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William Chappell

Designer

Biography

English dancer, designer and producer William Chappell (1908–94) was a pioneer of British ballet. He danced in the companies of Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois, among others, but is best known for his designs for Frederick Ashton, which include Capriol Suite (1930), Les Rendezvous (1933), Les Patineurs (1937) and Rhapsody (1980).

Chappell was born in Wolverhampton and studied at Chelsea School of Art, where he began training with Rambert alongside Ashton. He made his first ballet designs in 1928 for a student charity production of Ashton’s Leda and the Swan, in which he also danced. He made his professional debut as a dancer in 1929 and went on to tour Europe with Ida Rubinstein’s company. He returned to England in 1930 and worked with Rambert’s Ballet Club as dancer and designer, while also dancing in ballets for De Valois’ Camargo Society and in commercial theatre. He joined Vic-Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) in 1934, dancing lead roles in the classical ballets and creating a number of roles. In addition to his Ashton designs, his ballet designs included Antony Tudor’s Lysistrata and De Valois’ Bar aux Folies-Bergère for Rambert, Giselle and Coppélia for Vic-Wells Ballet and The Nutcracker for Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.

Chappell resigned from dancing after World War II but continued to work as designer and producer for musicals, revues, plays, operas and ballets. He wrote two books, Studies in Ballet (1948) and Fonteyn: Impressions of a Ballerina (1951). His work as a film actor includes Titorelli (Orson Welles’s The Trial, 1962).

News and features

Re-creating Rhapsody: Costume designer Natalia Stewart on breathing new life into historic designs

15 January 2016
Re-creating <em>Rhapsody</em>: Costume designer Natalia Stewart on breathing new life into historic designs

Making William Chappell’s 1980 designs appeal to both contemporary audiences and dancers calls for a huge amount of research and innovation.

Ballet Essentials: Rhapsody/The Two Pigeons

7 January 2016
Ballet Essentials: <em>Rhapsody</em>/<em>The Two Pigeons</em>

Our quick introduction to this mixed programme in celebration of Frederick Ashton, bringing together virtuoso display with charming romance.

Photos