British ballet's secret weapon, funny and dangerous | Dance reviews, news & interviews
British ballet's secret weapon, funny and dangerous
RIP Alexander Grant, eccentric mime and dancer with a panther's spring in his step
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
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Exile-themed circus show is rather too serious
Too much sugar in Ashton double bill
Spectacular dance fireworks make this hoariest and silliest of Russian classics worth seeing
Hypnotic exploration of Indian myth from a female perspective
A royal gem in the Linbury Studio Theatre
Christopher Hampson's fairytale fills the seasonal family ballet slot nicely
Highlights of the last calendar year
Likeable dancers deliver Christmas cheer despite the mice
Wacky and delightful dance theatre adaptation of classic fairytale
A vampiric twist on the Tchaikovsky ballet makes for an evening of mixed success
The ballet star takes his final bow in a self-curated gala that raises the roof
Faultless production works its magic afresh