A tweet from Peter Land on Dame Gillian Lynne's account on Sunday evening, 1 July, announced that the beloved choreographer had died – she was 92:
Rest In Peace my darling Gillie. I am heartbroken to write that Dame Gillian Lynne DBE & my dearest wife & friend & love for 40 years passed away at 6.20pm tonight 1st July 2018 at the Princess Grace Hospital. She leaves behind a huge legacy&is adored by many espec @peterland_uk pic.twitter.com/Rn3182mRPt
— Dame Gillian Lynne (@Gillian_Lynne) July 1, 2018
Gillian Lynne married Peter Land in 1980. The Guardian said,
It was love at first sight: they met when he got a part in a production of My Fair Lady that she co-directed in 1978. “He was standing there at the bar, and he was drop-dead gorgeous. We just looked at each other…”
She died just ten days after New London Theatre had been renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre in honour of the choreographer of Cats, which played there from 1981 to 2002, a show that sealed her international name.
The Really Useful Theatre Group tweeted,
Farewell to Dame Gillian Lynne, a true pioneer of British musical theatre. Her legacy lives on in the countless hearts she touched, the stages where she inspired so many, and the theatre that carries her name. pic.twitter.com/TTAYjejVTG
— ReallyUsefulTheatres (@RUTheatres) July 2, 2018
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man who owns the RU Group and the theatre, had engaged Lynne and Trevor Nunn to work on his musical Cats after seeing their hit Royal Shakespeare Company musical version of The Comedy of Errors. Lloyd Webber wrote on his site:
Quite simply Gillian Lynne was a seminal figure in choreography for three generations, possibly four as her groundbreaking work in Cats is still being seen around the world.
When I was a boy Gillian Lynne was the go-to name when you thought of British musical theatre. She was a principal ballerina in 1939 and by the mid-1960s she was the choreographic force behind British musicals such as Pickwick and The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd.
And on Facebook he said:
Farewell dearest Gillie, three generations of the British musical owe so much to you. With love, Andrew
A unique light has gone out in the Musical Theatre with the loss of the great Gillian Lynne. Inspirational and indefatigable, wickedly funny and fabulously sexy, Gillie's brilliantly inventive talents over the decades have illuminated the lives of all those who have had the luck to work with her as well as the audiences who have witnessed her magic. She always signed her notes to me “Taut and Tight” – it perfectly summed up both her timeless elegance and her extraordinary work ethic. We will all miss her beyond words, but I have no doubt she already has the angels rehearsing the Jellicle Ball up there in the Heaviside Layer! God bless her. She is truly unforgettable.
It is a very sad day for all to lose such an extraordinary talent and woman.
Elaine Paige, Grizabella in the original cast of Cats, wrote on Twitter,
— Elaine Paige (@elaine_paige) July 1, 2018
And Betty Buckley, who was the first to play Grizabella on Broadway, wrote on Instagram,
I just heard that beautiful, brilliant, beloved Dame Gillian Lynne has passed away today. Her lovely husband Peter Land just posted this: “I've had to say goodbye tonight to my greatest love: Dame Gillian Lynne DBE or as she'd rather be known Gillie, Mrs Peter Land. Gillie passed away at 6.20pm – the 1st July 2018 at the Princess Grace Hospital. I am heartbroken but she is finally out of the pain the wracked her and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for the life we had together (40 years) and lift my arms up towards the sky because it will be from there that her nipples will be famously firing. px” Heart breaking…💔💕
Gillian Lynne was born Gillian Pyrke on 20 February 1926, but when she was 16 she was spotted by Ninette de Valois, who thought ‘Lynne' would be more suitable.
At 18 she was dancing with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet). The company's current director Kevin O'Hare, said:
Gillian's contribution to British theatre is immeasurable. From her early golden years with the Company working alongside Ninette de Valois to her ground-breaking choreographic adventures in musical theatre, she lit up the stage with her tenacious drive, boundless energy and positive spirit. She spent a lifetime devoted to the arts and we were devoted to her. Her larger-than-life personality was truly unique and she is remembered fondly by us all.
In 1944 she was cast in Robert Helpmann's ballet Miracle in the Gorbals, a work she recreated with Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2014.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Artistic Director, David Bintley, wrote,
It was with great sadness that we received the news this morning of Dame Gillian Lynne's passing. Only recently CEO Caroline Miller and I were proud and delighted to represent Birmingham Royal Ballet at the renaming of the New London Theatre, the Dame Gillian Lynne Theatre, and to honour this great lady of the stage.
And about working on Miracle in the Gorbals, he added,
For the dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet it was an extraordinary experience that made them rethink entirely the relationship between dance and drama and it's development throughout the rehearsal period. The resulting production was utterly compelling for the intensity and commitment of the dancers that Gilly had so lovingly coached in their roles. And that love was returned unreservedly.
