Ballet, have led tributes to Wall as a dancer, teacher and coach.
Born in 1946, Wall trained at The Royal Ballet School and joined The Royal Ballet’s touring company in 1963. Still in his teens, he partnered Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake, and became a principal in 1967. In 1967, he married fellow Royal Ballet dancer Alfreda Thorogood – the choreographer announced their engagement on stage, after a performance of The Two Pigeons! He moved to the Covent Garden branch of The Royal Ballet in 1970.
Wall danced an amazingly broad repertory, from the Rake in Ninette de Valois’ The Rake’s Progress to Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. He created roles for Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, Glen Tetley, David Bintley and, above all, Kenneth MacMillan. His created roles for MacMillan included Lescaut, the charming, immoral brother of Manon, and the doomed, psychologically tormented Rudolf in Mayerling. In 1977, he won the Evening Standard award for outstanding achievement in ballet.
He retired from dancing in 1984, and began to teach, becoming associate director of the Royal Academy of Dance (then the Royal Academy of Dancing) from 1984 to 1987, and its director until 1990. He then worked as a freelance teacher and repetiteur, staging Mayerling for the Hungarian Ballet, Manon for the Royal Danish Ballet and coaching many roles. He became ballet master at English National Ballet (ENB) in 1995. In 2005, he and his wife, former Royal Ballet principal Alfreda Thorogood, were instrumental in staging MacMillan’s production of The Sleeping Beauty for ENB.
Kevin O’Hare said: “Everyone associated with The Royal Ballet, past and present, is deeply saddened by the death of David Wall. He was a truly exceptional artist and star of The Royal Ballet and one of its greatest dance actors. A fine classical dancer and a consummate partner, he possessed a dramatic intensity that allowed him to dance and create a huge variety of roles, all with equal success. It was these gifts that led Kenneth MacMillan to create the role of the manipulative and calculating Lescaut for him in Manon in 1974 and then, in 1978, the ground-breaking role of Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling which is, to this day, the most challenging male role in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. It was an unforgettable experience for all of us who saw him perform it.
“David was a wonderful role model for all young male dancers of the generation that followed him, and on his retirement from the stage he became an inspirational teacher and coach, committed to passing on his knowledge and experience, especially in so many of the roles he had made his own.
“He will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his wife Alfreda, former principal dancer with The Royal Ballet, and his family.”
Tamara Rojo said: “David Wall was one of the greatest British dancers of his generation. He had a very special relationship with English National Ballet as a valued and inspirational teacher. I was privileged to have worked with him on Sleeping Beauty, my first production as artistic director at English National Ballet, which he staged with his wife Alfreda Thorogood. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with Alfreda and his family.”
An obituary of David Wall by Mary Clarke will appear in the August issue of Dancing Times.
Picture: Lesley Collier as Mary Vetsera and David Wall as Rudolf in The Royal Ballet production of Mayerling. Photograph © Leslie E. Spatt