Richard Elilis

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Richard Elilis
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Born(1918-02-19)February 19, 1918
Croydon, Surrey, United Kingdom
DiedNovember 8, 2010(2010-11-08) (aged 92)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
NationalityAmerican, English
Known forDancer, Choreographer and Actor
StyleBallet: Cecchetti, Royal Academy of Dancing, Vagonava
Spouse(s)Christine DuBoulay-Ellis

Richard Ellis was a Dancer with the Sadler's Wells from the 1930s up until his retirement from the company in the 1950s. In his performance years, he played Her Drosselmeyer for over 27 years in Ruth Page's Chicago Nutcracker. When he passed away, the Joffrey Ballet dedicated their 2010 Nutcracker performance to him.[1] Once retired, the two were not ready to give up ballet and opened their own studio called the Ellis-DuBoulay studio that trained thousands of successful ballet dancers. The two had no children, but treated every student they taught as one of their own.

Early life

On February 19, 1918, Richard Ellis was born in Croydon, Surrey, in the United Kingdom.[2] In his early years as a performer, ballet was not nearly as large of a spectacle as it is today. Much of his youth was spent acting, appearing in musical style performances such as A Selfish Giant. Ellis credits one notable performance, A Kiss of Springtime, for being the reason he desired to pursue ballet [3]. Unlike those he completed previously, this role had a large ballet style dance role instead of his usual acting. Ellis claims that he became a ballet dancer "...purely by chance. he was an orphan and spent much of his youth acting and doing song-and-dance numbers in shows. At 14, he appeared in a London show with a big ballet by Frederick Ashton with all sorts of wonderful dancers. That got me terribly interested. So I took lots of ballet classes, dances with Anton Dolin's troupe and in 1933 joined the Vic-Wells Ballet, the remarkable forerunner of the Sadler's Wells Ballet and eventually the Royal Ballet." Over the next 5 years, he quickly caught his instructor's eyes who convinced him to go to the Camargo Society (later called Ballet Club). With one performance on Sunday evenings and another on Monday afternoons, Ellis became more involved with dance and company life in the 1930s. At the time, Blackface was a regularly practiced art form, especially for the women, and en travesti was used as both comedic relief and satire. One notable choreographer to Ellis was Freddie Ashton, who quickly became the resident choreographer of Sadler's Wells Ballet (now Royal Academy). Interestingly enough, his first partner was a "vivacious little 15-year-old names Peggy Rookham" who is now more famously referred to as Dame Margot Fonteyn.


Sadler's Wells

In September 1933, Ellis officially signed one of the first big ballet company contracts with then Vic-Wells Ballet, eventually called Sadler's Wells Ballet then eventually Royal Ballet in 1956. He started with 1 performance a week and as ballet's popularity grew, so did the number of performances. It was not until 1935 that Ellis remembers performing nightly, which is hard to believe in today's times where there are 8 performances a week. While on tour in England, he vividly remembers having up to 3 casts for one ballet, thus giving dancers the luxury to perform roles they would not typically have.

The 1940s proved to be a rather unprecedented time for ballet with the world war. While the dance troop toured the "low countries" such as Belgium, Denmark, the tour came to an abrupt halt in Haarlem, Holland in the Netherlands. On Friday, May 10, 1940, the dancers heard bombs while at the theater and ran to the roof, Ellis recalls, "All hell broke loose, they saw Rotterdam being bombed and saw the parachutes land. In order to get out of the country, we hid for a few days in a little coast town until a tramp steamer picked us up, and a destroyer escorted us back to England. We had to leave behind all the costume sets for 11 ballets as well as our personal belongings."[4] The company did not return until 1944, where Ellis noted the theater that once was, is now in ruins. They took the last boat out of Haarlem, and the group was rushed home, away from this unforsaken occurrence. It was this tragic and shocking event that led to Ellis volunteering for the Royal Navy. He knew that he could not select where he would go in the war if he did not volunteer (more see Dance and War).

Ellis and Sir Frederick Ashton

In 1937, Ashton made his first ballet with a narrator: A Wedding Bouquet. Ellis was furious that he could not perform this experimental ballet due to an unexpected knee injury. Not long after, Ashton also choreographed his first modern ballets for Sadler's Wells, Job, this granted Ellis the opportunity to perform multiple roles. Interestingly enough, both Ellis and his future wife were in this ballet even though they may not have known it at the time. Ellis remembers affectionately that by closing the show, he believed that he must have performed almost all of the positions, including all the Suns, all the Messengers, all the Pedestals of War and Famine, the Comforter, and an understudy to Satan[3].

