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Features/Dance

Always dancing in her heart: a tribute to Lucette Aldous

18 June 2021

As the international ballet community mourns the loss of Lucette Aldous AC, who passed away 5 June 2021 at the age of 82, choreographer and former director of West Australian Ballet Barry Moreland reflects on the joys of the time he spent with his dearly loved friend and colleague.

The first time I saw Lucette Aldous was in London in 1969, in a dance studio at The Place, the newly established headquarters of London Contemporary Dance Company.

The large upstairs studio of the UK’s sacred temple of contemporary dance had been hired by the Royal Ballet – pink ribboned pointe shoes and all.

As I peered through a glass portal of the studio door, a petite, immaculately coiffed dancer immediately caught my eye. It was Lucette, hurtling through space with laser beam accuracy at an astonishing speed. A heat-seeking missile on target!

A photograph of Rudolf Nureyev, holding Lucette Aldous as she leans back off pointe. She is wearing a sparkling tutu, he wears and equally flamboyant jacket. Her arm is raised in 5th position and she smiles up at him, while he smoulders back.
The ‘human dynamo’: Lucette Aldous in 1972, partnering Rudolf Nureyev, in the Australian Ballet’s production of ‘Don Quixote’. Photo: Paul Cox ©1972

Reluctantly I had to dash off to a downstairs studio to commence a late-morning class with our American director/guru, Robert Cohan. As I slipped into our bare-footed Martha Graham routine of bounces, contractions, spirals, tilts and lunges, the image of the human dynamo upstairs lingered at the back of my retina.

When class ended I dashed back upstairs, but like the Lilac Fairy (a role Lucette had danced accompanying Margot Fonteyn’s legendary Aurora) Lucette had vanished into the London gloom of a smog-filled afternoon.

Not long after, however, I was officially introduced to this wonderful artist by her devastatingly handsome onstage Royal Ballet partner, Paul Clarke. One Sunday, Paul, who by then had become my real-life partner, said, “We’re going to pick up Lootch (his nickname for Lucette) and take her to lunch.” A lateish Sunday lunch; Lucette had a long private coaching lesson with John O’Brien (another Australian) in Covent Garden. After her class, Paul hailed a cab and the three of us headed for the King’s Road to a restaurant hosted by April Ashley, one of the first British people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Ah, the Swinging Sixties!

After a round of “Hello, dahling!” we settled into a booth and I had my first chance to observe Lootch up close.

Out of her dance bag came the pointe shoes and darning needle. With deadly accuracy, and without missing a beat in the conversation – and in between gulps of the house red – the tips of the pointe shoes were darned to perfection then returned to the bag. Lunch was filled with wicked stories and much laughter.

Lucette didn’t need a spotlight when she danced; her aura lit up the stage.

After that, we became firm friends. Apart from sharing the same sense of humour, we also shared the same agent: Trafalgar Perry. In Perry’s Goodwin’s Court office, I would hear tales of the mad adventures Lucette encountered when appearing as guest artist with various European ballet companies. And the perilous task of returning through customs with her performance fees – piles of banknotes stuffed into a suitcase camouflaged (hopefully!) by pointe shoes and rehearsal gear.

Equipped with hard-earned skills acquired from her highly successful European career, Lucette returned to Australia in 1970, as a guest artist in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of Don Quixote for The Australian Ballet.

On the eighteen city whistlestop tour of Don Quixote in America, audiences flocked to see Rudolf Nureyev. But when Lucette exploded onto the stage, they soon realised they’d got two stars for the price of one. The American tour cemented Lucette’s reputation as an international star. She didn’t need a spotlight when she danced; her aura lit up the stage. Her fate was sealed and Lucette Aldous returned to Australia to join The Australian Ballet on a permanent basis.

Her wonderful partnership with fellow Australian Ballet principal dancer Kelvin Coe began. Her performances influenced a whole generation of dancers in the company and for avid ballet fans, her performances were not to be missed.

Even when she stopped dancing in public, Lucette was always dancing in her heart; she never stopped giving back to the art-form she loved so much.

As the distinguished dance journalist Lee Christofis recently wrote in the arts magazine Limelight, (8 June 2021) … “these were golden years for the company.” Former member of The Australian Ballet Nina Thomson remembers Lucette’s influence within the company’s ranks in a similar light: “We thought Lucette was a goddess and tried to emulate everything she did.”

In 1974 I created a ballet – Sacred Space – for the company. This gave me the chance to choreograph for Lucette for the first time. She was the only dancer on pointe in the ballet, performing a pas de trois partnered by Gary Norman and John Meehan. Bliss!

Lucette Aldous rehearsing West Australian Ballet’s production of ‘Don Quixote’ with dancer Christian Luck, in 2017. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

In 1983, shortly after I began my artistic directorship of West Australian Ballet, Lucette and her husband Alan Alder arrived in Perth, Alan to head the newly established dance department at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), with Lucette as a member of faculty. From that moment on, their teaching and coaching at WAAPA became a major supporting element of the ballet company’s success. It’s true to say that their input – teaching, coaching and assisting with performances – was a godsend to me. Frankly, the dancers I hired from WAAPA, were more fully rounded, more disciplined and, generally speaking, more reliable than some of the graduates I hired from The Australian Ballet School during the first decade of my directorship.

Lucette also taught and coached the company dancers. Even after a class/rehearsal or performance had ended, she would be in the corridor dispensing words of wisdom to a dancer whom she felt might need a helping hand.

Lucette’s life was underpinned by a discipline few people – let alone dancers – ever achieve. Her technique was immaculate, as was her makeup, her pointe shoes, her stagecraft, her curtain calls. Even when she stopped dancing in public, Lucette was always dancing in her heart; she never stopped giving back to the art-form she loved so much.

Although I shall miss her terribly, I know that from time to time I will return to watch her performance on the Don Quixote DVD. If you haven’t already had the chance to see this phenomenal dancer at her peak, buy, borrow or steal a copy. Then you’ll realise what a real star is.

Barry Moreland

A black and white photo of Lucette. She looks to be in her 60s and is dressed in rehearsal clothes. She is in a studio and appears to be giving feedback or an instruction to a dancer.
‘[Lucette] never stopped giving back to the art-form she loved so much.’ Lucette Aldous is pictured working with dancers in the studio. Photo: Courtesy West Australian Ballet

A memorial to celebrate the life of Lucette Aldous (AC) will be held at 4pm, Thursday 1 July, at His Majesty’s Theatre.

Pictured top are Lucette Aldous and Kelvin Coe in The Australian Ballet’s 1975 production of ‘The Two Pigeons’ by Frederick Ashton. Photo: David Parker

Barry Moreland was a foundation member of The Australian Ballet, and went on to perform in London’s West End. As a choreographer he made many works for the London Festival Ballet and worked as a freelance choreographer in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia, where he created works for The Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. He was appointed artistic director of West Australian Ballet in 1983 and led the company until 1997. Since then he has worked as a freelance choreographer. In 2012 he received the Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance, with collaborator Daryl Brandwood.

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