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The London City Ballet: 'a great little company' makes it on its own

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The man from Cincinnati unwrapped several bunches of golden daffodils from a newspaper and snapped elastic bands around them. As the dancers came down- stage to bow to the audience, he hurled a bunch past the seven-piece orchestra, just missing the pianist's head.

The ballerina smiled down at him.

"A great little company," he said to me. "I've been watching them for some time now -- they've got some good dancers." And he stopped to pick up another bunch of flowers.

The "great little company" was the London City Ballet, performing for one week at the Wimbledon Theater in Southwest London. It is one of several ballet companies in England that, unlike the Royal Ballet, lacks a permanent base.

Instead, the dancers must tour, sleep, in "bed and breakfast" rooms, rehearse under strange and often uncomfortable conditions, and dance on stages they don't know, to a far more varied audience than the one that can afford the steep prices at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

In other words, they must dance for the masses, and they must have programs that appeal both to the new- comer and to the balletomane.

"Ours is a very happy company," remarked Harold King, artistic director- founder and himself a former dancer, in the foyer of the faded, turn-of-the-century suburban theater. Around us, schoolgirls, families, young couples, and elderly people bought chocolates and candy before entering the auditorium.

The London City Ballet was founded in April 1978 by Mr. King when some small companies were failing and several of his friends were out of work.

With nine dancers, the company offered a series of lunch-hour ballets at the Art Theater Club in Leicester Square. "We could fit in 250 people but the stage was so small," Mr. King recalled.

Later they toured the United Kingdom, and now, with a company of 25, they have their own studio in Highgate Village "in an enormous church hall."

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