Moira Shearer, ballet star who eclipsed Fonteyn, dies aged 80

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The Independent Culture

Moira Shearer, the flame-haired star of The Red Shoes, the most famous ballet film ever made, has died. She had just turned 80.

The Scottish dancer and actress was a star of Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House in London when she was chosen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for the 1948 movie that won her international acclaim. The role as the young and beautiful ballet dancer Victoria Page, torn between love and her career, made her even more famous overseas than the legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn.

Shearer became the subject of feverish press attention when the Sadler's Wells company made its first tour of the United States the year after the movie's release.

Yet she would have earned her place in ballet history even without The Red Shoes, having created one of the leads in Symphonic Variations, one of the masterpieces of the choreographer Frederick Ashton.

And although some critics had reservations about her dancing, she was always enormously popular with the public.

She was born Moira King in Dunfermline in Scotland on 17 January 1926, and was educated in Scotland and Zambia. She received her professional training with the teacher Nicholas Legat before first dancing with the Sadler's Wells company at the age of 16. She quickly became a principal of the company where she shared the stage with Fonteyn. By 1946, when she was 20, she was dancing the leads in Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Coppelia at Covent Garden for the first time as well as starring in the Ashton Variations.

When Fonteyn was injured two years later, she created the title role in Ashton's Cinderella, the same year that Powell and Pressburger made their classic film. She teamed up with the film-makers again in 1951 for The Tales of Hoffman and followed it up with appearances in The Story of Three Loves, The Man Who Loved Redheads and 1-2-3-4 ou les Collants Noirs. Her most notorious role was in 1960 in Powell's hugely influential and disturbing psychological thriller, Peeping Tom.

Ludovic Kennedy, the writer and broadcaster whom she married in 1950, said yesterday: "The ballet was the thing to which she was really committed - the film industry was a bit of a distraction." He and most of their family were with Shearer when she died at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on Tuesday. They had four children - Alastair, Alisa, Rachel and Fiona - and seven grandchildren.

Mr Kennedy, who said she had been becoming weaker since her 80th birthday, paid tribute to his wife. "She was full of spirit and also she was very beautiful. She moved wonderfully gracefully as you would expect of a ballet dancer. I found her very good company and I think the children did too."