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Derek Rencher: A look back at his life with The Royal Ballet

In his nearly fifty years with the Company, the dancer created roles in several modern classics.

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

23 December 2014 at 11.02am | 8 Comments

Derek Rencher (1932–2014) first studied at the Royal College of Art, before joining the Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) in 1952. He was promoted to Soloist in 1957 and to Principal in 1969. He later became a Guest Principal Character Artist, and danced his last Season with the Company in 1997–8. In his long tenure with The Royal Ballet he won acclaim particularly for his powerful stage presence.

Rencher appeared in his first new ballets in 1956, making a strong impression in Kenneth MacMillan’s Noctambules and Alfred Rodrigues’s The Miraculous Mandarin. The following year he danced several roles in John Cranko’s new Prince of the Pagodas.

He created his first role for Frederick Ashton in 1961, dancing Demaphoön opposite Svetlana Beriosova as the title role in Persephone. Further role creations for Ashton included Edward Elgar in Enigma Variations (1968), also opposite Beriosova as The Lady, and Rakitin in A Month in the Country (1976) with Lynne Seymour. He created the role of Death in Ashton’s gala work The Walk to the Paradise Gardens (1972), and created the costume designs for Ashton’s gala pas de deux Lament of the Waves (1970).

In 1965 he created the role of Paris in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. He went on to create the role of Monsieur G.M. in Manon (1974) and strongly influenced the depiction of a figure who, in Rencher’s words, would ‘buy someone and discard them without a scruple’. Other roles for MacMillan included a diffident Tsar Nicholas II in the three-act version of Anastasia (1971), Prince Philipp in Mayerling (1978) and Isadora’s lover Paris Singer in Isadora (1981).

Further role creations included Terrestrial in Anthony Tudor’s Shadowplay (1967) and Alonso in Rudolf Nureyev’s The Tempest (1982).

He was an imposing presence as Von Rothbart in Swan Lake, as Kostcheï in The Firebird and as the High Brahmin in La Bayadère. Other significant roles in his later career included a Step-Sister in Cinderella, Mrs Pettitoes in Tales of Beatrix Potter and the title role in Anthony Dowell’s production of Don Quixote (1993).

By Alasdair Steven (Music writer)

23 December 2014 at 11.02am

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Derek Rencher, obituary, Royal Ballet

This article has 8 comments

  1. Nina responded on 23 December 2014 at 5:57pm Reply

    Sad to read this. He was a superb partner and made many of the roles he created very much his own. Terrestrial, Elgar, Monsieur GM particularly memorable, but also the most handasome and courte

  2. Marian Westlake responded on 24 December 2014 at 1:50pm Reply

    A very sad loss in the ballet world. He had such elegance and charisma and a true gentleman.

  3. Nina Battleday responded on 24 December 2014 at 8:53pm Reply

    Sorry - had difficulties posting this. To add to my comments he was the most courteous Paris ever seen. Definitely an always noticeable stage presence.

  4. MARK ALLINGTON responded on 26 December 2014 at 5:07pm Reply

    I joined the company as an actor in 1973, and noticed how still and impressive he was on stage. By far the best Paris, and I have seen nearly all of them. The only drawback to this was, you couldn't understand why Juliet wanted to go off with Romeo. Also, a great guy to chat with in the canteen. I very much miss his kind of person.

  5. May responded on 3 January 2015 at 2:29pm Reply

    A brilliant artist who will be much missed. Rest in peace, Derek.

  6. Michael Crabb responded on 7 January 2015 at 5:53pm Reply

    No dancer understood better the expressive potential of economy of gesture or the power of stillness. His artistry was unerring; his tastefulness impeccable. Even from old videos, young artists canstill learn valuable lessons by observing Derek Rencher's extraordinary stagecraft.

  7. Ana Abad Carlés responded on 18 January 2015 at 5:44pm Reply

    Just read the news... How sad to have lost such wonderful artist! I saw him on many occasions, but perhaps my best memory of him will always be as Elgar in Enigma Variations. Never has such constraint touched hearts so deeply. Rest in Peace and thank you for so many memorable evenings.

  8. Mary Jane Higgins responded on 26 March 2019 at 7:15am Reply

    I not only had the pleasure of meeting Derek but I live at his former home on the South Downs - Crowlink Corner

    I have preserved all his wonderful art work and tend to his magical gardens

    If anyone would like to visit your most welcome

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