Felling that de Valois was continually passing her over in favour of Margot Fonteyn, and inspired by seeing Kiss Me, Kate in New York, she turned to the West End theatre.
When I heard the London Palladium was looking for a ballerina I applied and got the job. Ninette came to see me and asked me back, but I had smelt another world, one that I knew I could conquer… and turned her down.
Life changed in 1962 when she stepped in after the choreographer for the revue England, Our England walked out, and the next two years saw both her Broadway and film debut as a choreographer.
She didn't abandon her ballet roots, and collaborated with Northern Ballet on several projects. The company's Artistic Director David Nixon said yesterday,
Gillian played such a critical role in putting Northern Ballet on the map with A Simple Man and in introducing Christopher Gable to the Company. She continued to have a close relationship with the Company over the years.
We will all miss her very much. So a legend passes quietly into the night.
Thousands are the messages on social media – so much respect and so much love.
Finola Hughes, again in the original London cast of Cats, said on Twitter,
The most beautiful generous @Gillian_Lynne was an inspiration. The cornerstone to the dancer I ever became, her belief in us as artists lifted us up to be our best selves & her love of dance was contagious. Thank you, kind Gillie, for taking me under your wing ❤️
Sarah Brightman, the first Christine in Phantom in the West End and on Broadway said,
Wonderful, talented, kind, vivacious Gillian Lynne, you will be so missed, I feel so honored that I knew and worked with you.
All my love Sarah xx
Lynne received an Olivier Award in 1981 for Cats and a Special Award at the 2013 Olivier Awards.
The organization tweeted,
The life of the remarkable Dame Gillian Lynne, who made an unprecedented contribution to the arts world and won two Olivier Awards, will be honoured tonight as West End theatres dim their lights: https://t.co/eoAJvYnWB5 pic.twitter.com/WegXbTEV7A
— Olivier Awards (@OlivierAwards) July 2, 2018
The lights were dimmed on Broadway too.
Productions, especially of Cats, have been seen all over the world. Stage Entertainment France said in a tweet,
C'est avec une immense tristesse que nous avons appris le décès de Gillian Lynne Les équipes de Stage Entertainment France ont eu la chance de collaborer avec elle sur CATS. Nous saluons aujourd'hui son amour de l'art et de la transmission de son savoir. pic.twitter.com/wDjEI1ZBge
— Stage Entert. France (@StageFrance) July 3, 2018
Other mentions include tributes in Italian, German, Dutch and Spanish.
Colleagues who reacted were many, especially by current and former cast member of musicals that are still running. Touching were words from fellow choreographers and friends.
Matthew Bourne on Twitter:
RIP Dear Gillie… you supported and inspired me from the very beginning… your spirit & love of dance & dancers lives on in all of us who share that love ❤️ @Gillian_Lynne #DameGillianLynne all love to @peterland_uk x pic.twitter.com/g2jzQwNaGf
— Matthew Bourne (@SirMattBourne) July 1, 2018
Arlene Phillips on Instagram:
Sarah L Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic of The Washington Post, tweeted,
Sad to hear the death of Gillian Lynne. Glad to have had this fantastic interview with her: On how “Cats” beat up her body–and on her advice to dancers: NIPPLES FIRING! Why? She tells it best….https://t.co/hIeZN50Aik
— Sarah Kaufman (@SarahLKaufman) July 2, 2018
Christopher Biggins, who appeared in the run of the last show she created new choreography for (in 2002) tweeted,
So sad to hear the passing of the great choreographer and director Dame Gillian Lynne. She was a good friend and choreographer extraordinary of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My love to her gorgeous husband, Peter Land.
Former dancer with The Royal Ballet, Deborah Bull, said
So sad to hear this. I cherish the memory of @Gillian_Lynne on stage @RoyalOperaHouse 50 years after it re-opened following WWII. On her 20th birthday she'd danced a fairy: 50 years later she swept on and could still execute the most graceful curtsey I've ever seen.
Lynne was Patron of the Central School of Ballet:
It is with great sadness to hear that our beloved Patron Dame @Gillian_Lynne has passed away. Gillie worked closely with our Founder Director, Christopher Gable, and together they inspired generations of young theatrical talent from Central School of Ballet. #GillianLynne pic.twitter.com/QkjIJ21cQ5
— CSB School (@csbschool) July 2, 2018
The Broadway Phantom tweeted a tribute with the photo of Gillian Lynne taken just two weeks ago at the theatre renaming ceremony when she was carried on stage on a golden throne by four topless men, and here flanked by Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber:
— Phantom Broadway (@PhantomBway) July 2, 2018
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.