While the war still raged on in the 1940s, dance continued and art kept being created. At this time, Sir Frederick Ashton became the official resident choreographer of Sadler's Wells and added many more ballets to his repertoire; in particular, Dante Sonata paid tribute to Poland's invasion. Ellis remarked on this ballet's beauty as it was generated while they went to Haarlem. In part of Ashton choreographing throughout this experience, the group remained artistically challenged and removed from the redundancy that commonly happens during touring seasons. In one instance, Ellis mentioned that Ashton would see how the dancers were sitting at the beginning of rehearsals and put that into the piece. This was not uncommon as Ashton was very interested in the way his dancers looked and fit his idyllic mold.

Ashton's success was not without failures as proven though his attempt to make a comedic relief to wartime stressors with the flop of The Prospect Before Us. In between these choreographic endeavors and throughout tours, all company members were required to attend 5 classes a week. While there were classes for only the Sadler's Wells dancers, it was not mandatory to participate in those classes as long as they could prove that they attended at least 5 classes a week and were not breaching contract. While in today's times, it would be relatively unprecedented for a company member to "trade" one dance class for another.

After the war, Ashton presented his first full-length ballet to tour around the United Kingdom and America. Ellis was apprehensive, thinking that it would flop since the audience was used to Ballet Russes and Giselle, thus sparking disinterest in the change of pace as did The Prospect Before Us. Nonetheless, the audience adored the Symphonic Variations and responded very well to the new and exciting entertainment venture.

Regardless of the ballet, Ellis recalls Ashton being capable of spending entire days on a few steps, and others completing a whole scene. Without the Unions like the modern-day the company could and would spend hours straight, whether on stage on in a studio, rehearsing without a forced break or a strict end time. For these reasons, Ellis claims, is why he believes that Ashton's range of choreography is much bigger than George Balanchine's. Without these legal limitations, Ashton was allowed to tour and share his art with the world. Meanwhile, Balanchine stayed close to home, working in places relatively nearby and being cautious about his dancers.

Dance and War

While Sadler's Wells wanted to keep their boys out of the war for as long as possible, that did not stop Ellis from volunteering. In fact, Ellis recants vividly de Valois not speaking to him for 2 weeks after he announced his application into service. After witnessing first hand what the war has done, Richard Ellis knew that the only way to pick where he wanted to be drafted was volunteering. He served 6 years in the Royal Navy on and off as needed; but after the first week back into the new season from Haarlem, he was drafted. After that, he spent 2 years on the lower deck as a seaman and eventually moved to an ammunition position. Once the phony war was over, he was placed on a not so long indefinite leave. While back, he quickly returned to Sadler's Wells performing in Coppélia, Rendezvous, and eventually Façade only for 6 weeks later to be called back to the war effort again.

Richard Ellis enjoyed his time in the navy and returned for the last time to the company in time to start the new season in 1946. Since 16 and 17-year-old boys were too young to be drafted in the war, but not old enough to join a professional ballet company, there was a generation of male dancers missing from companies everywhere. In an 1970 interview, Ellis even went so far to say that ballet is just getting back to the way things were before the war.[3]

Ellis served in The Royal Navy during the Omaha Beach invasion on D-day on June 6, 1944. He ferried with American troops, but he did not go on the beach and stayed in the boats as part of the navy. His wife, Christine Du Boulay Ellis, said that he commented that "the noise of the battleships and the guns were something unbelievable" in an interview the Sun-Times. "He put them on the beach and left them. God only knows what happened after that."[4]

Post War

The post-war debut of Ashtons and Ninette de Valois' Sleeping Beauty proved to be something much needed by individuals. After the treacheries of war, people wanted to be entertained and to return to normalcy; a traditional ballet helped with that. One of Ellis' most exciting moments in life was being on stage with Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora. During the famous balance en pointe, where Aurora holds an attitude derriere while switching suiter's hands, she had no need to hold hands as her balance was just that good. At the end of the piece, the large house came out in a roar, and a standing ovation ensued. Ellis also recalls, "so many encores occurred that night."[3]

Personal Life

Richard Ellis married Christine DuBoulay in 1957 while they were both members of the Sadler's Wells Ballet dance company. At the time, Ellis was a principle, and DuBoulay was a soloist with the newly named company. DuBoulay attended dance classes though her private school in London. With her mother an avid ballet fan and her dance teacher mentioning that DuBoulay should "go to town" at least once a week for a proper ballet class, there was no hesitation in her ability to become a ballerina. The couple never met until just after the war at the Royal Opera House. Unknowing to both of them in 1947, the "dream boy" that Du Boulay saw coming back from war would be her husband just 10 years later. The two lived in Chicago, where they retired from the now Royal Ballet, but they were not done continuing their shared passion for ballet where they opened the Ellis-DuBoulay School of Ballet.

