If you love dance and love London, this book is for you!  Larraine Nicholas takes us on a series of imaginary walks, leading us through London’s remarkable dance landscape during three years at the start of the 1950s.  It was an exciting period that included the Festival of Britain and the Coronation, and dance was part of it;  not just  the big names, such as Sadler’s Wells Ballet and Ballet Rambert, but dozens of small companies, many now forgotten.  A single footnote lists eight of the “better documented” groups, and some, even of these, only lasted a season.

As the book moves us from one venue to another, it also takes us through time.  Looking back, Nicholas tells us that Taglioni was married in St Pancras Church, and that Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes appeared at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, or looking forward, she draws parallels between the Festival and Coronation celebrations and those of the 2012 Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

We glimpse Danilova teaching company class for Festival Ballet; Sally Gilmour and Harold Turner dancing in Andree Howard’s Orlando’s Silver Wedding in an open-air amphitheatre, or a granddaughter of Queen Victoria accompanying her friend, the proprietor of the Windmill, to Markova-Dolin performances.  There is no “side” to this approach, and all kinds of dance are included, from ballet to expressionist dance, and from vaudeville to the Pavilion in the Festival Gardens, where anyone could dance for sixpence.

Nicholas has used a wide range of sources, including the Monica Collingwood Archive at Roehampton and Lionel Bradley’s Ballet Bulletins at the V&A, yet this carefully researched and detailed work wears its scholarly aspect so lightly that even the footnotes make good reading.  It is a pleasure to read.

Maggie Watson

16 December 2013

Nicholas, Larraine 2013  Walking and dancing:three years of dance in London 1951–1953   Noverre Press

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