Ballet dancer David Wall dies aged 67

David Wall speaks to Princess Margaret after the Royal Ballet premiere of Mayerling in 1978 David Wall, pictured with Princess Margaret after the Royal Ballet premiere of Mayerling in 1978, was awarded the CBE

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Ballet dancer David Wall, who became the youngest male principal in the history of the Royal Ballet at the age of 21, has died of cancer.

Wall, who was awarded the CBE, was a regular partner to Dame Margot Fonteyn.

He studied at the Royal Ballet School and joined the ballet's touring company in 1963, becoming principal in 1966.

Wall, who was 67, died at his family home in Croydon, south London, on Tuesday. Friend Christopher Price paid tribute to "a great dancer and artist".

"It has been an honour to know him and he has brought the world and his family so much joy and happiness during his lifetime," said Mr Price.

Start Quote

As soon as I got into the rehearsal room, she put me totally at my ease and we really started to enjoy working”

End Quote David Wall on dancing with Dame Margot Fonteyn

"His passing will be an enormous loss to us all."

Daria Klimentova, senior principal ballerina with the English National Ballet (ENB), said she would dedicate her Wednesday performance in Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall to her former teacher and friend.

She said she would not be at the ENB without him and that she did not know how she was going to be able to perform after hearing the news.

Gary Avis, ballet master and principal character artist at the Royal Ballet, said he would be raising a glass to his friend.

"With admiration, gratitude and respect I thank you David Wall for being a friend, mentor and gentleman!" he said on Twitter.

He said his passing was "unbelievably sad" but called him "a brave and courageous man" adding he was "inspirational but above all a real gent with an amazing sense of humour".

Early career

David Wall was accepted into the Royal Ballet school at the age of 10. A school teacher persuaded his mother to let him audition after seeing his potential in the compulsory ballroom dancing lessons at his primary school in Windsor.

But he said he did not always know he wanted to dance professionally. He told Ballet Magazine it was not until he completed his training, at the age of 16 that he decided.

David Wall's Legacy

"David Wall came at a particular time in British Ballet. If you think that British ballet started in 1931. So when David was dancing in the 1960s that was really when it grew up.

We had this generation of home-grown male talent that hadn't had to take time out to do national service.

So it really was the first time there was this coterie of male principals and David was at the forefront of that.

I think he combined incredible technical facility and strength but with real acting ability, real interpretive skills.

If you went to see David perform it was akin to really seeing someone at the National Theatre.

You felt you were going into the character, you were not just seeing the steps you were living the life of the character and that was his particular skill.

David had an incredibly masculine presence, he had a real physicality.

When he danced a pas de deux with Lynn Seymour or Alfreda Thorogood, his wife who he danced with, you had no doubt there was that chemistry between them. Because he managed to have this sensuality and real masculinity in his work."

Deborah Bull is a former Royal Ballet dancer and Creative Director at The Royal Opera House.

"At that point, we were witness to two really great ballets: La Fille mal gardee had just been created, and Cranko's Antigone, in which the males took on the leading roles. Also, Nureyev had just defected, so seeing the male get more prominence in the art form spurred me on," he said.

In 1963, Wall joined the Royal Ballet Touring Company and in 1970, he joined the main Royal Ballet company as principal.

It was a golden age of classical ballet and Wall danced all the leading roles with some of the greatest ballerinas, including Doreen Wells and Lynn Seymour.

He admitted at first he felt most comfortable dancing onstage with his wife Alfreda Thorogood, who was a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet.

He was 17 the first time he danced with Dame Margot Fonteyn.

Appearing on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, in 1978, Wall remembered feeling nervous when Dame Margot picked him to be her partner.

"I was doubting and questioning my ability very much for three weeks," he said.

"But as soon as I got into the rehearsal room, she put me totally at my ease and we really started to enjoy working."

Wall was renowned for his acting ability, which he said was due to his first artistic director, John Field, who encouraged his dancers to see plays and watch actors perform.

Wall retired from dancing in 1984, deciding not to continue as a character dancer.

"I had created Rudolf in Mayerling, I think that was the pinnacle of my career, and I probably would have just become complacent doing character roles. I needed other challenges," he told Ballet Magazine.

He became associate director of the Royal Academy and went on to become director.

In 1995, he joined the ENB as ballet master because he felt strongly about the importance of teaching ballet.

Gregory Nash, director of arts for the British Council, said on Wednesday that in 1981 Wall heard about the first National Festival of Youth Dance on the radio and immediately drove straight to Leicester to join them.

Many of his former students have paid tribute to his legacy.

He is survived by his wife, two children and a number of grandchildren.

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