The Royal Ballet | Nadia Nerina retrospective exhibition
Acclaimed ballerina and pioneer of ballet on television celebrated in a retrospective exhibition: Nadia Nerina, Principal Ballet dancer with The Royal Ballet from 1947-1966
Royal Opera House, 22 March – 17 August 2013
Generously supported by the Philip Loubser Foundation
Nadia Nerina was a pioneer in the world of ballet bringing the art form to the television in its early days. She was also the first ballerina in The Royal Ballet after Margot Fonteyn to dance the complete range of the company’s ballerina roles in the full length ballets including Cinderella, Coppélia, Giselle, Le Lac des cynges, Ondine, The Sleeping Beauty and Sylvia and one of the first dancers to tour away from the Company, bringing ballet to the masses.
Now sixty years since Nerina was made a Principal of Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later The Royal Ballet, the South African born dancer’s illustrious career and her unique contribution to the history of The Royal Ballet is celebrated in a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Opera House. The majority of the material on display is drawn from the Nadia Nerina Collection with a few additional items from Royal Opera House Collections to reflect her career with The Royal Ballet.
Born Nadine Judd on 21 October 1927 in Cape Town, South Africa, Nerina had her first dancing classes at the age of nine. She wrote fan letters to Beryl Grey of Sadler’s Wells Ballet. She treasured a reply from Grey in her scrapbook which can be seen on display in the exhibition. Nerina’s dancing and acting abilities continued to impress and eventually she decided she wanted to pursue a career in ballet. She came to London and took classes with Marie Rambert before joining Sadler’s Wells Ballet School in February 1946. In the April she was invited to join Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, the new company of young dancers and choreographers being established by Ninette de Valois at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Nerina’s contemporaries at Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet included Anne Heaton, Sheilah O’Reilly, Donald Britton, Leo Kersley, Kenneth MacMillan, Peter Darrell, Michael Boulton and John Cranko.
Ninette de Valois commented on Nerina’s lovely, natural flow of movement and in later years said that Nerina was the dancer who most reminded her of herself. When Frederick Ashton created a new version of La Fille mal gardée in 1960 with what he called his “dream cast”, he cast Nerina as Lise and David Blair as Colas. The technical accomplishments of Nerina and Blair meant Ashton was free to create some of his most demanding pas de deux and variations. Nerina became the first Royal Ballet ballet dancer to attempt the one-handed Bolshoi lift where the ballerina sits high above her partner’s head sitting on the palm of his hand, a feat which drew gasps of amazement from the audience.
Nerina was a pioneer of ballet on television agreeing to collaborate with Margaret Dale, a former dancer with Sadler’s Wells Ballet who was working as a BBC producer in the 1950s. Between 1957 and 1965, Nerina starred in Dale’s studio productions of Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Giselle, Petrushka, La Fille mal gardée and The Firebird. These were ground-breaking productions filmed especially for television viewers winning a whole new audience for ballet. Casts included her Sadler’s Wells Ballet/Royal Ballet colleagues Robert Helpmann, Donald Britton, Julia Farron, Alfred Rodrigues and Peter Wright, and Njels Bjorn Larsen from the Royal Danish Ballet and Lydia Sokolova, the British dancer who had danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dale also managed to secure the Bolshoi Principal Nicolai Fadeyechev to appear as Albrecht with Nerina in the title role in Giselle. From her BBC TV appearances, Nerina kept her costume as Swanilda in Coppélia which is also on display in the exhibition.
Nerina was one of the first Royal Ballet ballerinas to organise their own tours away from the Company. In 1952, she returned to her native South Africa with her regular partner Alexis Rassine for a concert tour. In 1955 she and Rassine covered some 35,000 miles in a concert tour they called Ballet Highlights visiting South Africa, Rhodesia, East and West Africa. In 1956/57 they toured a Ballet Highlights concert tour around the UK with concert pianists Colin Preedy and Colin Kingsley. The two hour programme consisted of five pas de deux interspersed with musical interludes. The tours began in Oxford and included Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh. Kenneth MacMillan created a pas de deuxentitled Fireworks for Nerina and Rassine which was performed for the first time in Oxford. The work has not been seen since but Nerina kept her costume designed by Nicholas Georgiadis who collaborated with MacMillan on many of his ballets. This costume was discovered buried in a box thought to contain Nerina’s head dresses and will be displayed for the first time in this exhibition. Other costumes from her tours include the tutu for Boleras de la Cachucha, a pas de deux choreographed for her and Alexis Rassine by Nerina’s former teacher Elsa Brunelleschi, and the costumes for the two Anna Pavlova solos The Dying Swan, choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for Pavlova, and The Dragonfly, choreographed by Pavlova herself.
Nerina collected material associated with her career including costumes, press cuttings, photographs, posters as well as the cans of film of the BBC broadcasts. Thanks to the generosity of the Philip Loubser Foundation, Nerina’s Collection has been donated to Royal Opera House Collections. In addition, their generosity has allowed the costumes and accessories to be cleaned and conserved, the films transferred to appropriate film and the press cutting books and other material re-housed in acid free boxes.
Costumes on display include a Moth which is thought to date from her performances in the early 1940s as a young dancer in Durban, South Africa. Some early press cuttings and programmes can also be seen. From her Sadler’s Wells Ballet/The Royal Ballet days there are costumes and head dresses for Odile in Le Lac des cygnes, designed by Leslie Hurry, the British surrealist artist, and the tutu for the Don Quixote pas de deux, which she danced with the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn in 1962. Nerina danced many Frederick Ashton roles and her costumes for Ondine, designed by Lila de Nobili, and for the Debutante in Façade, designed by John Armstrong, as well as a large photograph of herself with Alexis Rassine as the Dago can also be seen. In 1963, Nerina created the role of Elektra in the Robert Helpmann ballet Elektra and her costume, designed by the Australian artist Arthur Boyd, is displayed alongside a pair of signed pink ballet slippers she wore for her last performance as Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet in Ashton’s Sylvia (One Act) at the Royal Opera House on 20 January 1968.
This material is complemented by three costumes and photographs from Royal Opera House Collections conveying the full range of her work. Nerina’s costumes as The Faded Beauty, the role created for her by Kenneth MacMillan’s Noctambules in 1956, as Lise, the role Ashton created for her in La Fille mal gardée in 1960 and the role for which perhaps she is best remembered, as Ashton’s Sylvia, the last role she danced at the Royal Opera House, are also on display.
Royal Opera House Collections have commissioned independent filmmaker Lynne Wake to create a short film to convey some of the qualities of Nadia Nerina as a dancer. This includes extracts from her two favourite roles – Lise in LaFille mal gardée and the title role in Giselle. The film can be viewed in the Amphitheatre Gallery during daytime opening of the exhibition.
The exhibition runs until Saturday 17 August 2013 and can be viewed free by daytime visitors. The Royal Opera House is a working theatre so please ring the Box Office on +44 (0)20 7304 4000 to check the exhibition areas are open. A free exhibition leaflet is available to guide visitors around the exhibition spaces and can be downloaded from the Royal Collections website.
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