Obituary: Adam Darius

Adam Darius in his Helsinki studio in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia/Appleattic Adam Darius in his Helsinki studio in 2007. Photo: Wikimedia/Appleattic

In the late 1960s, ballet dancer turned mime Adam Darius was a singular figure in carving out the creative space that led to a flourishing of the form in the UK during the following decade.

Influenced by the great French mime Marcel Marceau, Darius developed his own individual approach to miming that fused dance, theatre and music. As a teacher, he primed a generation of mime artists (the Moving Picture Mime Show and Nola Rae notable among them) and was sought out by performers as diverse as the actors Warren Mitchell and Tom Courtenay and dancer Jennifer Beals.

Countless more passed through the Mime Centre, the London-based training and advocacy body he co-founded with Marita Phillips in 1978. The same year, he contributed to the choreography for the video of his sometime pupil Kate Bush’s breakthrough single, Wuthering Heights.

Born in New York, Darius’ interest in dance was encouraged by an aunt despite the disapproval of his lawyer-father, who obliged him to study law at Columbia University. Flunking his course, a chance encounter with the dancer and choreographer Anton Dolin led to an audition and studies in Paris with Olga Preobrajenska.

Early dance appearances included the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet before he ventured into choreography, coming to international attention in 1959 with The Anne Frank Ballet in which he also danced the role of Otto, the young diarist’s father.

In the 1960s, Darius choreographed four productions for Israel National Opera and briefly formed his own company, Israeli Ballet.

He made his first UK appearance towards the end of the decade with The Duel at the Commonwealth Institute, directing ballet adaptations of two plays by Momoko Hosokawa – Vultures and Narcolepsy – in programmes prefaced by some of his first forays into mime.

His ballet Marilyn – a portrait of the film star Marilyn Monroe bankrolled by Ian Anderson, leader of the progressive rock band Jethro Tull – marked his West End debut as a choreographer at the Arts Theatre in 1976. Four years later he gave his first West End season as performer, accompanied by Marita Phillips Mime Artistes, at the Mayfair Theatre.

He returned to the Mayfair in 1984 with Gifts for a Dead Lover, a two-hander with Kazimir Kolesnik, a former student who would become his life-long collaborator.

Darius’ “total theatre” concept coloured 1991’s Yukio Mishima (Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells) and the following year’s Rimbaud and Verlaine at the French Institute, described by The Stage as “a veritable whirlwind of creativity”.

He continued to produce and perform in solo and company shows, touring internationally well into his 80s. His last stage appearance was in Basho – A Windswept Spirit, in Kosovo in November 2016, two months before he was diagnosed with cancer.

A prolific writer, he published seminal books on mime, acting and commedia dell’arte as well as several novels and a volume of poetry.

Adam Darius was born on May 10, 1930. He moved to Finland in 1994, where he died on December 3 aged 87.