Scottish Ballet pays tribute after its first stage star passes away

Scottish Ballet principal ballerina Elaine McDonald performs the Dying Swan from Swan Lake in February 1983.
Scottish Ballet principal ballerina Elaine McDonald performs the Dying Swan from Swan Lake in February 1983.
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Tributes have been paid to Scottish Ballet’s first ballerina after she passed away – four years after winning a landmark legal social care case.

Elaine McDonald spent 20 years with the company and was a leading figure in its formation in Glasgow in 1969.

Performances of its ongoing Christmas show Cinderella are now being dedicated to the memory of McDonald.

Born in 1943, she was renowned for her partnership with Scottish Ballet’s first artistic director, Peter Darrell, and briefly took over from him when he died in 1987.

She had relocated from Bristol in 1969 when Darrell decided to relocate his Western Theatre Ballet company to Glasgow, where it was renamed.

McDonald, who was left disabled after suffering a stroke in 1999, hit the headlines in later life when her local authority in London, where she had moved to, ruled she was not entitled to an overnight carer to help her go to the bathroom.

She took the case, which was backed by the charity Age UK, to the Westminster government and then the European Court of Human Rights, which partially ruled in her favour.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Ballet said: “Elaine was a great inspiration to our founder Peter Darrell. Their artistic relationship was central to the development of modern ­British ballet.

“Known for her extraordinary artistic range, she created the principal roles in many of Peter Darrell’s major new works, including Sun into Darkness, Tales of Hoffman, Mary Queen of Scots and Cinderella. She was also highly acclaimed in several of Darrell’s new productions of great romantic and classical ballets such as Giselle and Swan Lake.

“She performed with Scottish Ballet and as a guest artist around the world, one highlight of which was dancing opposite Rudolf Nureyev in La Sylphide in Madrid and then at the London Coliseum.”

Christopher Hampson, artistic director and chief executive, said: “Elaine was a rare talent, a truly creative artist and a leading ballerina of her generation. She dedicated her entire performing life to Scottish Ballet and, in turn, we dedicate our performances of Cinderella to her memory.”

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland’s chief executive, said: “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the ballerina and activist Elaine McDonald’s passing and our thoughts are with her family and friends. Just like she captivated audiences on 
Scottish Ballet’s stage in her earlier days, her presence and voice held another stage in ­later life.

“She became a well-known human rights trailblazer when she took her council to the European Court of Human Rights to request a night carer to support her additional needs as a disabled person.

“While she didn’t win round the clock support that she needed, it was the first time the court said a failure to consider a person’s dignity can be a breach of human rights. Her strength and persistence as a social care activist will be a lasting legacy.”