When did you start dancing?
Not until I was 16, as an apprentice with the Ballets Jooss.
Why did you start dancing?
I was always good at ballroom, and then my mother took me to see Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet. That was in 1943, and is what decided me.
When did you start choreographing?
My initial attempts where for the Sunday Choreographers, a dance workshop at the Mercury theatre in London in the early-1950s. As a result, I was asked to arrange some dances for the opera company at Sadler’s Wells.
Why did you start choreographing?
I don’t know why. I never had a burning desire. John Cranko encouraged me. John Field, who ran the touring arm of the Royal Ballet, was very good to me as well. That led to my first professional ballet, A Blue Rose at Covent Garden in 1957, a scary prospect when I thought it would go on at Sadler’s Wells, a much smaller theatre.
Which dancer inspired you most as a child?
I didn’t see any ballet until I was 16. That was Les Sylphides, with Henry Danton as the lone poet surrounded by a group of beautiful women. I knew then immediately what I wanted to do.
Which dancer do you most admire?
What’s your favourite role?
I always loved being Captain Belaye in Cranko’s Pineapple Poll.
What role have you never played but would have liked to?
Death in The Green Table by Kurt Jooss; a wonderful role: strong, frightening and gentle.
What’s your favourite ballet to watch?
Again, Jooss’ anti-war ballet, The Green TabIe, from 1932. Today it is still as meaningful as ever. Otherwise, if you really must pin me down, then Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations.
Who is your favourite choreographer?
Ashton has left the most important legacy with a unique and influential choreographic style. And Pina Bausch because she is so different. I was on the judging panel that first discovered her unique style.
Who is your favourite writer?
These days I really don’t read a lot, as I tend to fall asleep as soon as I start! But I have never had a favourite.
Who is your favourite theatre or cinema director?
I am not qualified to judge but I would say that Monica Mason was the best director of the Royal Ballet since Ninette de Valois.
Who is your favourite actor?
Alec McCowen. He was in a revue by Stanley Daniels, Not to Worry, for which I staged the musical numbers. It was a flop but Alec had a magnificent voice and great presence. He was a star performer. You always wanted to look at him. Years later, he was wonderful as Prospero in The Tempest for the RSC.
Who is your favourite singer?
Frank Sinatra. I wish I could sing like him.
What is your favourite book?
Monkey by Arthur Waley. It’s based on a Ming dynasty Chinese story, part comic adventure, part spiritual allegory about a monkey taking charge of the world. It was given to me by Kurt Jooss on my 17th birthday. I couldn’t put it down.
What is your favourite film?
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday starring Jacques Tati.
Which is your favourite city?
What do you like most about yourself?
Not much… except I do like perfection – and hate mediocrity.
What do you dislike about yourself?
My tendency to worry. Try as I might I can never follow my wife’s advice to me, “You die if you worry and you die if you don’t. So why worry at all?”
What was your proudest moment?
Being proud is not an attractive quality. The success I had – along with Galina Samsova and Philip Prowse – when we did Swan Lake, did make me feel pretty good.
When and where were you happiest?
Three days at the Victoria Falls in Rhodesia with my wife-to-be Sonya in 1953. We had just decided to get married, a decision I have never regretted.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My darling Sonya, my wife for 53 blissful years.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing my sight.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My colour blindness. Or I would be a world-class cellist, not an enthusiastic amateur.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Birmingham Royal Ballet.
What is your most treasured possession?
Two maquettes by John Piper of his designs for Job. They were given to me by Ninette de Valois on my retirement.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Modernity for its own sake.
On what occasions do you lie?
My lies are mainly exaggerations, usually on first nights, when talking to other choreographers: “Only you could do it!”
If you hadn’t been a dancer, what would you have liked to be?
My passions were riding and tennis – so I would have liked to be a show jumper or Wimbledon champion.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am always determined to get it the way I want it, often with great difficulty.
What quality do you most value in a friend?
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
A sense of humour.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Which living person do you most admire?
John Macfarlane, the painter and stage designer.
What do you most dislike?
What talent would you most like to have?
Roger Federer’s backhand.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Spending time with my daughter and grandchildren – to be joined I hope by some great-grandchildren before I die.
How would you like to die?
At peace with myself and in good company.
What is your motto?
‘Work of each for the welfare of all’ – based on the motto of my school, Bedales.
Peter Wright… a biography
Peter Wright made his debut with Ballets Jooss in 1943. He created his first ballet, A Blue Rose, for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, performed at the Royal Opera House in 1957. In 1961 he joined John Cranko’s Stuttgart company as ballet master, choreographing several ballets and mounting his first production of Giselle.
In 1970 he joined the Royal Ballet as associate director to Kenneth MacMillan. In 1977 he was appointed director of Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, overseeing the company’s transformation into Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1990. The title director laureate was conferred on him by Princess Margaret on his retirement from the company in 1995. Since then he has continued to stage his productions of the classics and his own ballets around the world, coaching a new generation of dancers.
In 1991 Peter was made a fellow of Birmingham Conservatoire of Music and has received honorary doctorates from London and Birmingham universities. Knighted in 1993, he is the recipient of many awards and is vice-president of the Royal Academy of Dance and patron of the London Ballet Circle.
Peter Wright’s autobiography, written in collaboration with Paul Arrowsmith, has just been published by Oberon Books.
Sir Peter’s 90th birthday is on 25 November 2016.