John Chesworth OBE 1930 – 2014

Rambert is sad to announce the death of its former dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director John Chesworth.

John Chesworth was born in Manchester in 1930. He served in the RAF, and after demobilisation in 1950, with no prior dance experience, he enrolled in the Rambert School of Ballet. After only 18 months at the School he was invited to join Rambert’s corps de ballet, and he would continue to work for the company for the next 28 years.

Chesworth quickly established himself as one of the company’s finest and most versatile character dancers, with roles including Hilarion in Giselle, Dr Coppelius in Coppelia and the title role in Don Quixote, and leading roles in ballets by Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor, including Façade, Les Masques, Dark Elegies and Gala Performance. He also created principal roles in most of Norman Morrice’s early ballets, and later Glen Tetley choreographed roles for him in Ziggurat and Rag Dances.

In 1966 Ballet Rambert reinvented itself as a contemporary ensemble under the co-directorship of Morrice and Dame Marie Rambert. Chesworth was appointed Assistant to the Directors, and Time Base, his first choreography for the company, had its premiere in November of that year at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre.

Chesworth would go on to make six more works for the Rambert repertoire as the company built audiences for its new style of work: H (1968), Tick Tack (1968), Pawn to King 5 (1968), Four According (1970), Pattern for an Escalator (1972) and Ad Hoc (1972) – the latter an enormously popular improvised work with a different theme and cast for each performance.

Chesworth became Associate Director of Ballet Rambert in 1970, and succeeded Morrice as Artistic Director in 1974. He would lead the company for the next six years, developing Rambert’s reputation for technical excellence and diverse repertory, which included new creations by Richard Alston, Christopher Bruce, Siobhan Davies, Anna Sokolow and Glen Tetley. A notable success of his tenure was Cruel Garden (1977), created by Bruce and Lindsay Kemp and featuring Chesworth in the cast, which was performed in a Ralph Koltai-designed bull-ring set at the Roundhouse in London. Chesworth also supported the choreographic development of Rambert’s dancers, reviving regular workshop seasons of company members’ choreography.

He was very interested in the possibilities for dance on film and television. He created Project 6354/9116 Mk2 for BBC TV (1974) and directed the experimental film Dancers (1978), a collaboration with Derek Hart and Yutaka Yamazaki which won awards at the Chicago and Krakow film festivals. In 1977, he was Associate Producer of the BBC production of Rambert’s children’s programme Bertram Batell’s Side Show.

Talking to Dance Europe in 2001, Chesworth said of his time with Rambert: “When you look at it, it’s as if I was in three different companies. When I joined in 52 it was the ‘old’ company, where the whole repertoire was basically single act works dating from the 30s and 40s – a nice way to get into the past. Later it changed into a more classical style company with just one new modern work a year, normally by Norman Morrice. Finally in 66 it changed quite abruptly to be a totally contemporary company. I think that’s what kept me going, if it had been the same all the time I wouldn’t have lasted the course.

“I was fortunate that Dame Marie just let me get on with whatever I did. We never had any terrible clashes, it just seemed to work for me and work for her.”

After stepping down from his role at Rambert in 1980, Chesworth would go on to become the founding Artistic Director of the National Youth Dance Company, which he led from 1985 to 2003, the year in which he was appointed OBE for services to dance. He was married to Jane, who danced for Rambert from 1951 – 1962 under the name Valerie Marsh, and had three daughters: Laura, Kate and Tanya.

In 2012, Chesworth joined the other surviving Rambert Artistic Directors past and present in planting a time capsule of memorabilia from the company’s history in the foundations of its new home on London’s South Bank.

Rambert's current Artistic Director Mark Baldwin said:

“John was Artistic Director when I first joined Rambert, where he had the reputation as a great coach of performers, and nurturer of young choreographers. He was enormously charismatic and had a beautiful speaking voice. This made him a fantastic advocate for Rambert, and for dance. I remember him introducing the matinees, which he continued to do when he was director of the National Youth Dance Company. He commissioned a work from me for NYDC, which he would introduce at each performance with warm insight. It certainly gave confidence to a burgeoning choreographer.”

Christopher Bruce, Associate Director of Ballet Rambert under Chesworth and later Artistic Director said:

“As a dancer, choreographer and director, John was always totally dedicated to the Rambert company. He was a man of ideas and just the nicest person you could ever hope to work with. I will be forever thankful for his support during my time with the company and especially grateful to him for bringing Lindsay Kemp and I together for the creation of Cruel Garden. I will so miss his sense of fun as well as our discussions on the subject of cricket.”

John Chesworth with Marie Rambert and Norman Morrice

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