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David Drew: A look back at his life with The Royal Ballet

An illustrious figure associated with The Royal Ballet for more than fifty years, the former Principal dancer has died after a long illness.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

19 October 2015 at 1.28pm | 1 Comment

David Drew (1938–2015) brought a lively intensity and wit to all the character roles he danced with The Royal Ballet, expertly driving forward the drama. In his diverse roles he demonstrated a deep understanding both of character and of the art form, and was a magnificent partner of numerous ballerinas.

After training with The Royal Ballet School, Drew joined the Company in July 1955. He was promoted to Soloist in 1962, to Principal in 1974, to Senior Principal in 1978 and to Principal Character Artist in 1989. Created roles included Kenneth MacMillan’s Solitaire, Leonid Massine’s The Good Humoured LadiesFrederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, Demetrius in Ashton’s The Dream, Gaoler in MacMillan’s Manon and Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton in MacMillan’s Mayerling. He made a notable impression as Mercutio in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Drew retired from the Company in 2003, but remained a much valued Guest Artist.

Drew choreographed several ballets (the first, Intrusion, was performed by The Royal Ballet in 1969 with Jiří Kylián in the cast) and wrote the scenario for Northern Ballet’s The Three Musketeers in 2006. He taught pas de deux at The Royal Ballet School and contributed to its popular choreographic course led by Norman Morrice. Another of his long-standing projects was to revive Robert Helpmann’s wartime classic Miracle in the Gorbals, produced by Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2014.

The Royal Ballet has paid the following tribute:

‘David Drew was a linchpin of The Royal Ballet over many decades and was a true Company member with every fibre of his being. His tireless and unceasing energy and talents extended far beyond the many fine roles he danced and created as a Principal and Character Artist. His passions were many and varied, always pursued with relentless energy and an unshakeable integrity.

‘Among his many causes he was a great champion of working conditions for dancers. He was instrumental in setting up the Dancers’ Pension Fund and also the group that became the precursor to Dance UK. His keen interest in and involvement with the re-development of the Royal Opera House contributed much to the rehearsal facilities now to be enjoyed by the current and future generations of Royal Ballet dancers. Many famous names of the dance world passed through his pas de deux lessons at The Royal Ballet School. His work with Norman Morrice on the School’s choreography course and his subsequent encouragement of so many young choreographers both within and outside The Royal Ballet organization helped fledgling, many now firmly established, creative artists. And there was, of course, his personal, fervently pursued passion, his choreography and latterly his work on new ballet scenarios and re-creations and restagings of ballets from the past.

‘All who knew “Drew” as a personal friend and colleague will feel his loss keenly. He was a larger than life character, an extremely talented, passionate, huge hearted, generous, loveable, devoted and loving man, all characteristics that permeated both his artistic and personal life. He achieved much for the dance world and its inhabitants.’

Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, dedicated the performance of Romeo and Juliet on Saturday 17 October to David Drew. ‘All of us at The Royal Ballet will be forever grateful for everything David did for us and it will not be forgotten’, said Kevin. ‘He will be missed.’

Read more about David Drew’s life in Paul Arrowsmith’s obituary for DanceTabs.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

19 October 2015 at 1.28pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged David Drew, obituary

This article has 1 comment

  1. Nina Battleday responded on 19 October 2015 at 7:06pm Reply

    Always enjoyed his performances, although particularly in some of the early performances of Manon where I think he had a pas de deux which was cut from later performances. He was a superb partner, and, from what I have heard, an excellent teacher. Many happy memories of him

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