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Former dancer at Sadler's Wells Ballet, Pauline Clayden, turns 90

Take a look back at a remarkable career and into the former dancer's scrapbook.

By Cristina Franchi (Exhibitions and Heritage Publications Manager)

18 October 2012 at 2.55pm | 4 Comments

Pauline Clayden, known to her fellow dancers as Claudie, celebrates her 90th birthday this month. In celebration, we thought we’d take a look back at a remarkable career.

Pauline went to ballet classes as a young child and found herself alongside Julia Farron, who was to become a lifelong friend and who preceded her into Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet). Pauline was a member of Antony Tudor’s London Ballet before joining Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1942. At the time the Company were alternating 11-week seasons in London with 11 weeks touring the country as part of the war effort. The Company played a crucial role during World War II in helping to keep morale up and performed not only in theatres but also munitions factories and garrison towns. Performances were organized by the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

Pauline soon caught the eye of choreographer Frederick Ashton who asked her to learn Margot Fonteyn’s roles, including the Poor Girl in Nocturne, Child of Light in Dante Sonata, Chloë in Daphnis and Chloë, La Morte amoreuse in Don Juan and Queen of the Air in Homage to the Queen as well as Ophelia in Robert Helpmann’s Hamlet. In addition Pauline created roles in ballets including Andrée Howard’s The Spider’s Banquet, Ninette de Valois’ Promenade, John Cranko’s Bonne Bouche and Ashton’s Tiresias and Sylvia.  She danced the full range of the repertoire and was a notable Papillon in Mikhail Fokine’s Carnaval.

In early 1945 Pauline was part of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet ENSA tour to Belgium and Paris. They were the largest group ENSA had ever sent out and the first to play for civilian audiences as well as service personnel.  In the autumn of 1945, after the war had ended, they toured to Germany and Poland.  Pauline’s memories of this time as well as her time with the Ballet Company in general have been collected by ROH Collections as part of a Living History project as well as in her own wonderful scrapbooks.

When Sadler’s Wells Ballet reopened the Royal Opera House on 20 February 1946 with The Sleeping Beauty, Pauline danced the role of the Fairy of the Songbirds and her tutu is preserved in ROH Collections.  She continued to dance with the Company until she retired to have a family in 1956. De Valois wrote her a poignant letter at this time saying how much she had enjoyed Pauline’s dancing over the years and that she had not been able to tell her before because as Director she had to appear impartial. Pauline very kindly lent this letter in 2010/11 for the ROH On the Road exhibition Invitation to the Ballet, Ninette de Valois and the story of The Royal Ballet.

Pauline has been invaluable in the reconstructing of lost ballets, taking part in workshops at The Royal Ballet School on De Valois’ Promenade, and more recently on Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals in which she created the role of the Suicide in 1944.

Happy birthday Pauline!

By Cristina Franchi (Exhibitions and Heritage Publications Manager)

18 October 2012 at 2.55pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged archive, Claudie, Collections, history, Ninette de Valois, Pauline Clayden, Sadler's Wells Ballet, World War II

This article has 4 comments

  1. Thankyou for this amazing article! And Happy Birthday Pauline x

  2. Maurice Crutchlow responded on 20 October 2012 at 10:59am Reply

    I believe she created the Autumn Fairy in Ashton's "Cinderella" and,according to Leslie Edwards("In Good Company"2003) threw leaves above her head and whirled about the stage with great speed.
    A happy 90th!

  3. Jan Finch responded on 25 October 2012 at 3:49pm Reply

    Pauline continues to inspire us with her grace and expression and zest for life every week at Fitness League classes. The members and myself wish her a Happy 90th Birthday...with love Jan Finch

  4. Alex Foley responded on 1 November 2012 at 8:34pm Reply

    Dear Pauline,
    A very happy belated birthday.
    You were such an inspiration to me during the years at Yates Williams, I really looked forward to our Friday rep classes can't quite believe it was 35 years ago, it feels like yesterday. Lots of love to you and your family, Alex Foley xxx

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