The Royal Ballet
Royal Ballet logo.jpg
General information
Name The Royal Ballet
Previous names
  • Vic-Wells Ballet
  • Sadler’s Wells Ballet
Year founded 1931
Patron HM The Queen
Principal venue Royal Opera House, London, UK
Senior staff
Prima ballerina assoluta Dame Margot Fonteyn
Artistic staff
Music Director
Resident Choreographers Wayne McGregor Christopher Wheeldon

Liam Scarlett

Sister company Birmingham Royal Ballet
Associated schools Royal Ballet School

The Royal Ballet is an internationally renowned classical ballet company, based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, England. The largest of the four major ballet companies in Great Britain, the Royal Ballet was founded in 1931 by Dame Ninette de Valois,[1] it became the resident ballet company of the Royal Opera House in 1946[1] and was granted a royal charter in 1956, becoming recognised as Britain’s flagship ballet company.

The Royal Ballet was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century, and continues to be one of the world’s most famous ballet companies to this day, generally noted for its artistic and creative values. The company employs approximately 100 dancers and has purpose built facilities within the Royal Opera House. The official associate school of the company is the Royal Ballet School, and it also has a sister company, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, which operates independently. The Prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet is the late Dame Margot Fonteyn.



In 1926, the Irish-born dancer Ninette de Valois founded the Academy of Choreographic Art, a dance school for girls.[2] Her intention was to form a repertory ballet company and school, leading her to collaborate with the English theatrical producer and theatre owner Lilian Baylis. Baylis owned the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres and in 1925 she engaged de Valois to stage dance performances at both venues.

Sadler’s Wells reopened in 1931 and the Vic-Wells Ballet and Vic-Wells Ballet School were established in premises at the theatre. These would become the predecessors of today’s Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School. Prior to her return to Britain, Ninette de Valois had been a member of the Ballets Russes, one of the most renowned and influential ballet companies of the 20th century. The company disbanded in 1929 following the death of its founder Serge Diaghilev. When de Valois formed the Vic-Wells Ballet, she employed some of the company’s former stars, including Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, who joined as Principal dancers, and Tamara Karsavina, who worked with the company as an advisor. The Founder Musical Director was the conductor and composer Constant Lambert who had considerable artistic as well as musical influence over the early years of the company.[3]

After losing the link with the Old Vic theatre, in 1939 the company was renamed Sadler’s Wells Ballet and the school became Sadler’s Wells Ballet School.[4] Both continued at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 1946, when the company was invited to become the resident ballet company of the newly re-opened Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, under the direction of David Webster. The company relocated to the opera house the same year in 1946, with their first production at the venue being The Sleeping Beauty.

Following the relocation of the company, the school moved to its own premises in 1947. A sister company was established to continue performances at Sadler’s Wells, called the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, under the direction of John Field. In 1955, the sister company temporarily lost its link with Sadler’s Wells and returned to the Royal Opera House as a touring unit of the main company.

In 1956, a Royal Charter was granted for both companies and the school; they were subsequently renamed the Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School.[5]

The Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet returned to Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1970, while continuing to tour the country. In 1987, however, the company was invited to become the resident ballet company at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It relocated to Birmingham in 1990, being renamed Birmingham Royal Ballet and it ceased to be part of the Royal Ballet in 1997 when it was made independent of the Royal Opera House, with Sir Peter Wright as Artistic Director. Birmingham Royal Ballet retains close relationships with both the Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet School, which is the official school of the Company.

In 1964 the Royal Ballet established «Ballet for All» under the direction of Peter Brinson. Between 1964 and 1979 «Ballet for All» toured throughout the country, presenting around 150 performances per annum and reaching around 70,000 people each year. In 1976 the Royal Opera House established its schools’ matinee programme.

Today the Royal Ballet remains the resident ballet company at the Royal Opera House, conducting its own tours internationally, and it continues to be the parent company of the Royal Ballet School, which is now based at White Lodge, Richmond Park and premises in Floral Street, which are adjacent to and have direct access to the Royal Opera House.


