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Dame Beryl Grey: oration

Read Professor Carole Mundell's oration on Beryl Grey for the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts in July 2018.


Dame Beryl Grey
Dame Beryl Grey

Dame Beryl Grey is a world-renowned prima ballerina, a ground-breaking artistic director and an iconic figure in the ballet world, who has been at the forefront of international dance and dance leadership for more than seven decades. She is currently Patron of the Royal Ballet Benevolent fund and Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Dance but these roles alone cannot convey the magnitude of the impact she has had and continues to have on the world of professional, amateur and popular dance.

Dame Beryl’s expansive dance career began at the tender age of three years old, attending classes along with her cousins. Her talent and focus were quickly spotted by her teacher, Madeleine Sharp, who encouraged her to take the Graded Royal Academy of Dance examinations. Dame Beryl recalls ‘In those days the exams were jolly tough and the examiners were tough, but it was marvellous.’ She powered through all five grades then took the elementary and intermediate exams, stopping short only of the advanced because Academy rules stated she was too young!

Dame Beryl has pioneered many firsts in her career. At nine years old, she auditioned for Ninette de Valois at the Vic-Wells Ballet School, winning a four-year scholarship in the school, followed by four years in the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company. She made her debut with the company in 1941 in Burnley as a member of the Corps de Ballet in Swan Lake during a war-time provincial tour. She quickly progressed to the dance the lead roles of Odette and Odile in the full-length ballet on her fifteenth birthday– the youngest dancer ever to do so. At not quite seventeen, she was also the youngest to dance Giselle.

Her talent has taken her around the world, dancing the iconic classical ballet lead roles in South Africa, Australasia, Europe, Russia, Central and South America and Canada. She was the first foreign guest to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia in 1957 and the first to dance with Peking and Shanghai ballet companies. Her debut with the Bolshoi was described by Pathé News as ‘a triumph of the first magnitude’; the delight of the audience at her dazzling fouettes and charismatic performance was evident from the tumultuous applause that she received.

Dame Beryl’s commitment to dance and dance organisations has been at the heart of her career for many decades and she has received numerous honours in recognition. She has been Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Dance since 1980, is lifetime President of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and has held roles including Artistic Director of London Festival Ballet and a Director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Dame Beryl was created Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the British Empire in 1973, was created a Dame of the same order in 1988 and, in 2017, was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) for services to dance in Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The University of Bath and the Royal Academy of Dance have a shared commitment to the pursuit of excellence, to enabling development of the whole person, to celebrating talent and creating opportunity. With her passion, determination, and commitment to inspiring and supporting the next generation, Dame Beryl is an outstanding role model for the graduates today.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Dame Beryl Grey, who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa.

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