The collected administrative and artistic records of Rambert, Britain's oldest dance company.
Rambert Dance Company Archive
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
In 1926 Marie Rambert and her students presented the ballet 'A Tragedy of Fashion' by Frederick Ashton, then one of her students, as part of a revue at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. It is said that this piece marked the birth of British Ballet, and also the formation of Rambert.
From 1926 Marie Rambert and her dancers staged more occasional performances, until they formed the Ballet Club in 1930. This was essentially a group of talented artists who came together for regular Sunday performances at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate, as well as short seasons in the West End and regional theatres. (The Mercury Theatre was owned by Rambert's husband, Ashley Dukes, and acted as a base for the Company for many years.) In 1935 the Company was renamed Ballet Rambert, the name under which it was known until 1987.
During the Second World War Ballet Rambert became a full time touring company and, as the Company had outgrown the tiny Mercury Theatre, from 1946 its most frequent London performances were at Sadler's Wells. During the war the Company did a great deal of valuable work appearing in a range of venues including factory canteens as well as theatres, and in this way made its own contribution to the war effort. The change in its performance activities, during and immediately after the war, resulted in a new audience. The small but knowledgeable audience of the Ballet Club was replaced by a more general audience whose tastes were less adventurous than those of the Company's earlier supporters. They began to expect longer ballets in addition to the traditional mixed bills of new works. Ballet Rambert performed several classics, including the well-known 'Giselle' and 'Coppelia' and the first major British productions of 'La Sylphide' and 'Don Quixote'. Extensive touring for up to 35 weeks a year meant there was less time to create new works and there was no notable choreographer working with the Company at this time. In 1958 this changed when Norman Morrice, one of Marie Rambert's novice choreographers, created his first work, 'Two Brothers', for the Company. This work heralded a tentative return to the innovative policies which had previously been the hallmark of Ballet Rambert. 'Two Brothers' was performed in modern dress and dealt with a contemporary theme while still using a traditional ballet vocabulary.
Norman Morrice, encouraged by Marie Rambert, travelled to America in 1962 on a Ford Foundation Grant in order to see the new developments in dance and to study with some of the major choreographers of the time, including Martha Graham. At this time it had become apparent that Ballet Rambert could no longer afford the expense of touring large-scale classical productions and that, if it was to survive, a change of direction was needed. Following his visit to America, Morrice encouraged Marie Rambert to return to the Company's original ethos and the Company transformed from a medium-scale classical touring company to a smaller ensemble, aiming to create new works and preserve the best of their previous works.
In 1966 Morrice was appointed Associate Artistic Director of the new Company which comprised
eighteen dancers. The dancers in the new Company were trained in both classical and contemporary (Graham-based) dance techniques. Each dancer was considered equal in status. No individual held the position of principal dancer and they became soloists in their own right.
During this time several American choreographers worked with the company including Glen Tetley with 'Pierrot Lunaire' and 'Ricercare'. Regular choreographic workshops were also held for the dancers, and Christopher Bruce began to emerge from the Company as a talented choreographer.
During the first few years of Ballet Rambert's new incarnation, the Company also retained several pieces from its earlier repertoire. Among these were four of Antony Tudor's works, including 'Dark Elegies' (1937); and also Nijinsky's 'L'Apres-midi d'une faune', revived for Ballet Rambert in 1931.
In 1974 Morrice resigned as Artistic Director and was succeeded by John Chesworth, who had performed with the Company since 1951 and served as Assistant to the Directors from 1966 to 1974. During Chesworth's years as Director, assisted by Bruce in the role of Associate Director, the Company produced several major works, including two full evening pieces: 'Cruel Garden' (1977, Bruce in collaboration with Lindsay Kemp) and Tetley's 'The Tempest' (1979). He also continued Morrice's policy of inviting overseas choreographers to mount works on the Company. In 1979 Bruce left the Company to embark on a career as a freelance choreographer, although he still maintained a position with Ballet Rambert as Associate Choreographer. The following year Chesworth left to pursue other interests.