During its formative years, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet would become one of the first ballet companies outside the Soviet Union to stage full productions of ballets by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, which were central to the repertory of the Imperial Russian Ballet. To stage these ballets with her newly formed company, de Valois employed Nicholas Sergeyev, a former régisseur of the Imperial. He staged productions of Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Petipa and Ivanov’s Swan Lake and The Nutcracker; Petipa and Cecchetti‘s production of Coppélia; and Petipa’s Giselle. Created with the aid of choreographic notation written in St Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century, these works have been included in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet ever since. The company now uses Peter Wright’s 1984 production of The Nutcracker, which uses some of Sergeyev’s notation. Sergeyev’s revivals of these ballets in London are regarded as the foundation point of the traditional classical ballet repertoire, and led to their being restaged throughout the world. Sergeyev is considered to have made one of the most significant contributions to the popularity of ballet worldwide. His choreographic notation and other materials relating to it have been preserved in the Sergeyev Collection, part of the theatre collection of the Harvard University Library.

Prima ballerina assoluta

The Royal Ballet is one of the few ballet companies in the world to have employed four dancers considered to be Prima ballerina assoluta, including three who studied at the Royal Ballet School.

The first was Alicia Markova who, having been mentored by Ninette de Valois as a member of Serge Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes, was invited to become one of the founder dancers of the Royal Ballet. She was designated the company’s first Prima ballerina, and was later recognised as a Prima ballerina assoluta.

Margot Fonteyn trained at the Royal Ballet School and spent her entire career with the company. As a gift for her 60th birthday, she was appointed Prima ballerina assoluta by Queen Elizabeth II.

Phyllis Spira joined the Royal Ballet School in 1959, graduating into the Royal Ballet touring company. She later returned to her native South Africa, where she was appointed Prima ballerina assoluta by the President in 1984.

The most recent is Alessandra Ferri, who completed her training at the Royal Ballet Upper School and began her career with the Royal Ballet. After dancing with the company for 4 years, she was later appointed Prima ballerina assoluta of La Scala Theatre Ballet in Milan.

Other prima ballerina assoluta have also appeared with the Royal Ballet as guest dancers, including: the French ballerina Yvette Chauvire[6] and the Georgian ballerina Nina Ananiashvili.[7]


The Royal Ballet has six ranks of dancers in ascending order:

  • Artist: the lowest rank in the company and, together with the First Artists, dancers at this level form the Corps de ballet. Ballet school graduates entering the company usually do so at this level.
  • First Artist: a rank for the more senior members of the Corps de Ballet. Dancers at this level have the opportunity to perform some of the Corps de Ballet’s more featured rôles, such as the Dance of the Cygnets in Swan Lake. First Artists will occasionally be cast in minor Soloist rôles if they are being considered for promotion.
  • Soloist: there are normally 15–20 soloists in the company. As the title suggests, dancers at this level perform the majority of the solo and minor rôles in a ballet, such as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet or one of the Fairies in The Sleeping Beauty.
  • First soloist: the rank where dancers are being considered for promotion to principal level. A dancer at this rank will dance a varied repertoire of the most featured soloist rôles, whilst understudying and having the opportunity to perform leading rôles when a Principal dancer is either injured or unavailable.
  • Principal character artist: the rank given to members of the company who perform important character rôles in a ballet. These rôles are normally very theatrical and often include character dance and ballet mime. Examples include Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty or Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. Most Principal Character Artists in the Royal Ballet are older, long-serving members of the company who are no longer able to dance the more physically demanding roles.
  • Principal: the highest rank in the Royal Ballet and dancers at this level generally perform the leading and most featured rôles in a ballet. To be a principal is to be recognised as one of the leading dancers in the company and a number of the world’s most celebrated dancers have been principals with the company.

The Royal Ballet also has the special ranks of «guest artist» and «principal guest artist«. The title of guest artist is given to a visiting dancer who has been cast in a role for a specific ballet or limited season. The title of principal guest artist is sometimes given to guest artists who perform with the company on a longer term basis.

