Maryon Lane: Sadler's Wells ballerina

Petite, with dark hair, a pretty, oval face and ideal proportions, Maryon Lane had the quintessential looks of a ballerina of her time. Born in Zululand in 1931, she was one of an important group of young dancers from the Commonwealth who found success in England.

Without the likes of Lane and fellow southern Africans such as Nadia Nerina, Monica Mason and John Cranko, the talent-base of the Royal Ballet would have been severely depleted. And without Maryon Lane, the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan would have been deprived of an early muse. Lane created central roles in ballets that defined MacMillan's innovative vision and marked him out as a major artist.

Born Patricia Mills, she studied ballet in Johannesburg before coming to London to the Sadler's Wells School. She arrived in 1946, shortly after the Sadler's Wells Ballet moved to its new home, the Royal Opera House, where it later became the Royal Ballet. Dancers left behind in the Sadler's Wells Theatre formed the core of a second company, the Sadler's Wells Opera Ballet (soon renamed Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet). New recruits were needed and in 1947, aged 16, Lane was taken into the second company.

Her sharp technique and musicality, woven with a vivid presence that contradicted her small stature, soon brought her to the attention of the company's director Ninette de Valois and the choreographer Frederick Ashton. In her first year she danced in the premiere of Ashton's Valses nobles et sentimentales and later, in 1951, created a role in his Casse-Noisette. In 1948 she was promoted to principal.

Other choreographers were quick to use her. In 1950, when George Balanchine created Trumpet Concerto for the Sadler's Wells Theatre company, he picked Lane as one of the three soloists supporting the lead couple, Svetlana Beriosova and David Blair. Walter Gore cast her in his Carte Blanche (1953) and Alfred Rodrigues in his Café des Sports (1954), a comic ballet about a bicycle race.

Most enduring was Lane's collaboration with Kenneth MacMillan, who choreographed his first ballet, Somnabulism (1953), with Lane and Margaret Hill in the female roles. A last-minute crisis threatened the premiere: Hill fell ill and MacMillan himself had to dance her solo, adapting the choreography to a man's way of moving. Even so, the ballet was a triumph, televised in 1954 by the BBC with the new title The Dreamers.

In 1954 Lane created the title role of MacMillan's Laiderette, a workshop production and the first of his ballets on the theme of social outsiders. Lane played a young girl whose admirer rejects her when her bald head is revealed, and the gritty poignancy of the part was perfect for her expressive powers and childlike physique.

After Laiderette came MacMillan's Danses Concertantes (1955), to Stravinsky's acerbic score, a plotless ballet that made rigorous demands on the dancers' techniques and musical understanding. In keeping with the music, MacMillan devised a wilfully modern dance language, fracturing ballet's harmonies with strange hand movements, off-kilter postures and abrupt changes of direction. Lane danced an extended pas de deux with David Poole that included unexpected lifts and highlighted her technical and expressive qualities. Shortly after came another MacMillan ballet, House of Birds (1955), based on a Grimm fairy tale, in which Lane was one of two lovers captured by a frightening Bird Woman.

The same year (1955) was marked by Lane's transfer to the main company at the Royal Opera House as soloist. Her professional association with MacMillan continued with Noctambules (1956), a mysterious character piece, in which she created the part of a hypnotist's assistant, and she danced the premiere of Diversions (1961), a rare pure-classical piece in MacMillan's canon.

Meanwhile she was working with other choreographers. Ashton chose her for the title part of his 1955 Madame Chrysanthème, when the company appeared in New York later the same year. She portrayed a Japanese woman who, for all her charm, was entirely opaque to her Western lover. In Ashton's Ondine (1958), Lane and her partner were the lead couple in the third-act divertissement, a pure-dance sequence combining technical brilliance with a doom-laden atmosphere.

She had met her husband David Blair while they were dancers with the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet. Blair moved to the main company a few years earlier than Lane and in 1960 created the central male part of Colas in Ashton's famous La Fille mal gardée; it was during the rehearsal period of this ballet that Lane gave birth to twin daughters.

In 1966 she appeared as a guest with Ballet Rambert in their production of MacMillan's Laiderette and was an alluring Caroline in their revival of Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas. She retired from the Royal Ballet in 1968, becoming a teacher at the Royal Ballet School, the London Ballet Centre and the Urdang Academy. In recent years she had been living in Cyprus, where she set up the Maryon Lane Ballet Academy in Kyrenia.

Nadine Meisner

Patricia Mills (Maryon Lane), ballet dancer and teacher: born 15 February 1931; married 1957 David Blair (died 1976; two daughters); died 13 June 2008.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Hourly Paid Teachers

£20 - £25 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curren...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits