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Alexander Grant

 It is quite easy to make a case for Alexander Grant's being the greatest male dancer ever produced by a British company. He was a character dancer of infinite variety: technically strong enough to dance Symphonic Variations in his younger days, but remembered principally for the huge number of roles he created (particularly for Ashton), and for the new life he gave to characters he took over from others.

Grant was born in New Zealand in 1925, started dancing classes at 7, and eventually won an RAD scholarship to study in London - but because of the war, he was 21 before he was able to travel to England to continue his training at the Sadler's Wells School. Not for long, though - within a couple of months he joined the newly formed Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, and then 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 Ashton role - 'the boy who jumps through a hoop' in Les Sirènes.

 He became firmly established the next year, 1947, when Massine gave him a leading role in a revival of his Mam'zelle Angot (and liked him enough to create two new roles for him later on); then came the first of his most famous characterisations - the Jester in Ashton's 'Cinderella'. The difficulty in casting the part these days points up Grant's uniqueness: we have seen it very brilliantly danced, but no-one has been able to give it the ironic quality that lifts it way above the usual run of pirouetting clowns. A whole string of Ashton roles followed: Byraxis in Daphnis and Chloe, Eros in Sylvia (which required him to stand perfectly still, impersonating a statue, for most of the first act), a romantic lead in Madame Chrysanthème, Bottom in The Dream, and perhaps the best known of all: Alain in 'La Fille mal Gardée', where again he provided an element of sadness to temper the comedy and romance.

For several years in the 70s, Grant 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. These days he is still occasionally to be seen on stage with ENB, and he also coaches and produces - he was responsible for the recent successful Scottish Ballet revival of Fille. A close friend of Ashton's, he is still an irreplaceable source of information and advice. But his name conjures up, for those who saw him, spectacular dancing - with no trace of 'look at me' - and above all the wonderful range of characters he brought to life before our eyes.


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