Clover Roope obituary

Ballet dancer and choreographer who taught in London and Mexico and at the Rambert school in Twickenham

In 1960 the dancer Clover Roope, who has died aged 81, created the role of one of the fiancee’s friends in Kenneth MacMillan’s Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy’s Kiss) for the Royal Ballet. But, an adventurous and passionate dance artist no longer content with being a fairy or swan, she moved to the pioneering Western Theatre Ballet in Bristol, the first company based in the regions that focused on dramatic works.

For four seasons she performed in productions more closely related to the contemporary world: MacMillan’s witty Valse Excentrique, Peter Darrell’s dramatic Jeux and his lyrical Chiaroscuro, and Gillian Lynne’s The Owl and the Pussycat, in which she created the Pussycat. As Columbine in Mikhail Fokine’s Carnaval she was coached by Tamara Karsavina, who had performed it half a century earlier with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Appearing with WBT in pantomime also took Roope into more popular dance forms.

Roope was drawn to the American dance scene in the 1960s
Roope was drawn to the American dance scene in the 1960s Photograph: Handout

While at the Royal Ballet, she had also embarked on choreography. Much is now made of the challenges facing women who choreograph, but it was an even tougher proposition in the 1950s and 60s. Roope’s own first creation was a comic ballet, Le Farceur, to Jacques Ibert’s Divertissement, for the newly formed Sunday Ballet Club, putting on new works by aspiring choreographers in West End theatres on Sunday evenings, in September 1958. Critics acclaimed the ballet, about four schoolgirls on a visit to Paris, as one that could go “straight into the repertoire of any professional company”.

It was followed by Disenchantment, a pas de deux of love and longing as well as disenchantment, to a score by Roope’s then fiance, John White. For Christmas 1959 she was invited to choreograph Through the Looking Glass for Oxford Playhouse, with Jane Asher as Alice.

To expand her movement vocabulary, Roope was drawn to the American dance scene. In 1964 she became the first dancer to be awarded a two-year Harkness scholarship, which enabled her to study modern dance in New York with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Alwin Nikolais. She kept up her ballet, studying with Margaret Craske, who had been a student of the great teacher Enrico Cecchetti, and Antony Tudor. She also became fascinated by Labanotation, a system of recording dance, which she found enabled her to analyse the techniques she was studying. The modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn invited her to dance and choreograph at Jacob’s Pillow, his rural centre in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts for the 1965 summer festival.

Clover Roope differentiating between classical and Graham technique at The Place, London, during a visit by the choreographer Anna Sokolow in the early 1970s

On returning to Britain she choreographed Spectrum (1967) for WTB, and her experience of Graham equipped her to teach at the school started by Robin Howard that would go on to become London Contemporary Dance School. But Roope also wanted to perform, and was delighted when Norman Morrice invited her to join Ballet Rambert in 1966 as it reformed into a hybrid modern dance and ballet company. She performed and taught there until 1968, and that year took over the role of the Princess in Wendy Toye’s production of Soldier’s Tale at the Edinburgh festival.

Cartilage operations reduced her mobility, though in 1973 she spent five months in Paul Raymond’s Golden Glitter Girl Revue in London. Her freelance career included choreography for Scottish Opera, Northern Dance Theatre, London Contemporary Dance Group, the Pierrot Players, Toronto Dance Company and the British premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1976). She also created the work Solo and Trio for Two (1969), with music by Alexander Goehr, which was danced by a number of companies.

Tamara Karsavina demonstrates the role of Columbine (with John Gilpin) to Roope
Tamara Karsavina demonstrates the role of Columbine (with John Gilpin) to Roope Photograph: Handout

Born in Bristol, Clover was the daughter of Frederick Roope, a school teacher, and his wife, Rita (nee Watts). She trained in ballet with her godmother, Katharine Blott, and her examiners at the Royal Academy of Dancing were so impressed they recommended she audition for Sadler’s Wells, to become one of the first pupils at the Sadler’s Wells School when it opened in September 1947. She was all set to become the first pupil to go right through the school into the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, by then resident at Covent Garden, when her career was derailed by anorexia. She eventually joined the ballet of Sadler’s Wells Opera under Peter Wright (later moving to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet), in the company’s original home in north London, but was soon dancing at Covent Garden; in 1956 the Sadler’s Wells companies became branches of the Royal Ballet.

Roope attracted attention creating the role of the “Lyrical” mortal in John Cranko’s disastrous The Angels (1957). As the critic Clive Barnes observed, her “unforced elegance” was one of its few redeeming features, and soon she was devising her own work and establishing a more dramatic presence.

In later years she continued to offer open professional classes in Graham technique at the Dance Centre in London, taught at the Academia de la Danza, Mexico City, and from 1979 headed the modern dance side of the new Rambert Academy at Twickenham (now the Rambert school) while conveniently living on a houseboat moored nearby. As her longstanding friend and colleague Patricia Rianne acknowledged, Roope “was never celebrated as the shining star that she became for so many young dancers. She gave time, tuition and care to young dancers who wanted to know the trade.”

She is survived by her brother, Noël, and two nephews, Simon and Chris.

• Katharine Clover Roope, dancer, choreographer and teacher, born 12 June 1937; died 18 April 2019


Jane Pritchard

The GuardianTramp

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