Some commentators have called Alexander Grant the greatest male dancer ever produced by a British company - an outstanding accomplishment for a New Zealander born in 1925 and raised in Wellington.
Alexander started dancing classes at the age of seven, and eventually won a Royal Academy of Dance scholarship to study in London. However, the war intervened and he was 21 before he was able to travel to England to continue his training at the Sadlers Wells Ballet School.
Within two months of arriving in England, Alexander joined the newly formed Sadlers Wells Theatre Ballet. After only two weeks of his first tour, he was recalled to Covent Garden to join the main company. Less than a year after his arrival in London he was a soloist, and had already created his first role for Frederick Ashton – ‘The Boy Who Jumps Through A Hoop’ in Les Sirènes. His first notable success came in 1947 as ‘The Dandy’ in Leonide Massine’s The Three-Cornered Hat. He later partnered Margot Fonteyn in another Massine work, Mam'zelle Angot (who liked Alexander enough to create two new further roles for him); then came the first of his most famous characterisations – ‘The Jester’ in Ashton's Cinderella.
A whole string of Ashton roles followed: ‘Byraxis’ in Daphnis and Chloe; ‘Eros’ in Sylvia; a romantic lead in Madame Chrysanthème; ‘Bottom’ in The Dream, and perhaps the best known of all ‘Alain’ in La Fille mal Gardée.
In 1964, Alexander returned to New Zealand as a guest of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, to dance the leading role in Russell Kerr’s (2003 Icon) production of Fokine’s Petrouchka.
For several years in the 70s, Alexander directed the Royal Ballet's educational group, Ballet for All, and in 1976 he left the company for a seven-year stint as director of the National Ballet of Canada. He was then occasionally seen on stage with the English National Ballet, and he also coached and produced. Alexander had an important role furthering the careers of young dancers as member of the jury of the USA International Ballet Competition from 1979-1994.
A close friend of Fredrick Ashton's, he was an irreplaceable source of information and advice on his works. But above all, Alexander’s name conjures up spectacular dancing and the wonderful range of characters he brought to life.
In recognition of his services to ballet, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Commander of the British Empire in 1965. Alexander received his Arts Foundation Icon Award at a presentation at New Zealand House, London, by New Zealand's High Commissioner Jonathan Hunt in 2005. He received the QEII Coronation Award, the highest Award given by the Royal Academy of Dance for his services to dance in 2007.
Alexander was the recipient of De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement at the Critics Circle National Dance Awards 2009. The Award was presented at the Royal Opera House London in January 2010. View presentation video here.
In 2010, aged 85, Alexander continued to work with ballet companies in Europe, America, China, Turkey, Russia and Japan with the staging oft their productions of La Fille Mal Gardee. He entered hospital the day before his 86th birthday for a hip replacement, but never recovered from a post-operative infection.
Alexander died in London on Friday, 30 September 2011.
|Catherine Lomas, collected Alexander Grant's autograph when he visited New Zealand in 1959|