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Brian Shaw

Brian Shaw was only seventeen when he first earned his place in history by creating a role in Ashton's Symphonic Variations - the man who does the 'look at the sky' pirouettes. That hardly anyone can do those turns properly these days is a measure of Shaw's outstanding technical ability; that he was chosen in the first place is a measure of his style and musicality. He went on to be the Bluebird of his generation, a memorable character artist, and a fine teacher, in an unsensational but invaluable career entirely dedicated to the Royal Ballet.

Shaw was one of the perhaps surprising number of male stars born in Yorkshire, where he studied with Mary Shaw before joining the Sadler's Wells School. As was not untypical in those days, he was taken into the company when he was only 15 - these were the war years, and there was a desperate shortage of young male dancers. Before Symphonic Variations he had already danced the lead in Les Patineurs, a role that was to become closely associated with him over many years, and in 1946 he was made a soloist. Reaching his 18th birthday the same year, he was called up into the forces, and had to put his career on hold for two years, returning in time to share the role of the Jester in Ashton's Cinderella with Alexander Grant.

For nearly twenty years Shaw was the company's first-line virtuoso, the automatic choice not only for Bluebird but also for the Peasant pas de deux in Giselle, the Swan Lake pas de trois and so on. He danced Franz in Coppélia with considerable success, but he wasn't quite tall enough for the danseur noble roles in the other nineteenth century classics. He was announced as the second cast for Colas in Fille, but for some reason never danced it, but Ashton made more roles for him, and showed his lasting gratitude by leaving him Les Rendezvous and Les Patineurs in his will. The Massine ballets which the company used to dance gave him dramatic as well as technical challenges, and he was in early works by both Cranko and MacMillan.

A torn tendon during an American tour in 1967 put an end to his virtuoso roles, but he made a very successful move into character dancing, making his mark on Fille in the end, as a memorable Widow Simone. He greatly enjoyed teaching and in 1972 became the company's principal teacher, continuing until a year before his death in 1992. His technical strength and musicality, and perhaps above all his pure classical style - nurtured by the great teacher Vera Volkova - assure him of a permanent place of honour in the story of the Royal Ballet.

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