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Anton Dolin's career had at least three separate phases, any one of which would have been enough to make his reputation secure. A principal dancer for Diaghilev in the 20s, in the 40s he toured the world with Markova, and in the 50s he brought popular ballet to the whole of this country through Festival Ballet, which was largely his creation. To the end of his life he was a renowned producer and teacher, always ready to spend time to help a young dancer; and everyone who ever met him seems to have a story reflecting his larger-than-life personality.
Dolin was born in 1904. His father was English (he played cricket for Hampshire), but it was his Irish mother who influenced him more, and to whom he was devoted until her death in 1960. It was she who took him to the Coliseum to see the great Astafieva, who impressed him so strongly that he insisted on taking lessons from her: a key decision, as it was in Astafieva's studio that he was first seen by Diaghilev. He appeared briefly in the famous Sleeping Princess season in 1921, and joined Dighilev's company formally when he was 19. He was one of the succession of Diaghilev's 'favourites' - after Nijinsky and Massine, before Lifar - and although he only danced with the company for two seasons in all, he took many leading roles and the great Nijinska created for him the lead in Le Train Bleu, which was so closely tailored to his extraordinary athletic dancing that no one else ever did it.
After leaving Diaghilev, Dolin started up the first of many companies he was to form with several different partners, and also appeared in West End revues and shows. He gave a boost to Ninette de Valois' fledgling company - he already had an admiring audience willing to follow him even to Sadler's Wells - by dancing several roles for her, most notably in her own Job, in which he created the role of Satan. Later in the 30s he and Markova formed their own company - the start of one of ballet's most famous partnerships. During the war he danced with American Ballet Theatre, and also made for them his best known ballet, a recreation of the Romantic ballet's famous Pas de Quatre, which has been seen all over the world with almost every ballerina you could name. He and Markova toured very widely in this period, almost on the scale of Pavlova's travels, coming back to London in 1948 for guest appearances at Covent Garden.
Dolin is mostly remembered in this country for his work with Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet). He and Markova started the company originally to appear in large arenas - the post-war ballet boom had made this a very popular format. As the company developed, Dolin as artistic director as well as principal dancer was able to shape the repertoire, including 19th century classics and more contemporary works that complemented rather than competed with the Royal Ballet. Festival Ballet, both at home and abroad, was seen by a huge number of people, and under Dolin's guidance it successfully combined popularity with creative programming - helped by some wonderful dancers. Dolin's name attracted world-class dancers as guests, and there were home-grown stars as well, including the brilliant John Gilpin, Dolin's lifelong friend.
Dolin was a superb dancer. He grew from the athletic boy in Le Train Bleu into a wonderful classical dancer, giving performances - especially in Giselle - which set a standard for whole generations. He was a genuine star, with the outsize personality to match, and he was known far outside the confines of classical ballet. In later life his generosity and kindness earned him the love of new generations of dancers, and his death in 1983 - only 3 months after John Gilpin died - took from the ballet one of its greatest ever characters.