Derek Rencher, one of the longest serving members of The Royal Ballet, has died at 82.
Rencher was born in Birmingham on 6 June 1932. He joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1953 and was promoted to soloist in 1957, the year after the company was granted its Royal Charter, becoming The Royal Ballet, and in 1969 he became a principal dancer.
He created roles in Frederick Ashton’s Persephone (1961), The Dream (Lysander, 1964), Enigma Variations (Edward Elgar, 1968) and A Month in the Country (Rakitin, 1976); Elektra (1963) by Robert Helpmann; Romeo and Juliet (Paris, 1965), Anastasia (1971 version), Manon (Monsieur G. M., 1974), Rituals (1975), Isadora (1981) and Winter Dreams (Dr Chebutykin, 1991) by Kenneth MacMillan; Shadowplay (1967) by Antony Tudor; and Rudolf Nureyev’s The Tempest (Alonso, 1982).
His work was captured many times for the screen and he can be seen as Paris with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the 1966 Romeo and Juliet; he was Rothbart in the 1980 Swan Lake with Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell; and Emperor Franz Josef in the 1994 video of Mayerling with Irek Mukhamedov and Viviana Durante. As a character artist he was celebrated for his Ugly Sister in Ashton’s Cinderella, among many, many others. He created the role of Monsieur G.M. in Manon and can be seen here dancing part of the role with Natalia Makarova and Stephen Jefferies.
Before joining the Sadler’s Wells ballet, Rencher had studied at the Royal College of Art and he designed for the Australian Ballet, the Philadelphia Ballet and costumes for Ashton’s Lament of the Waves (1970) for the Royal Ballet and his ballet Siesta (1972) for the The Royal Ballet New Group.
Genesia Rosato, Principal Character Artist with The Royal Ballet, who, like Rencher, created roles in both MacMillan’s Mayerling and Winter Dreams, said,
He was my mentor, friend and neighbour… I don’t know how I would have survived when I first joined the company without his friendship guidance and wicked sense of humour. He was the king of Character Artistes!
Gary Avis and Elizabeth McGorian, both Principal Character Artists, left tributes on their Facebook pages:
Had it not been for the passion, dedication and commitment shown by such an incredible man and magnificent artiste 26 years ago, my career and belief in the importance of character roles and the richness they possess would not be as driven as it is today! I was extremely lucky and fortunate to be taught, educated and mentored by his brilliance and skill!
said Gary, and Elizabeth commented,
Such a wonderful character both on and off the stage and one the funniest people I have ever met. Thank you for everything you taught me, the hilarious cartoons you drew for me, all the times we shared on stage together and your friendship. Your dinner parties, country weekends, tapestry and paintings (to name a few of your talents) are legendary! What an honour to be your Queen and Madame.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.