In 1981 Robert North was appointed as new Artistic Director, a post he held until 1986. During
North's directorship, the choreographic focus centred on North himself, Bruce and Richard Alston, although occasional invitations were made to overseas choreographers to mount works for the Company. Amongst these were Paul Taylor's 'Airs' (1982), Merce Cunningham's 'Fielding Sixes' (1983) and Dan Wagoner's 'An Occasion for Some Revolutionary Gestures' (1985).
In 1986 North was replaced by Richard Alston as Artistic Director. Under Alston's direction the Company became known for its use of Cunningham technique and a repertoire of mainly abstract works. He too invited choreographers from abroad to make works for the Company, including a number of influential American 'postmodern' choreographers such as Tricia Brown, Lucinda Childs and Cunningham himself, whose 'Touchbase' (1992) was created specifically for Rambert. It was Alston who was responsible for renaming the Company to Rambert Dance Company in 1987, a name that more accurately reflected the style and nature of the Company in its present form. Alston left Rambert at the end of 1992.
His successor was named as Christopher Bruce, who, because of his long and fruitful association with the Company, was uniquely qualified to take on the role of Artistic Director.
Christopher Bruce took up the position of Artistic Director in April 1994 and over the first few months built up a company of 25 dancers: some former members of Rambert, some dancers from other companies that he wished to continue working with, and some new to his style of working. Their mixed backgrounds in classical and contemporary dance allowed them to perform a wide range of work. Bruce invited internationally recognised choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp and Siobhan Davies to produce works for the Company as well as providing opportunities for young choreographers like Jeremy James and Wayne McGregor to create new works for Rambert.
Bruce also recognised the importance of developing talent from within the Company, regularly offering the dancers the opportunity to create their own short works, platformed at 'choreographic workshop' performances in London.
Christopher Bruce's distinct choreographic style, embracing both his ballet and Graham technique training, led him to create a wide range of new and diverse works for the Company. His productions generally encompass dramatic, emotive and theatrical elements with clear themes. Among his most popular productions are 'Cruel Garden' (1977), 'Ghost Dances' (1981) and 'Rooster' (1991). His creations, made for the Company after its re-launch in 1994, included 'Stream' (1996), to commemorate the Company's 70th anniversary, and 'Four Scenes' (1998), commissioned by Sadler's Wells to mark Rambert's opening of the newly re-built theatre in
October 1998. Bruce's 'God's Plenty', a unique narrative work combining dance with song and spoken text, was premièred in September 1999, and 'Grinning in your Face' was created to celebrate the Company's 75th anniversary in 2001.
With the end of Christopher Bruce's directorship in 2002 and the appointment of Mark Baldwin (a previous dancer and choreographer for the Company) as new Artistic Director, Rambert entered a new chapter in its history.
Mark's vision when he started was to commission works that encourage collaboration with other art forms such as music and design in order to create a body of work that is visually and aurally entertaining for audiences. To date Mark has commissioned new works by Karole Armitage, Javier De Frutos, Walker Dance Park Music, Ian Spink, Kim Brandstrup, Rafael Bonachela, Christopher Bruce, Aletta Collins, Darshan Singh Bhuller, André Gingras and Garry Stewart.
The Rambert archive remained largely un-catalogued until 2012/13. The current catalogue structure was drafted by cataloguing archivist Eilís McCarthy based on the archive location guide, a survey of the collection and research into the Company history. Senior members of staff were also consulted and the final catalogue structure was approved by Rambert Chief Executive Nadia Stern and Company Archivist Arike Oke.
The catalogue is based on a functional structure of Rambert. Series roughly correspond with departments creating and collecting the records.
The description has been divided into series, and the structure is as follows:
RDC Rambert Archive
This collection can be viewed by appointment with the Rambert Archivist. The Rambert Archivist can also advise on the status of any items closed for data protection or business sensitive reasons. More information on making an appointment can be found on the Rambert website: http://www.rambert.org.uk/ramberts_history/access
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright owned by creators including choreographer(s), designer(s) and composer(s). Performers rights apply. Can not be copied without rights owners' permission(s).