The Royal Academy of Dance centenary book is beautifully presented; complete with a red satin page marker, burgundy end-papers, a centenary seal embossed in gold on the front cover, and the Academy’s Royal crest on the back.  Generously illustrated throughout, the photographs run through the text like a thread of gold.  There are wonderful images such as Adeline Genée in Robert Le Diable at the Empire Theatre in 1908; Phyllis Bedells teaching in the 1950s; Michael Somes jumping higher than the international high jumper Dorothy Tyler beside him, and Stanislas Idzikowski demonstrating an arabesque in class, wearing a three-piece suit and street shoes.

All pictures are carefully credited wherever possible, but curiously, the main body of the text is unattributed. Apart from Forewords by Darcey Bussell and Li Cunxin, the Introduction by Gerald Dowler, and a short article by Jane Pritchard on the RAD collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, there are no named authors; only an editor, Johanna Stephenson.

The book falls into two parts, the first four chapters offering an historical account from 1920 to the present day, the second four dealing with specific topics including syllabi and examinations, teacher education, and moves to widen participation in dance.  The lack of an authorial voice renders some of the historical detail rather dull although occasional personal recollections interspersed in the text brighten it up.  (I particularly liked the story of the examiner visiting a remote area of Australia, who was charged with locking up the airport when someone eventually arrived to collect her).  Some sentences even read as though they were written by a marketing department: ‘The story of the RAD in the twenty-first century has been one of rapid evolution and forward thinking, supported by the embrace of new communication technology and the power of marketing and social media …’ (p.72).

The RAD’s original purpose in 1920 was to raise the standard of teaching of ballet, which was completely unregulated at the time.  From that purpose sprang the training for teachers and examination systems for students.  Most people today still encounter the RAD through its accredited teachers, its syllabi, and its examinations, and are probably largely oblivious to the organisational structure that lies behind them: I certainly knew nothing of the RAD’s near bankruptcy in 1969.  The chapter on syllabi and examinations gives a frustratingly brief account of the introduction of the various syllabi over the years and the reasons for change.  It is the gorgeous glossy coloured photographs of current and recent students that show how the RAD’s technical and artistic values have developed: split jetés now figure prominently, in contrast with the emphasis on gesture and épaulement seen in the earlier images.

The text is well indexed.  The list of ‘further reading’ assumes access to a library with back-runs of dance journals, but also includes books that are more readily available.  This lovely-looking volume is not so much an authoritative history as a lavish manifesto for the RAD, and the rich array of photographs guarantees that it will look well on any coffee table.

Maggie Watson

25th February 2020

Royal Academy of Dance: Celebrating 100 Years. Edited by Johanna Stephenson, designed by Raymonde Watkins. London: Scala, 2019

You can purchase this book here