Beryl Grey as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty 1952 © Photograph by Roger Wood
Beryl Grey as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty 1952 © Photograph by Roger Wood

Remembering Beryl Grey (1927–2022)

The English ballet dancer’s prestigious career was launched when she danced Odette/Odile, aged 15.

ByHattie Hafenrichter (Special Projects Communications Officer)
Sunday 11 December 2022, 11am

The Royal Ballet is saddened by the death of the English ballet dancer Beryl Grey, aged 95.  

Grey was born in London and began dance lessons at the age of four. At the age of ten, she auditioned for Ninette de Valois. She joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) at the age of 14, and made her solo debut as a Blue Skater in Ashton’s Les Patineurs. On her 15th birthday, Dame Ninette de Valois invited her to perform Odette/Odile (Swan Lake). Other key roles in her repertory included Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy (The Sleeping Beauty), the Black Queen (Checkmate) and Giselle and Myrtha (Giselle). A tall and elegant dancer, she created roles in Ashton’s The Quest (1943), Les Sirènes (1946), Cinderella (Winter Fairy, 1948), Homage to the Queen (1953) and Birthday Offering (1956), as well as in Helpmann’s The Birds (1942), De Valois’ Promenade (1943), Massine’s Donald of the Burthens (1951) and Cranko’s The Lady and the Fool (1955). In 1952, she made the first stereoscopic ballet film, The Black Swan, with John Field, and from 1956, she established a distinguished career as a guest ballerina, performing across Europe, South America, Australasia, the USA, Canada and the Far East until the mid-1960s. In 1957, she became the first English dancer to appear as a guest ballerina with the ballet companies of the Kirov and the Bolshoi, and in 1964, she became the first British ballerina to work with the Peking Ballet and Shanghai Company.  

Grey’s many positions after she retired from dancing included Artistic Director of Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) and later its President, Vice President of the Royal Academy of Dancing and President of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1988 and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award in 1997. She was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the 2017 Birthday Honours, and that same year, she published her autobiography, ‘For The Love of Dance’, with Oberon Books. She was married for more than sixty years to the osteopath Sven Svenson, who died in 2008.  

Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, said: ‘We were deeply saddened to receive the news of Dame Beryl’s passing. From child prodigy to elegant grande dame, she was an illustrious part of our British ballet history, as performer, dance leader and dance advocate. As part of the indefatigable group who lifted morale during the war, she retained wonderful spirit, style and vigour throughout her long life, always passionate about the future of the artform. In recent years, she showed great love and interest in the Company, and I recall fondly this memorable Lilac Fairy, who had reawakened the Royal Opera House in 1946, leaping up during a masterclass to demonstrate and pass on her considerable knowledge and experience. Her distinctive presence and energy will be missed and she will be remembered with great affection.’ 

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