Maude Lloyd

Ballerina turned ballet critic who was Antony Tudor's muse
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Maude Lloyd had two careers that were marked by talent, intelligence and rare success. Her name would be more widely known, but for a number of factors, among them a discreet, matter-of-fact humility. Yet it could also be claimed that, although her name was not familiar outside the dance world, she was in fact known - anonymously. Anybody who read the Alexander Bland columns in The Observer was in contact with her. It's just that they didn't necessarily realise it.

Maude Lloyd, dancer and writer: born Cape Town 16 August 1908; married 1939 Nigel Gosling (died 1982; one son); died London 27 November 2004.

Maude Lloyd had two careers that were marked by talent, intelligence and rare success. Her name would be more widely known, but for a number of factors, among them a discreet, matter-of-fact humility. Yet it could also be claimed that, although her name was not familiar outside the dance world, she was in fact known - anonymously. Anybody who read the Alexander Bland columns in The Observer was in contact with her. It's just that they didn't necessarily realise it.

Lloyd's first career was as a ballet dancer, in the early glimmers of British ballet, when television was only starting and the first national companies were struggling to be born. She was an integral part of this birth. Had she started a decade later, after the scale of dance had broadened, her renown would have reached further. Even so, she was the leading ballerina of Ballet Rambert and muse of the choreographer Antony Tudor, helping him create early masterpieces such as Jardin aux Lilas and Dark Elegies.

Her second career was literary. She adopted, with her husband Nigel Gosling, a pseudonym, Alexander Bland (after Beatrix Potter's Pigling Bland), under which they wrote The Observer's graceful and cultured dance column as well as many dance books. Through their dance writing (and Gosling's additional function as The Observer's art critic) they were close to many artistic luminaries, the most famous among these being Rudolf Nureyev. He stayed with them during his first visit to London in 1962 and would come to regard them and their home as his family life.

Maude Lloyd was born in Cape Town in 1908, travelling to London in 1926 to continue her dance studies. She joined Marie Rambert's school and had her first sight of modern choreography at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, with a performance of A Tragedy of Fashion, choreographed by another Rambert pupil, Frederick Ashton.

At that time Rambert shared a studio with a sculptress and Lloyd would perform her grands battements among tall draped figures. When the sun streamed through the skylight it fell to Lloyd to occupy the hottest spot. "You are from South Africa," Rambert would say. "You will not mind."

Soon Lloyd, like the other students, was roped into Rambert's intermittent shows, such as a 1927 production by the Purcell Opera Society of The Fairy Queen, containing more Ashton choreography. Although neither Ballet Rambert nor the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Royal Ballet) had been formed, the Pavlova and Diaghilev companies still existed. Rambert's students would watch them as frequently as they could afford, often accompanied by Rambert, who would take them backstage. Rambert was a solicitous if overwhelming taskmaster. But her concentrated vitality was infectious and her students were ready to work until they dropped.

It was in 1930 that Lloyd first met Antony Tudor. She had returned to Cape Town for a while and, on arriving back in London, she saw a new young man in Rambert's class. He gave her a long look and said: "You must be Maude from Cape Town." Rambert, always on the lookout for choreographic talent, had told him in advance of "Beautiful Maude" who would be his dancer, his tool for trying his hand at choreography.

Together Tudor and Lloyd began exploring movements, a process which was to result in Tudor's first ballet, Cross-Garter'd (1931), the two dancers performing a comic pas de deux as Malvolio and Olivia. Rambert didn't think it an especially good piece, but deemed it would pass muster for inclusion in the second season of the Ballet Club (the precursor to Ballet Rambert) in Rambert's tiny Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill.

With her serene loveliness (a quality that remained in her old age) and poetic lyricism, Lloyd represented a feminine dance ideal to Tudor. Moreover, she was willing to submit to the long hours of Tudor's creative processes, where he would hammer out steps with agonising slowness, only to discard them the following day. Tudor adored her: he thought her beautiful and intelligent and "well brought up". Alone in London, she was happy to spend all her leisure with Tudor and his partner, the dancer Hugh Laing, and they were to remain close friends until Tudor's death in 1987.

She created roles in Tudor's later ballets Mr Roll's Quadrilles (1932), The Planets (1934), The Descent of Hebe (1935) and, his first major ballet, Jardin aux Lilas (1936), a beautifully modulated exposition of the simmering passions and dutiful restraint of Edwardian life. Lloyd created the role of Caroline who gives up the man she loves and manages to maintain composure and grace (personal characteristics of the real Maude Lloyd), even though it tears her apart. According to Lionel Bradley's Sixteen Years of Ballet Rambert (1946), the whole cast "danced and acted with such intensity that all four characters became real suffering human beings".

Described by the same writer as having "a noble serenity and a deep expressiveness, allied to sparkling gifts of comedy", Lloyd had become Rambert's leading ballerina by the time of Tudor's next creation, another masterpiece, Dark Elegies (1937), to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. She danced a tragic pas de deux with Tudor, to the second song.