The company

The Royal Ballet employs approximately 100 dancers and a complete list is shown below.[8] The company also has an Executive, Artistic and Music staff, including the following:[9]

  • Director – Kevin O’Hare, a graduate of the Royal Ballet School and former dancer with The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet[10]
  • Music Director – Koen Kessels, a Belgian conductor
  • Resident Choreographer – Wayne McGregor CBE, an award-winning choreographer, most noted in the field of contemporary dance and as Artistic Director of Random Dance company[11]
  • Artistic Associate – Christopher Wheeldon OBE
  • Artist in Residence – Liam Scarlett

Principal dancers

Name Nationality Training Other companies
(inc. guest performances)
Roberto Bolle
Guest Artist
 Italy La Scala Theatre Ballet School American Ballet Theatre
La Scala Theatre Ballet
Federico Bonelli  Italy Turin Dance Academy Zürich Ballet
Dutch National Ballet
Alexander Campbell  Australia Academy Ballet
Royal Ballet School
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Lauren Cuthbertson  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Alessandra Ferri
Guest Artist
 Italy La Scala Theatre Ballet School
Royal Ballet School
American Ballet Theatre
La Scala Theatre Ballet
David Hallberg
Guest Artist
 United States Ballet Arizona School
Paris Opera Ballet School
American Ballet Theatre
The Australian Ballet
Francesca Hayward  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Ryoichi Hirano  Japan Setsuko Hirano Ballet School
Nehemiah Kish  United States Canada’s National Ballet School National Ballet of Canada
Royal Danish Ballet
Sarah Lamb  United States Boston Ballet School Boston Ballet
Steven McRae[12]  Australia Hilary Kaplan
Royal Ballet School
Laura Morera  Spain Royal Ballet School
Vadim Muntagirov  Russia Royal Ballet School English National Ballet
Yasmine Naghdi  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Marianela Núñez  Argentina Colón Theatre Ballet School
Royal Ballet School
American Ballet Theatre
Natalia Osipova  Russia Moscow State Academy of Choreography Bolshoi Ballet
American Ballet Theatre
Mikhaylovsky Theatre
Thiago Soares  Brazil Centre for Dance, Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre Ballet, Rio de Janeiro
Akane Takada  Japan Hiromi Takahashi Ballet Studio
Bolshoi Ballet Academy
Edward Watson  United Kingdom Royal Ballet School
Zenaida Yanowsky
Guest artist
 Spain Paris Opera Ballet
The Royal Ballet

Principal character artists

First soloists


  • Luca Acri
  • William Bracewell
  • Reece Clarke
  • Olivia Cowley
  • Tristan Dyer
  • Nicol Edmonds
  • Benjamin Ella
  • Elizabeth Harrod
  • Tierney Heap
  • Meaghan Grace Hinkis
  • Fumi Kaneko
  • Paul Kay
  • Mayara Magri
  • Emma Maguire
  • Laura McCulloch
  • Fernando Montaño
  • Anna Rose O’Sullivan

First artists

  • Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani
  • Camille Bracher
  • David Donnelly
  • Kevin Emerton
  • Isabella Gasparini
  • Hannah Grennell
  • Nathalie Harrison
  • Tomas Mock
  • Erico Montes
  • Romany Pajdak
  • Demelza Parish
  • Gemma Pitchley-Gale
  • Calvin Richardson
  • Leticia Stock
  • Gina Storm-Jensen
  • Lara Turk
  • David Yudes


  • Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød
  • Grace Blundell
  • Mica Bradbury
  • Annette Buvoli
  • Harry Churches
  • Ashley Dean
  • Leticia Dias
  • Leo Dixon
  • Téo Dubreuil
  • Chisato Katsura
  • Isabel Lubach
  • Julia Roscoe
  • Giacomo Rovero
  • Mariko Sasaki
  • Francisco Serrano
  • Joseph Sissens
  • Charlotte Tonkinson

Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme

  • Joonhyuk Jun
  • Joshua Junker
  • Sae Maeda
  • Nadia Mullova-Barley
  • Aiden O’Brien
  • Amelia Palmiero

