Entertainment & Arts

Dancer Jonathan Ollivier dies in motorbike crash

Jonathan Ollivier Image copyright New Adventures
Image caption Jonathan Ollivier was aged 38 when he died

Choreographer Matthew Bourne has paid tribute to dancer Jonathan Ollivier who has died in a motorbike accident.

The 38-year-old died on Sunday hours before he was due to perform in the final show of Bourne's production of The Car Man at Sadler's Wells Theatre.

Bourne called the ballet dancer "one of the most charismatic and powerful dancers of his generation".

A driver arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving has now been bailed.

Ollivier worked on a number of roles with Bourne's company New Adventures, including The Swan in Swan Lake and Speight in Play Without Words.

His family announced his death. His sister Rachel Ollivier wrote on Facebook that "it is with a heavy heart that we have to tell you that Jon tragically died today".

She described him as her "beautiful little bro" and said "we love him and will miss him massively xx".

Ollivier was riding in Clerkenwell in central London when the accident happened, police said.

He was involved in a collision with a black Mercedes shortly after 11:00 BST on Sunday. Paramedics and an air ambulance tried to save his life, but he was pronounced dead at the scene shortly before noon.

A driver arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving has now been bailed until February 2016.

Sunday's performance of The Car Man was cancelled.

Image copyright chris mann
Image caption Jonathan Ollivier played Luca in Matthew Bourne's The Car Man

Bourne said: "Yesterday's events have ripped at the heart of the New Adventures family.

"We join together to send our heartfelt condolences to all of Jonny's family and friends. In our grieving for this irreplaceable artist we take some comfort in the legacy of memories that he has left behind."

He described the dancer as "an intensely masculine presence tempered with tenderness and vulnerability".

"A man of great warmth and charm, Jonny was a true gent, loved and respected by his colleagues and adored by audiences who were mesmerised by his memorable performances on stage as well as his friendly and genuine personality at the Stage Door," he added.

"He was also an inspiration and role model to several generations of young dancers who strived to emulate his enviable technique and majestic stage presence."

Image copyright Hugo Glendinning
Image caption Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

The Car Man is a production set in 1960s America and loosely based on Georges Bizet's opera Carmen.

His lead performance had been praised by critics, with The Telegraph's Rachel Ward writing that he brought "brooding power and danger of a matador" to the role.

Ollivier also spent eight years at Northern Ballet Theatre (now called Northern Ballet) from 1999 to 2007.

David Nixon, the artistic director of Northern Ballet, paid tribute to Ollivier and spoke of the shock of learning of his "tragic death".

"Jon's untimely death is a loss to the world of dance and unbelievably tragic for his family. Jon's legacy will live on through the memories of his performances and through the roles which he created. He will be very much missed. Our thoughts are very much with his family."

Nixon said when he arrived at the company he was "inspired by the engaging charisma, strength and natural acting instincts of Jon".

"He soon became an integral part of my work and was involved in most of my creations. Most memorable will always be his incredibly powerful and unforgettable Heathcliff opposite Charlotte Talbot's Cathy. It was an inspired and privileged moment for me as a choreographer," he said.

Image copyright Twitter

Dancer Carlos Acosta paid tribute to Ollivier on Twitter and New Adventures tweeted that fans could send their condolences to his family via them.

Image copyright Twitter

Robert Nicholson, senior lecturer in dance at the University of East London, who saw Ollivier in The Car Man, said he had "a really strong stage presence".

"He was a fantastic performer who really commanded the space," he said. "And he was quite interesting to watch because there was a strong masculinity about him and yet a sensitivity in his performance. So it's a real loss for British dance."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport added: "Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Jonathan Ollivier, a talented and powerful dancer."

  • Jonathan Ollivier was a ballet dancer for more than 18 years.
  • He grew up in Northampton and at 16 he studied at The Rambert Dance School.
  • He started his professional career in South Africa at Cape Town City Ballet.
  • In 1999, Ollivier joined The National Ballet Theatre (now called Northern Ballet), spending eight years there playing Heathcliff in David Nixon's Wuthering Heights and Death in Birgit Scherzer's Requiem.
  • He played Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire and Hyde in Jekyll and Hyde.
  • Ollivier spent two years in Canada as Principal dancer at the Alberta Ballet Company.
  • He worked with Matthew Bourne on his Play Without Words and danced the role of the lead Swan/Stranger in Swan Lake.
  • He was awarded an honorary fellowship to the Dance Critics Circle and nominated by them as best young dancer in 2003 and best male dancer 2004.
  • He was also nominated for outstanding young male artist in the National Dance Awards in 2002 and best male dancer in National Dance Awards in 2003.
  • He was awarded an honorary fellowship from the University of Northampton in 2006.
  • Olivier garnered four and five star reviews and was described as "a strong partner, fine actor and a dancer of extraordinary physical and emotional intensity".
  • He had two sons.

Ollivier recently told the BBC how he got into dance.

"I've got three sisters that used to go dancing and, one day, one of the teachers asked my mum if she wanted to leave me to do a class so that she could go off and do some shopping.

"I ended up staying and that was it really. It wasn't anything that I'd seen on TV and thought, 'that's what I want to do', it was actually doing a class that got me hooked. I loved it from the first one I did. I just knew that's what I wanted to do.

"I think a lot of guys' stories are like Billy Elliot's and that's why the film did so well."

"Most of us come from places where people wouldn't normally go off and do dance. We come from council estates and wanted to do ballet.

"There's nothing wrong with that but you still have to deal with the consequences of the fact that's not normal for a lot of people" .

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