26 June 2015 at 12.31pm | 4 Comments
A fascinating recent donation to ROH Collections from a former dancer of The Royal Ballet offers us a unique visual insight into life in the Company, both at home and on early tours to the USA and Canada. This collection was donated by the family of Tom Douglas, who danced under the stage name Douglas Steuart with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (which later become The Royal Ballet) from 1942 to 1973.
Tom grew up near Dunfermline, in the small town of Rosyth where his father worked as a driller at the dockyard. He began to learn locally aged eight in 1935, and by 1940 was training in Edinburgh. In 1942 he was spotted by Ninette de Valois, who, after losing a lot of male dancers to the conscription, was on the lookout for boys strong, tall and able enough to perform adult roles. Tom, aged 15, was taken to London and offered a scholarship of £2 per week.
Included in the collection from Tom’s family are his contracts from general manager Donald Albery, both as a student and for the 1945 ENSA tour, when Tom joined fellow teenager Margot Fonteyn and other dancers in entertaining the troops in France and Belgium. Also included is a fascinating note from De Valois that displays her level of involvement in the students’ care. She writes to Tom’s parents about a part-time job that he briefly held to cover his expenses: apparently, Tom ‘gave it up of his own accord after one day’. De Valois blames Tom’s peers: ‘There is, unfortunately, a tendency among some of our boy students to regard any form of “work”… as undignified, and I know that Tom was given some foolish advice by another boy. I have given the boy concerned a good talking to for his interference.’
Tom performed his national service 1945–8 and returned to the Company. The next year he was invited on the Company’s ground-breaking 1949 tour of the United States and Canada. Tom’s collection includes a number of holiday snaps from this first tour, including one of Kenneth MacMillan beguilingly draped in seaweed on Malibu beach.
Tom went on many subsequent tours of the United States with the Company. On the fourth tour to the USA, in 1955, he took along a Super 8 camera. The resulting fifteen minutes of footage, showing the Company taking in the sights on their days off and ending with a rehearsal of The Sleeping Beauty for television, has been digitized by ROH Collections.
At 2:20 Tom is in Central Park with fellow dancers Christopher Newton, John Sale and Graham Usher, whom we later see at 5:00 on top of the Empire State Building. At 3:08 he visits the zoo with Dorothea Zaymes. At 8:48 Violetta Elvin smiles glamourously to the camera and at 9:46 Leslie Edwards messes about in the pool. In the rehearsal for The Sleeping Beauty (from 11:51), Elvin appears as Aurora with Michael Somes as Florimund, Ray Powell dances Carabosse, Rowena Jackson and Brian Shaw are the Bluebird couple, and Tom partners Zaymes as the White Cat. Don’t miss Aurora’s heels at 15:05, behind Zaymes playing up to the camera!
Tom Douglas spent almost fifty years with The Royal Ballet, as a dancer until 1973 and as a choreologist until his retirement in 1990. The farewell notes on his departure confirm his profound contribution to and association with the Company: ‘Darling Tom, I can’t believe there can be a Royal Ballet without you! Love Margot’.
ROH Collections would like to acknowledge the generosity of Tom Douglas’s niece, Lynda Masterton, who donated this collection.
For more archive footage featuring dancers of The Royal Ballet, visit British Pathé.