Dancer, teacher Leo Kersley departed

Born in Watford in 1920 the English dancer and teacher Leo Kersley died at the age of 92, on 3 July 2012, conceived on the dole, born on the dole and brought up on the dole.

Any spare money was spent on theatre tickets, and if there was only enough for one seat, then it went to Leo, who became a familiar figure in the Sadler’s Wells audience.

As the Vic Wells ballet of Ninette de Valois didn’t have facilities for boys then he followed Frederick Ashton’s advice and went to the Ballet Rambertto start lessons there in October at the age of 13.  And it being the Ballet Rambert, he was on the stage at the end of December, just standing holding a spear, as you might say, but that’s how Rambert was: ‘You’ve got someone, shove ’em on!’, and you painted the scenery and you worked in the box office and you delivered coffee and so on.

Marie Rambert in 1948.

Marie Rambert in 1948. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before Marie Rambert her class he follewed ealy in the morning the class by Antony Tudor whom he found very fascinating to work with.

They worked 7 days in the week at the Mercury Theatre in Ladbroke Road from morning until late at night never allowed to do nothing. So Leo Kersley would be music man, being put in charge of the records and the sheet music, but he was always asked, ‘go and take over in the box office for half an hour’.

Kersley was first married to Celia Franca, but after she went to Canada to found the the National Ballet of Canada in 1951, he married Janet Sinclair with whom he went to Denver, Colorado, where he had been invited to establish a school there, but the family was left stranded when funding fell through. After 18 months, he took up a teaching post in Rotterdam where, owing to a shortage of male dancers, he was also able to dance at the Ballet der Lage Landen (Ballet of the Low Countries) under the direction of Mascha ter Weeme, Max Dooyes, Bob Nijhuis and Florrie Rodrigo.

In 1949 Kersley had also created ‘De behekste kostuum’ (the bewitched costumes) for the Ballet der Lage Landen in 1949.

After the departure of Carter and McDowell, Leo Kersley could take in the solo role position of the danser, scenery and costume designer who had entered the company in 1953.

I Rietstap, L Kersley in De Kennismaking (The Acquaintance)

The English choreographers and dancers Walter Gore, Peter Darrell were invited, to build up a new repertoire with a.o. Denis Carey, Michael Holmes, John Gregory and Janet Sinclair. In a choreography by Netty van der Valk to music by Duke Ellington and Strayhorn Kersley danced with Ine Rietstap in ‘De Kennismaking’ (‘The Acquaintance’) (1957) But it also marked the last season for Kersley and his wife, Janet Sinclair, who, like Tom Molema left, while Greetje Donker and Karel Poons ended their dance careers.

He  got peanuts from the three ballet companies he worked for; but yes,  did one or two ballets to fill in for fun but not seriously, according to him.

In 1959 the family returned to England to start up a school and the Royal Academy of Dancing asked him to put on a complete production of Nutcracker for their big production club in Liverpool with orchestra and the lot. He went to Liverpool on Sundays and rehearsed this, and sometimes stayed longer than that and he got this Nutcracker on, of course everybody in Harlow in Essex, heard about this Nutcracker and there was no wearing it but they were bloody well going to have Nutcracker in Harlow, so he was dragooned into it. But it was great fun, they did all sorts of things, Wayne Sleep did choreography for them, which Fred Ashton didn’t allow him to put on.

The Harlow Ballet School  with a club  gave regular performances, even appearing at the Aldeburgh festival. The school successfully catered for children who simply wanted dance lessons, as well as those aiming to make dance their professional career. Kersley taught and Sinclair played for classes. They also wrote together a now standard work, A Dictionary of Ballet Terms (1952), as well as a large number of articles and reviews for specialist dance publications. Kersley gave up full-time teaching shortly before the death of his wife in 1999.

? Michael Hogan and Leo Kersley

? Michael Hogan and Leo Kersley (Photo credit: Archway Andres)

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Interview with Leo Kersley

The Harlow Ballet Association + Harlow Ballet School, of with the exception of Henrietta Branwell, all the other teachers are former pupils of Leo Kersley, who, with his wife, Janet Sinclair, founded the Harlow Ballet School in 1959 and the Harlow Ballet Club, the predecessor of the HBA, in 1961. > Harlow Ballet School And Association

Harlow mourns death of ballet school founder

  • Leo Kersley (guardian.co.uk)
    With the death of Leo Kersley at the age of 92, one of the last links with the early days of British ballet has vanished. Kersley danced with the fledgling Ballet Rambert and Sadler’s Wells Ballet and was a founder member of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet. He played a part in establishing classical ballet in the Netherlands and later became a distinguished teacher.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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