Sir Anton Dolin helped spread the appeal of ballet worldwide
Sir Anton Dolin, who passed on recently, was England's greatest and best-loved male ballet dancer and a link between Diaghilev's classical Ballets Russes and contemporary British companies. He is remembered vividly for his decades of contributions worldwide to every facet of dance, for his generosity, and for his dedication.
Sir Anton was Britain's ambassador of ballet. Flamboyantly dressed, quick-witted, he was active as a dancer, teacher, ballet master, and choreographer from Leningrad to Tokyo, from Venezuela to Canada to the Dick Cavett show in the United States.
Born Sydney Francis Patrick Chippendall Healey-Kay, and known to his close friends as Pat, he took a more exotic-sounding stage name just as other prominent dancers did: Peggy Hookham became Margot Fonteyn, for example, and Alice Marks was transformed into Alicia Markova.
As a child he loved performing; at age 12, he first appeared professionally as Peter the Cat in a Christmas play called ''Bluebell in Fairyland.'' He earned (STR)2 a week. A year later, in 1917, he saw the great Russian ballerina Seraphina Astafieva dance at the London Coliseum and immediately determined to apply for lessons at her school.
In a large, glossy book of memories and photographs published in 1982, entitled simply ''Dolin,'' Sir Anton recalled his first lesson with her on Aug. 24, 1917. ''(I) turned up in a pair of brown velvet knickers and a Little Lord Fauntleroy coat to match, thick woolen socks, and black shoes. How dreadful I must have looked!'' But he loved the lessons and worked hard.
Later he joined the Ballets Russes as a corps member in their London production of ''The Sleeping Princess'' and was coached by Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the legendary Nijinsky. She encouraged Dolin's special qualities, his natural technical brilliance in fast spins and his dramatic bravura.
He was soon noticed by Diaghilev and was given a variety of roles.
In a television interview last year, Sir Anton said his greatest role had been ''Beau Gosse'' in Cocteau's ballet ''The Train Bleu,'' choreographed by Nijinska. It was an overnight triumph and brought him fame at the age of 20. The ballet, highlighting his acrobatic feats, had him dressed in a Chanel bathing costume for a story of sport and flirtation on a beach.
During his Diaghilev years, Dolin met or partnered many famous names associated with the world of dance - Serge Lifar, Madame Kschessinska, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Nijinsky.
In fact, Dolin was largely responsible for the wide appeal ballet has today. He created the idea of a male dancer - not just a partner for an ethereal, delicate ballerina. Many of his early years were spent appearing in music halls and revues throughout Britain, often bringing audiences their first glimpse of ballet. As well, he was a founding member of the Camargo Society in London, laying the foundation for a British-born ballet company.
Here his fruitful and famous partnership with Alicia Markova blossomed. It led ultimately, via smaller companies, to the founding of the London Festival Ballet in 1950, today one of England's best.
At the beginning of the 1940s Dolin and Markova went to the United States where, for almost eight years, they danced nationwide with many groups, including the American Theater Company.
Dolin was a skilled performer, able to dance on pointe as well as any ballerina, as was seen in early works such as ''Les Facheux'' and Mussorgsky's ''Night on Bald Mountain.'' He could easily execute 32 fouettes (the full whip-turns seen in ''Swan Lake'') and many of them tours de force. This made him an excellent partner for ballerinas, for he knew just what they had to do.
Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet and Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet Companies, writes in ''Dolin'' that ''the history of ballet in the 20th century undoubtedly (will) place on record that Anton Dolin was the first British male dancer to receive both national and international recognition.''
She danced with him (''he was always a good partner'') in the early days of British ballet and enjoyed choreographing for him. Perhaps his most famous de Valois role was Satan in Vaughan Williams's ''Job.'' In the final moments, he dramatically fell head first down a flight of stairs.
Lady Elinor Campbell-Orde, a close friend since the Diaghilev years, remarked that ''He was generous in teaching others.'' She added that it was inspiring to watch classes he conducted: ''He taught so as to improve the pupil's performance , but only so that the performance would preserve the purity of detail and the integrity of the dance itself.''
Lady Campbell-Orde remembers his sense of humor and his love for children. Many generations remember him for his production each Christmas from 1949 to 1960 of the pantomime ''Where the Rainbow Ends.'' He played the role of St. George fighting the dragon.