Prix de Lausanne dancer

  • Stanisław Węgrzyn


Sir Frederick Ashton

Sir Frederick Ashton was the founder choreographer of the Royal Ballet. Previously a dancer with the Ballet Rambert, Ashton started his career as a choreographer under the direction of Dame Marie Rambert, before joining the Royal Ballet as its associate choreographer when the company was founded in 1931. He created the majority of the company’s early works and staged their first performance at the Royal Opera House, a production of The Sleeping Beauty in 1946. Ashton was appointed Artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 1963 to 1970, when he retired from the post. He continued to work as a choreographer internationally, with his final work being the Nursery Suite, for a gala performance by the Royal Ballet School at the Royal Opera House in 1986. His numerous ballets have since been staged by leading dance companies worldwide and feature strongly in the programming of the Royal Ballet today.

Works choreographed

Ashton created over 100 original ballet works and numerous other productions, some of the most notable including:

Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Sir Kenneth MacMillan (11 December 1929 – 29 October 1992) was a British ballet dancer and choreographer. He was artistic director of the Royal Ballet in London between 1970 and 1977. Although a talented dancer, MacMillan is best known for his choreography, and particularly for his work with the Royal Ballet. He also worked with the American Ballet Theatre (1956–7) and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin (1966–69). He succeeded Frederick Ashton as Director of the Royal Ballet in 1970 and resigned after seven years, frustrated at balancing the conflicting demands of creating ballets with administration. He continued as Principal Choreographer to the Royal Ballet until his death in 1992.

Works choreographed

His full-length works include:

MacMillan’s one-act ballets include:

Wayne McGregor

Prior to his appointment as Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet, Wayne McGregor has already established himself as an award-winning dancer, choreographer and director. His first choreography for the Royal Ballet, was Fleur de Peux, a solo work created in 2000 on Viviana Durante. This led to further commissions by the Royal Ballet, including Symbiont(s) in 2001, Qualia in 2003 and Engram in 2005. He also created the ballet brainstate in 2001, as a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and his own company, Random Dance. McGregor was appointed Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet in 2006, the first person to hold the post in sixteen years, and the first to be selected from the world of contemporary dance.

Works choreographed

McGregor’s works for the Royal Ballet include:

  • Fleur de Peux
  • Symbiont(s)
  • Qualia
  • Engram
  • Chroma
  • Limen
  • Nimbus
  • Infra
  • Live Fire Exercise
  • Carbon Life


First performing together with the Royal Ballet in Giselle on 21 February 1962, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev would form what has been called the greatest ballet partnership of all time. The partnership would lead to both dancers being noted amongst the most famous ballet dancers of all time and came at the peak of what is now widely regarded as the most successful period in the Royal Ballet’s history.

On 12 March 1963, the couple premiered Sir Frederick Ashton‘s Marguerite and Armand, the first ballet created for them and one that become their signature piece. Performed to a piece of piano music by Franz Liszt, the ballet starts with Marguerite on her deathbed, and the story is told in flashback until the moment Armand arrives to hold her for the last time before she dies. Ashton had planned the piece specifically for Fonteyn, and it was critically acclaimed as Fonteyn’s dramatic peak, with fifty photographers attending the dress rehearsal and twenty-one curtain calls at the premiere performance. The final performance of the ballet starring Fonteyn and Nureyev was staged at a gala at the London Coliseum in 1977 and it was not performed again until 2003. Against the wishes of Frederick Ashton that it not be performed by any other dancers than Fonteyn and Nureyev, it was revived as part of a Royal Ballet triple-bill, starring Nureyev’s protegee Sylvie Guillem and the Royal Ballet star Jonathan Cope.

The Fonteyn-Nureyev partnership lasted for many years until Fonteyn’s retirement from the Royal Ballet in 1979, aged 60. In 1970 after Frederick Ashton retired as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, there were many calls for Nureyev to be announced as his successor. However, Kenneth MacMillan was given the position, and Nureyev left the Royal Ballet as a Principal soon after to be a guest dancer internationally, later becoming Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983. Fonteyn and Nureyev had a lifelong relationship both on and offstage and were close friends until Fonteyn’s death in 1991. Nureyev is quoted as saying of the partnership that they danced with «one body, one soul».