Rambert history dates back to 1914, when Polish emigree and former Ballet Russes dancer Marie Rambert arrived in London fleeing the outbreak of the First World War. In 1920 she opened a school of dancing in Bedford Gardens, Kensington.
The Ballet Rambert Company gave its first performances in 1926, when Marie Rambert and her students presented the ballet A Tragedy of Fashion by Frederick Ashton, then one of her students. It is said that this piece marked the birth of British ballet. The Company became the Ballet Club in 1930, and in 1935 began using the name Ballet Rambert. At this time the Company was based at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill and toured full-time, performing classics including Giselle, Coppelia and the first major British productions of La Sylphide and Don Quixote.
In 1958, Norman Morrice, one of Marie Rambert’s novice choreographers, created Two Brothers for the company. At this time it had become apparent that Ballet Rambert could no longer afford the expense of touring large-scale classical productions and that, if it was to survive, a change of direction was needed. In 1966 the Ballet Rambert Company transformed from a medium-scale classical touring company to a smaller ensemble, led by Morrice and aiming to create new works, and Christopher Bruce began to emerge from the Company as a talented choreographer. Ballet Rambert Company moved to premises in Chiswick in 1971, this remained its base until 2013.
In 1974 Morrice was succeeded as Artistic Director by John Chesworth. During Chesworth’s years as Director, assisted by Bruce in the role of Associate Director, the Company produced several major works, including two full evening pieces: Cruel Garden (1977, Bruce in collaboration with Lindsay Kemp) and Glen Tetley’s The Tempest (1979).
In 1981 Robert North was appointed as new Artistic Director of Ballet Rambert. North developed a repertoire that proved popular with audiences both at home and abroad, contributing several popular pieces himself. He was replaced by Richard Alston in 1986; under his direction the Ballet Rambert Company became known for its use of Cunningham technique and a repertoire of mainly abstract works. In 1987, the company was renamed Rambert Dance Company to more accurately reflect the style and nature of its current form. This was shortened to simply Rambert in 2013.
Alston left Rambert Dance Company at the end of 1992 and Christopher Bruce took up the position of Artistic Director in April 1994. The Rambert Dance Company enjoyed enormous success both at home and abroad under Bruce’s visionary and inspiring leadership. He was succeeded in 2002 by Mark Baldwin, like his predecessor a former dancer with the company who had subsequently developed a career as a choreographer. Baldwin received an OBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours. During his tenure Rambert Dance Company has won two Olivier Awards and the TMA Theatre Award for Achievement in Dance. The Company also successfully raised £19.6million to create a purpose-built home on London’s South Bank, which opened in 2013.
From their 1920s origin as a single organisation, Rambert’s School and Company gradually became separate entities. The School was directed by Marie Rambert’s daughter Angela Ellis for a number of years and was based at the Mercury Theatre. In 1979, Ellis retired and Rambert School moved to temporary accommodation at The Place under the direction of Brigitte Kelly. In the same year the newly formed Rambert Academy opened at West London Institute of Higher Education with Gary Sherwood as Director and Christopher Bruce as an artistic advisor.
Rambert School at The Place divided: one half went to join what is now Central School of Ballet under Christopher Gable, and the other came to Twickenham. In 1984 the two Rambert Schools merged to become one (Ballet Rambert School).
Ross McKim assumed the role of Principal in 1985, and the School became Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. In the 1990s this was attached to Brunel University, but in 2003 for artistic, educational and financial reasons, Rambert School became independent. The University sold its Richmond campus to property developers in 2005, and Rambert School developed its current site with exceptionally generous support from the Linbury Trust among others. In 2005 the Foundation Degree and BA (Hons) degrees were validated by the University of Kent, and Rambert School joined the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, bringing it into the Higher Education sector. The dual focus on both ballet and contemporary dance which began in the ‘70s has been maintained, concentrating on technique and creative exploration, Rambert School produces powerful, expressive and versatile performers.
The relationship between Rambert School and Rambert dance company is arguably now the strongest it has ever been. There are currently seven Rambert School graduates dancing in Rambert company (which currently has 22 members). A number of collaborative projects have brought School and Company together. In 2016, marking the 90th anniversary of Rambert’s first performances, Handel’s ‘The Creation’ with choreographyby Mark Baldwin will be presented at Garsington Opera and Sadler’s Wells with a cast of 50 including all Company dancers and 28 students from Rambert School.
(Image: Marie Rambert teaching at the Mercury Theatre, 1940s. Photographer credit: Derek Allen / Press Illustrations)
(Image: Rehearsals of ‘L’Après-Midi d’un Faune (1967 Revival) Dancers: Marilyn Williams and Christopher Bruce. Source: Rambert Archive)