Alexander Bennett

Dancer and choreographer

Born: 27 July, 1929, in Edinburgh

Died: 15 February, 2003, in Taynuilt, Argyll, aged 73

ALEXANDER Bennett was a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and a gifted choreographer and teacher.

As a boy he loved watching films in the then Alhambra Cinema, Leith, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly being his heroes. On one occasion as a young boy he went to the cinema at 3pm. He was discovered at 9pm by his parents, still wearing his school cap, having seen the Fred Astaire film three times.

Educated at Trinity Academy, he performed tap dance as a youngster for the Band of Hope, Rechabites and at Boys’ Brigade concerts, Sunday school and the Youth Fellowship.

At school he took Highers, specialising in languages, French, German and Latin. He learned to play piano and loved classical music, playing for the Boys’ Brigade and Bible class. He won the intermediate championship in athletics at Trinity Academy and was part of the school’s athletic team. He won a scholarship to and was taught ballet by Marjory Middleton in Edinburgh.

This was followed by two years’ National Service in the army, where he learned Russian, which was to serve him well in his profession. After army service, during which he was posted to Germany with MI8 (intelligence service), he worked for a while in insurance but did not like it.

Taken in hand by Marie Rambert, who recognised his potential, he soon became a principal dancer with Ballet Rambert in both classic and modern styles. He was then with the Royal Ballet Covent Garden for nine years, partnering Margot Fonteyn and Lynn Seymour on occasion. World tours followed to Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, Monte Carlo and Spain.

He then settled in the United States and was artistic director to the Twin Cities Ballet, Illinois , the Scottish-American Ballet, Chattanooga, and Burklyn Ballet. He was for a while artistic director of the Brazilian National Ballet, the South African Ballet and others.

He brought his Scottish-American Ballet to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe several times between 1985 and 1995 and staged the classics around the world for many companies.

His biography is listed in books such as Great Ballet Stars in Historic Photographs, Who’s Who in American Entertainment and Outstanding People of the 20th Century. Not bad for a boy born in Leith!

His story could have been a template for the film Billy Elliott, except that his father, a noted dancer himself, never discouraged him.

Returning to Scotland in September 2002, he worked with both Dance Base and the Dance for All studios in Edinburgh. He choreographed The Nutcracker for Ballet West in their acclaimed production this season and at the time of his death was working with them on Swan Lake.

His dancers adored him. He was recently working on a book about La Sylphide, on which he was an acknowledged authority, and on a biography of Marie Rambert.

Alexander Bennett will be a great loss to dance in general and to his many devoted friends in the ballet world, not only in Britain and the US but elsewhere.

He is survived by his elder brother, William.