The Royal Ballet marks the contribution and performances of Annette Page this month. Her husband and former dance partner Ronald Hynd talks to Nick Smurthwaite about their ‘harmonious pas de deux’ on stage and in life
The Royal Ballet is celebrating the life of one of its much-loved principal dancers this month. Annette Page: Tribute to a Ballerina will be staged next week at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury theatre, with current company dancers performing some of her best-known roles and contributions from Ronald Hynd, the dancer and choreographer who was married to Page for 60 years.
The tribute to Page has been organised by the Linbury Trust, the charitable body attached to the Royal Opera House, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Page had been diagnosed with MND not long before she died at the age of 85 in 2017. Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare says: “It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate the unique artistry of Annette Page.”
In their prime, during the 1950s and 1960s, she and Hynd had the distinction of being the only married couple in the Royal Ballet who regularly danced together.
Not only were we happily married but we could also dance rather well together. She was delicate, and very strong
“You could say we enjoyed a very harmonious pas de deux,” recalls Hynd, now 88 and living in Suffolk. “Not only were we extremely happily married but we could also dance rather well together. Hynd says: “She had an exquisite figure and beautiful feet, big dark eyes that she used to great effect on stage. She also had a lovely personality on stage, and a great sense of humour, on and off the stage. Most importantly, she was intensely musical, whatever the tempo.”
Her most notable roles were in The Firebird, with Hynd, in the late 1950s, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet and La Fille Mal Gardee. One Christmas in the mid-1960s, when she was due to perform Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, all the other principal dancers were either injured or away, so Page finished up covering for all of them over a four-week period, a gruelling schedule by anyone’s standards.
Hynd remembers: “Far from minding, Annette loved every minute of it. She may have looked delicate but she was actually very strong. She was dancing at her best, and she felt it was the right time to say goodbye. She wanted to quit while she was on the top of her form. She was 34. Everyone said she was crazy to go so soon, but I could see her reasoning, and a year after she quit she gave birth to our daughter, Louise.”
Page started dancing at the age of four in her home town of Manchester. Her mother was a frustrated dancer herself, having been inspired by seeing Anna Pavlova in her youth. Page was talent-spotted dancing at an early age by the ballerina Moira Shearer, a friend of her dance teacher’s, and it was Shearer who arranged for her to have an audition with Ninette de Valois, founder-director of the Royal Ballet.
In 1943 at the age of 11, Page came to London to join the Royal Ballet School, then located at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, boarding at a convent in Golders Green. Much later she told her husband she was so homesick she cried every day for three months. Page graduated to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet after the Second World War, dancing her first leading role as Swanhilda in Coppélia. De Valois saw her performance and in 1955 invited her to go to Covent Garden, initially as part of the corps de ballet but quite soon progressing to leading roles.
In addition to her husband, over the 12 years that followed she danced opposite David Blair, Desmond Doyle, Christopher Gable, Donald MacLeary, Anthony Dowell and Rudolf Nureyev. Hynd says: “She danced Sleeping Beauty with Nureyev a couple of times at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Marie Rambert witnessed one of the rehearsals and afterwards congratulated Annette for being so diplomatic with him. He could be funny and charming and monstrous in quick succession.”
After she had retired from dancing, Page often assisted her husband in his new career as a choreographer, especially when he was appointed director of ballet at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1970 on a four-year contract. “Annette coached all the female leads when we did La Fille Mal Gardee because it had been one of her greatest successes,” he says.
They returned to Munich briefly in the early 1980s when Hynd received an SOS from the Bavarian State Opera asking him back. But it was not a happy time for the company and he quit to go freelance.
Page remained in good health until two years ago when she started experiencing dizzy spells. After a nasty fall she began to feel progressively worse and died in her sleep three weeks later. “She died at home with me and Louise by her side. It was very peaceful,” says her husband.
Sadly there are very few filmed examples of Page’s performances – her career ended before video recording became commonplace – but what fragments there are will be screened at the tribute, as well as a filmed interview she did with the ballet dancer turned film-maker Lynne Wake at home in Suffolk some eight years ago.
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