The couple was also widely renowned for their lavish New Years' Eve parties filled with gin and "genuine love." Even though the couple never had children, Ashley Wheater, Joffrey's Mary B Galvin Artistic Director, explained that "every student they ever taught was a child of theirs." [1]In January 2006, Christine Du Boulay wrote a 160-page memoir covering their life journeys from 1918 to 1996. It included how the two met, the tours with Sadler's Wells Ballet, their training, youth, and experiences of teaching and directing their own ballet company, including their television appearances in 1996.

Ellis- DuBoulay School of Ballet and Illinois Ballet

The DuBoulay-Ellis' loved their life in Chicago, especially when they opened their own studio in 1952. The studio survived on a syllabus including Vagonava, Royal Academy of Dancing, and Cecchetti styles. For over 40 years, the two and their staff taught thousands of students who went on to sign with 31 different companies after graduation. Notable companies include American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and others. Notable alumni include Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Heidi Ellison, and others. As the company grew, the pair helped establish the Illinois Ballet in 1959, which toured 8 states with a classical ballet repertoire, appeared 21 times on the WTTW-channel with 11 broadcasts, and won 3 Emmys. In total, The Illinois ballet repertoire contained over 300 costumes and 20 original choreographic works.[5][6]

Sample List of Performances[7]

Below is a list of performances and years if applicable

Abbreviated List of Richard Ellis Performances In Early Career
Name Debut Theater Comments/Notes
Job 1936
Le Lac De Cygnets 1937
The Selfish Giant 1939
A Kiss of Springtime Inspired Ellis to join the navy
Façade May 1940 Tour with Holland
Giselle 1932 Savoy Theater Part of 4 week run that put society into debt
Swan Lake 1932 Savoy Theater
Job 1932 Savoy Theater
Mars and Venus 1932 Savoy Theater
Coppélia June 1933 Royal Opera House Helped clear debt with 2 gala performances
Donte Sonota 1940 Frederick Ashton
Horoscope 1938 Frederick Ashton
Symphonic Varriations 1946 Covenant Garden First new ballet for Sadler's Wells Ashton
Scènes de ballet 1947 Repertoire piece Choreographed by Ashton
Cinderella 1948 and 2003 Royal Opera House Ashtons first 3 part ballet
A wedding Bouquet 1937 Frederick Ashton
Daphnis and Chloe 1951 Frederick Ashton
Enigma Varriations 1968 Frederick Ashton
The Prospect Before Us 4 July 1940 Worlds Theater Vic-Wells Ballet by Ninette de Valois and Frederic Ashton
Sleeping Beauty 20 February 1946 Royal Opera House Ashton, Ellis played Her Cavalier
Donnerstag aus Licht 1985
Die Walküre 2005
Il Barbiere di Sivigla 2005
Tristian und Isolde 2009
Les Patinerurs 12 June 1946
The Rakes Progress 30 October 1946
Les Sirènes 12 November 1946
Miracle in the Gorbals 16 Novemebr 1946
Carnival 18 Novemebr 1946
Nocturne 19 Novemebr 1946
THe Fairy Queen 12 December 1946
Camen 14 January 1947
The Three Cornered Hat 6 February 1947

For Complete list visit[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Shapiro, Lynn. "feb11dancemagazine-richardellisobit" (PDF). Retrieved 29 September 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. IMDB (29 September 2020). "Richard Ellis".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. "(sound recording) Interview with Richard Ellis and Christine Du Boulay , 1976, (1976 - 1976)". The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 O'Donnell, Maureen (2019-11-19). "Famed ballet teacher Christine Du Boulay Ellis, a link to dance history, stars, dead at 96". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  5. "Legendary British Ballet Dancer Christine DuBoulay Ellis Passed Away". Dance Magazine. 2019-11-19. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  6. "Illinois Ballet Records, 1959-1972". Explore Chicago Collections. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  7. "Search Results". Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  8. "Royal Opera House Collections Online".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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