Sally Gilmour

Ballet Rambert leading ballerina of unusual dramatic power

Marie Rambert, the founder of Ballet Rambert (now Rambert Dance Company), had a sharp eye and a sharp tongue, and was frugal with praise. But in her 1972 autobiography
Quicksilver she didn't stint when it came to Sally Gilmour, the company's leading ballerina in the 1930s and 1940s. "Sally was an outstanding artist," she wrote of Gilmour in her created title role in Andrée Howard's
Lady into Fox. Gilmour was "enchanting" in Frank Staff's
Peter and the Wolf; her Giselle was "most touching"; and she was "astonishing" as the native girl Tulip in Howard's
The Sailor's Return:



Sarah Gilmour, dancer: born Sungei Lembing, Malaya 2 November 1921; married 1949 Dr Allan Wynn (died 1987; two sons, one daughter); died Sydney, New South Wales 23 May 2004.



Marie Rambert, the founder of Ballet Rambert (now Rambert Dance Company), had a sharp eye and a sharp tongue, and was frugal with praise. But in her 1972 autobiography Quicksilver she didn't stint when it came to Sally Gilmour, the company's leading ballerina in the 1930s and 1940s. "Sally was an outstanding artist," she wrote of Gilmour in her created title role in Andrée Howard's Lady into Fox. Gilmour was "enchanting" in Frank Staff's Peter and the Wolf; her Giselle was "most touching"; and she was "astonishing" as the native girl Tulip in Howard's The Sailor's Return:

Even physically she managed to transform herself into a real native girl, spontaneous, innocent and reckless in her love for her husband and baby.

Sally Gilmour was not just a dancer, but a dramatic performer of unusual power, able completely to become each character she played. She had the advantage of a face made striking by high cheekbones and deep, compelling eyes, but there was nothing in her origins pointing towards the stage.

She was born Sarah Gilmour in 1921 in Malaya, where her father, Colin Gilmour, was Chief Medical Officer. Aged just four or five, she was sent to boarding school in London, only travelling back to see her parents every two or three years. This was a harsh childhood, but the school did offer access to ballet lessons and by six she was determined to become a ballerina. At nine, she became a pupil of the famous Ballets Russes ballerina Tamara Karsavina, who had settled in England; at 12 she entered the Rambert school; and at not quite 16 joined the company.

Besides the chill of separation, her childhood was marked by tragedy. Aged three, she saw her five-year-old brother fatally hit by a car. In the Malayan war, on the day Singapore fell in February 1942, her mother Florence was killed in the fighting. Her father ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp - an experience made all the more harrowing by the stress of trying to tend the sick.

On the other side of the world, Gilmour's growing success with Rambert went unseen by her family. Her big début was in the premiere of Lady into Fox (1939), as the central character, Silvia. Other created roles followed: the younger sister in Howard's The Fugitive (1944) and Tulip in The Sailor's Return (1947); the Duck in Frank Staff's Peter and the Wolf (1940). She also created roles in a wide span of Walter Gore ballets: Confessional (1941), Simple Symphony (1944), Mr Punch (1946), Concerto Burlesco (1947) and Winter Night (1948). She was possibly the best British Giselle of her generation.

It was during Ballet Rambert's 1948 tour to Australia - a tour of enormous impact exercising a formative effect on Australian ballet - that she met her future husband, Allan Wynn. The son of Samuel Wynn, who, as Samuel Weintraub, emigrated from Poland to Australia before the First World War and became one of Australia's leading winemakers, he was a young doctor, and followed her to London where he became a cardiologist. They married in 1949 and their son Simon was born a year later.

Having taken time out for the birth, Gilmour briefly returned to Rambert for the 1950 season, as well as appearing in the West End as Louise in the musical Carousel. On 10 December 1952, during Ballet Rambert's run at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, she gave her farewell performance, dancing Confessional.

In 1976, for the book 50 Years of Ballet Rambert, 1926-1976, she wrote how, having joined the Rambert fold at the age of 12, it had become her family. She remembered morning classes with the choreographer Antony Tudor and afternoon ones with Rambert, she recalled "a dream-like world of incredible and brilliant people" such as Ashton, Tudor and Howard.

During the threadbare Second World War years, she, along with a few other dancers, lived with Marie Rambert. Rambert's energy and perfectionism were inspiring. They performed for Cema (the wartime Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts) and the constant work and discomfort of touring made the company into a family. Or so it seemed to Gilmour. "I grew up with her [Rambert] as a dancer, and a person," she wrote. "I could never have left Rambert if I hadn't married."

After her farewell performance, Gilmour and her family settled in Melbourne. She made occasional guest appearances with the Australian Ballet, helped mount the ballets she had danced, did some teaching and examining. But she devoted herself to her family. Perhaps because of her own childhood, she was determined to provide her three children - Simon, Sabina and Toby - with emotional warmth. In 1970 the family returned to London, where Gilmour did find some time to work with the Arts Council and help with revivals.

Very occasionally, she would have famous visitors such as Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn to her home, but her children had little inkling that she had been a star. They were made to feel the stars, although none of them followed her on to the stage. She didn't talk much about her dancing. She did have photographs and her children did see the film of her in Lady into Fox. But what they remember most was that she was down to earth, good- humoured and interested in young people.

Nadine Meisner

Suggested Topics
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law