Patricia Ruanne was born in Leeds in the north of England in 1945, and studied at the Royal Ballet School from the age of 13, joining the Royal Ballet in 1962 where she became principal in 1969. She worked mainly with the touring company, and created roles during her time there, but in 1973 she joined London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) to access the classic roles. It was there that she danced Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev’s Sleeping Beauty. She created several leading roles, including the Siren in Barry Moreland’s Prodigal Son in Ragtime (1974) a role in which The New York Times said that she was “saucily, sexy”, The Lady in Red in Ronald Hynd’s The Sanguine Fan (1976), and she also danced in the London premiere of Hynd’s Rosalinda.
Ruanne created Juliet in Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet for the company in 1977, where Nureyev was her Romeo, her dear friend Nicholas Johnson was Mercutio, and her partner Frederic Jahn was Tybalt. When she was a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 1981 she chose Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suite as her indispensable music to have with her on a desert island (together with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to read and a pair of sunglasses as her luxury item).
John Percival, reviewing her Juliet for The Times, wrote:
Patricia Ruanne… is at her best in the moments of deep tragedy… I am sure that it will be hard [for other dancers] to beat Ruanne’s sense of despair at lost love.
It was Nureyev that encouraged her to coach younger dancers.
I don’t know that I would have had the courage to put myself forward as a ballet mistress or somebody who did it as a profession. But Rudolf saw it, and he said, “Well, just come and just shut up and just do it.” So, I worked with him for many years.
She could be tough with the dancers she worked with. Roberto Bolle once said, “She made me really uncomfortable, and once I even started crying in the rehearsal room.”
In an interview in 2009, Ruanne said:
I was always interested in working with dancers. I used to coach at Festival Ballet in the later years when I was still performing, and I loved it… It’s such a wonderful feeling seeing people understand and develop. With coaching all you can do is to help understanding. If the physical element has not yet totally kicked in, that’s not so important, as long as the mind understands what’s needed because it may be that in two years’ time the physical part will happen automatically, as long as the dancer understands how it must be, what it is they should be searching for in the role.
She gave her last performances in 1983 and became ballet mistress at London Festival Ballet (1983–1985) and then she joined Nureyev at Paris Opera Ballet (1986–1996). Later she worked (often with her husband Frederic Jahn) as a freelance teacher and repetiteur. She was also the director at La Scala for a season (1999–2000).
The role of coaching is really transmitting. The big issue here is: you can transmit all your life, but you have to be received by the listener – you can’t force anyone to switch on their radios.
Patricia Ruanne (born 3 June 1945; died 1 November 2022)
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.