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Obituary: Julia Farron – ‘ballet dancer and teacher with an impeccable sense of style’

Julia Farron

Dancer Julia Farron, who has died at the age of 96, may not have achieved the celebrity status of her peers Margot Fonteyn and Moira Shearer, but she was an eloquent mainstay in the development of modern British ballet in the second half of the last century.

She had, The Stage said in 1954, an “impeccable sense of style”. It served her well throughout a five-decade-long career during which she become a principal dancer and teacher with the Royal Ballet and director of the Royal Academy of Dance.

Born Joyce Margaret Farron-Smith in London to a civil servant father and teacher mother, she studied dance as a child and in 1931 was one of the first two students to win a scholarship to study with Ninette de Valois at the Vic-Wells Ballet School. It was Valois who subsequently chose her stage name.

Having made her debut, aged 12, as Little Bo-Peep in De Valois’ Nursery Sweet in 1934, she went on to join the senior Vic-Wells company at 14 – its youngest ever dancer – to create the role of the tutu-clad canine Pépé in Frederick Ashton’s A Wedding Bouquet in 1937.

She remained with Vic-Wells for more than four decades, playing a key part of its transition into the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company throughout the 1940s and eventually into the Royal Ballet Company in 1956.

Among the memorable roles she created were Psyche in Ashton’s Cupid and Psyche (1939), Prostitute (Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals, 1944), the title role in Léonide Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot (1947), Hannah in Andrée Howard’s A Mirror for Witches (1952), Princess Belle-Epine (John Cranko’s The Prince of the Pagodas, with a score by Benjamin Britten, 1957), Berta (Ashton’s Ondine, 1958) and Jocasta (Cranko’s Antigone, 1959).

She caught attention, too, with a vivid solo in Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage for the Covent Garden (now Royal) Opera Company in 1955.

In later years, she proved an articulate character dancer, in 1965 creating a proud but passionate Lady Capulet for choreographer Kenneth MacMillan opposite Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet, and the imperious, angle-bent witch Carabosse in Peter Wright’s 1968 staging of The Sleeping Beauty.

She began teaching with the Royal Ballet School in 1964 and was appointed assistant director of the Royal Academy of Dancing (now Dance) in 1982. The following year she took over its directorship, a position she held until retiring at the end of the 1980s. In 2012 she was appointed OBE for services to ballet.

Julia Farron was born on July 22, 1922, and died on July 3. She was married to the dancer Alfred Rodrigues until his death in 2002. She is survived by their son, Christopher, former chair of the Almeida Theatre and British Council and now of the Port of London Authority.

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