She remembered how, for once, Tudor composed the pas de deux with relative ease and they were having to use "a small basement studio which had no mirror, [and where] he couldn't even lift me without knocking my head on the roof".

Without a mirror they had no idea what it looked like, but when they showed it to Rambert, Nadia Benois (the ballet's designer) and Hugh Laing, the response was ecstatic. During the premiere, Hugh Laing was so mesmerised watching the pas de deux from the wings he forgot the steps of his own solo and had to improvise desperately. Despite this, the ballet was the hit of Rambert's West End season.

Lloyd also danced several of the short pieces Tudor made for television. This included a solo called Fugue for Four Cameras (1937), to Bach's Fugue in D minor, filmed in an innovative way that merged four camera angles and was considered such a success it was given several repeated transmissions. Shortly after, Tudor left Rambert to form the London Ballet and Lloyd, along with other dancers joined him. Lloyd, however, was the only one to continue with Rambert at the same time.

The London Ballet's opening programme in 1938 included a premiere: Tudor's witty Gala Performance, with Lloyd in the role of the Milanese ballerina vying with her French and Russian rivals. The following year Tudor set sail for New York, invited by Ballet Theatre to mount some of his ballets, including Jardin aux Lilas (with the great dramatic dancer Nora Kaye in Lloyd's role) and leaving Lloyd and another dancer, Peggy van Praagh, in charge. They were sure that he would be home soon; but it was not to be. The Americans went wild for Tudor and he stayed. In 1940 the London Ballet merged back into Ballet Rambert.

Despite featuring so prominently in Tudor's work, Lloyd was not a one-choreographer dancer. Tudor's work demanded a profound and intense expressiveness through dance, but she was well able to make a success of other styles. She was the Sport Girl in Susan Salaman's Boxing, a ballet premiered at the Ballet Club's début in 1931. She was in the first cast of Andrée Howard's La Fête étrange for the London Ballet.

She was also able to meet the tenets of pure classicism, dancing Aurora in Rambert's Aurora's Wedding, the prelude in Les Sylphides and the Swan Queen in the one-act version of Swan Lake. She succeeded Alicia Markova in the famous Polka of Ashton's Façade and appeared in many other Ashton ballets - she took the title role in Lady of Shallot, for example, and was the étoile ballerina in Foyer de danse. She had the eponymous lead in Howard's Cinderella and was La Goulue in Ninette de Valois's Bar aux Folies-Bergères.

But after the London Ballet's collapse she was never to return to the stage. The previous year she had married Nigel Gosling and during the Second World War she decided, like her husband, to concentrate on welfare work. She had met Gosling in 1935. He started taking ballet lessons at Rambert, staying for four years and participating in some of the performances.

In 1950, he joined The Observer as features editor and in 1951, Richard Buckle, then the paper's dance critic, persuaded Lloyd and Gosling to start writing for the magazine he was editing, Ballet. At first Lloyd doubted the propriety of criticising former colleagues, but they finally agreed and Alexander Bland was born. When, in 1954, Buckle left The Observer, the Goslings took over, staying until Nigel's death in 1982. (Nigel was also the paper's art critic from 1962 to 1975.)

Working as a team, Maude would advise and Nigel would do most of the writing. But Maude was also able to write, as shown, for example, by an article she wrote in the April 1951 issue of Ballet, about her early experiences of Rambert. As Alexander Bland, the Goslings saw Nureyev dance with the Kirov in Paris and were among his earliest champions. Nigel Gosling ghosted the Nureyev autobiography that appeared in 1962 and three other Alexander Bland books on Nureyev followed: The Nureyev Image (1976), The Nureyev Valentino (1977), Fonteyn and Nureyev (1979). They also wrote A History of Ballet and Dance in the Western World (1976), The Royal Ballet: the first 50 years (1981) and, with John Percival, Men Dancing (1984).

After Maude and Nigel's son Nicholas married (and moved into the country as a farmer), Nureyev became the son of the Goslings' late middle age. They became his surrogate parents, providing a place for him to crash out and endlessly cooking steaks. Nureyev had enormous respect for Nigel's intelligence, culture and quiet dignity and deferred to his opinions. When Nigel died, he grieved deeply. "It's like losing my father - more than that," he confided to a friend. "But as long as Maude survives, she means home to me." He regularly invited Maude on his tours and holidays, paying her expenses. When, as director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, he staged a tribute programme to Tudor and was unsuccessful in persuading Tudor to come and supervise, he enlisted Maude instead.

Like Nigel Gosling, Maude Lloyd was loved and admired as a person. She had decorum and precision, without a hint of snobbish grandness, just an elegant simplicity and mental generosity that marked her forever on the memories of those who met her.

Nadine Meisner