Obituary: Laura Wilson

PERHAPS THE most revolutionary of all dance companies was Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (1909-29), with its explosion of creative talent. His use of the greatest composers and painters has been well documented. Laura Wilson was one of the first English girls to be engaged by Diaghilev when the Ballets Russes came to Britain from Spain towards the end of the First World War, in August 1918.

She took the name "Olkhina", a corruption of her nickname "Orla", and appeared in over 14 ballets including, in 1919, the first performances of Leonide Massine's Boutique Fantasque, with decor by Andre Derain, and Le Tricorne, designed by a young Picasso.

It was while she was with the Diaghilev company that she absorbed the teaching of the great ballet master Enrico Cecchetti whose method forms the basis of what is now termed the English School of ballet. In 1920, she was engaged to choreograph and teach dancing at the Glastonbury Festival School by its founder, the composer and conductor Rutland Boughton.

Her performing career was not confined to ballet and when she was forced by ill-health to leave the Ballets Russes she appeared as an actress, as well as arranging the dances and movement, in many of Nigel Playfair's productions at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in the 1920s and 1930s. Her choreography also made it to the West End stage, in A.P. Herbert's play Tantivy Towers.

She had not given up performing as a dancer and in the 1930s she appeared with some of the Camargo Society ballets which gave the first British productions of abbreviated versions of works like Swan Lake and Giselle with Alicia Markova at the Savoy Theatre.

Wilson's importance to British ballet came from her teaching. She founded her school in Drayton Gardens, south-west London, some time before Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, started teaching in the next road. The basis of Wilson's success as a teacher lay in her own experience of ballet and her knowledge of Cecchetti's teaching. She taught in her own studios and toured many countries passing on her teaching of classical ballet to children and professional dancers. It is partly as a result of her work that the Cecchetti method of ballet is now taught in so many countries.

She was one of the earliest members and an examiner of the Cecchetti Society, and received the Cecchetti Society gold medal in 1966.

Those who met Laura Wilson were struck by her modesty, which is perhaps why she is less well known than some of her contemporaries. She was independently minded and surprisingly erudite for one with little formal education. She saw through hangers-on and had little time for amateurs. Although in poor physical health for some time she was always entertaining company to her friends and gave me her last private lesson a week before her death.

She was married to the painter Eric Munro Agnew, by whom she had a son and a daughter.

Laura Emma Elizabeth Jenner Wilson, dancer, actress and ballet teacher: born Sydney, New South Wales 9 February 1901; married Eric Munro Agnew (one son, one daughter); died London 14 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before