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Marie Rambert (1960)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Marie Rambert (1960)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 17/1/1960
22 mins, black and white
DirectorKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerPeter Newington
PhotographyJohn McGlashan
MusicLord Berners, Franz Schubert, Kurt Weill

Featuring Marie Rambert, Huw Wheldon, Alicia Markova, Frederick Ashton, June Sandbrook, John Chesworth, Gillian Martlew, Elsa Recagno Valerie Marsh, Norman Morrice, Gordon Coster, Lucette Aldous

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Huw Wheldon talks to Marie Rambert about her legendary dance company and her work with existing and future ballet legends, including many of her own discoveries.

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Ken Russell initially trained as a dancer, and his interest in the subject recurs throughout his work. His early amateur film Amelia and the Angel (1958) was about a young ballet student, and he went on to make the specifically dance-oriented BBC programmes Cranks At Work (about choreographer John Cranko, tx, 17/1/1960), The Light Fantastic (tx. 18/12/1960) and Isadora Duncan (tx. 22/9/1966), and incorporate dance sequences into Gordon Jacob (tx. 29/3/1959), Journey into a Lost World (tx. 28/3/1960), A House in Bayswater (tx. 26/8/1960), Prokofiev (tx. 18/6/1961) and Dance of the Seven Veils (tx. 15/2/1970) as well as the feature films Women in Love (1969), The Music Lovers (1970), The Boy Friend (1971), Tommy (1975) and Valentino (1977), the last starring Rudolf Nureyev as the legendary Latin lover.

This short Monitor item about the great dance teacher and Ballet Rambert founder Marie Rambert (1888-1982) is rather less ambitious, consisting largely of a formal interview conducted by Huw Wheldon, interspersed with shots of her working with young dancers in her studio, and extracts from three productions, 1932 amateur footage of Foyer de Danse featuring Alicia Makarova and Frederick Ashton (then a Rambert pupil just starting his professional career) and contemporary stagings of Andrée Howard's Death and the Maiden and Anthony Tudor's The Judgement of Paris, both also Rambert protégés.

If the director largely takes a back seat, the programme is a good showcase for Wheldon's famous interviewing style, alternating flattery with surprisingly blunt questions about whether Britain really needs two large-scale ballet companies after Rambert expresses a desire to expand. Indeed, the whole discussion about funding and scale shows that little has changed in nearly five decades, with even a well-established figure like Rambert subsisting on meagre Arts Council handouts and watching the dancers and choreographers she trained having to leave in order to further their careers with bigger companies.

At the end of the programme, Wheldon asks Rambert to pick a future star from her (then) present company, something of a gamble as far as posterity is concerned. But her choice, Lucette Aldous, did indeed achieve her potential, staying with Rambert for six years before graduating to, amongst other companies, the Royal Ballet. Since she had originally been rejected by them for being too short, her career is itself a testament to Rambert's far-sightedness.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Rambert at work (2:52)
2. A maiden's death (2:50)
3. On Nijinsky (2:02)
4. Tate expectations (3:01)
Topical Budget 859-2: Grace and Poise (1928)
Russell, Ken (1927-2011)
Wheldon, Sir Huw (1916-1986)
Ken Russell on Television
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years