Nadia Nerina Collection

Nadia Nerina in her late teens or early twenties. Nadia Nerina CollectionNadia Nerina (1927-2008) was a Principal Ballerina of The Royal Ballet. During her lifetime, Nerina collected material associated with her career including costumes, press cuttings, photographs, posters as well as the cans of film of BBC broadcasts.  Thanks to the generosity of the Philip Loubser Foundation, Nerina’s Collection has been acquired for Royal Opera House Collections and furthermore the costumes and accessories have been cleaned and conserved, the films transferred to appropriate film stock and the press cutting books and other material rehoused in acid free boxes.

In the season that marks the 60th anniversary of her becoming a Principal Dancer of Sadler’s Wells Ballet later The Royal Ballet, there is a unique opportunity to recall Nerina the dancer through a free exhibition at the Royal Opera House which draws upon a selection of this material.

Nerina was born Nadine Judd on 21 October 1927 in Cape Town, South Africa.  Her early teachers were Margaret Craske, who had danced with Anna Pavlova’s Company, and Dorothea McNair, who had worked with Marie Rambert, and later in London Marie Rambert and Elsa Brunelleschi.  On 1 February 1946 Nerina joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and appeared for the first time on the stage of the Royal Opera House with Sadler’s Wells Ballet as a nursemaid in attendance on the infant Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty on 20 February 1946, the landmark production which reopened the Royal Opera House after World War II. Nadia Nerina c.1950-1952. Photograph Roger WoodIn April 1946 De Valois invited Nerina to join Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, the new company of young dancers and choreographers she was establishing at Sadler’s Wells Theatre under the direction of Peggy van Praagh. Nerina’s first created role was in Andrée Howard’s Mardi Gras with John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan and Peter Darrell.  Peggy van Praagh noted her strong clear technique and her bubbling personality.  Over the next 18 months Nerina danced a wide range of roles, some in the corps de ballet but increasingly solo and principal roles. She also changed her name to Nadia Nerina in memory of her Mother and after the South African lily. On 1 December 1947 Nerina joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet and two days later found herself dancing the Mazurka in Les Sylphides, partnered by Alexis Rassine, the beginning of what was to be a long and important ballet partnership. In 1948 Frederick Ashton created his first role on her as the Fairy Spring in his first full length ballet Cinderella.  Ashton reportedly asked Hilda Gaunt, the Company’s rehearsal pianist, to play the music for Nerina and asked her what it made her think of: “buds bursting” she replied.  Taking that as their starting point, Ashton created a solo for her full of light quick jumps and changes of direction.  Other roles he created for her include The Queen of the Earth in the 1953 Coronation ballet Homage to the Queen, one of three soloists in Variations on a Theme by Purcell 1955 and one of the seven ballerinas in Birthday Offering 1956. Later in 1960 Ashton created Lise for Nerina in La Fille mal gardée, the role forever associated with her.

Tutu worn by Nadia Nerina in the Spanish Divertissement: 'Boleras de la Cachucha pas de deux' - part of the Ballet Highlights tour 1956. Image © ROH CollectionsSix years after her first appearance as a nursemaid in The Sleeping Beauty, Nerina danced Aurora on 12 January matinee 1952 with John Hart as her Prince.  Later that year she danced Odette/Odile in the new production of Le Lac des cygnes designed by Leslie Hurry.   Nerina was the first ballerina in the Company after Fonteyn to dance the full range of ballerina roles in the full length ballets: Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty and the Petipa/Ivanov Le Lac des cygnes and Ashton’s Cinderella, Sylvia and Ondine. She also danced the title role in Giselle, the two act Romantic ballet, and was particularly moving in the mad scene in Act I.  Sixty years ago this season in 1952 Nerina was made a Principal of Sadler’s Wells Ballet later The Royal Ballet. Nerina reminded many people of a Russian dancer and she showed an affinity for the Ballets Russes inheritance.  In 1948 she danced the role of the Can Can dancer in Léonide Massine’s La Boutique fantasque, the role originally created by Lydia Lopokova in 1919.  In 1950 she danced the title role in Massine’s Mam’zelle Angot.  Later her Fokine roles included the title role in The Firebird from 1956 and The Ballerina in Petrushka from 1957.

Press cuttings relating to Nadia Nerina's career. Nadia Nerina CollectionNinette de Valois commented on her lovely, natural flow of movement and in later years said that Nerina was the dancer who most reminded her of herself.  Her ability to combine her acting abilities as a demi-caractère dancer with pure classical technique were seen when she danced the role of Swanilda in De Valois’ new production of Coppélia on 2 March 1954.  The cast included David Blair, with whom Nerina enjoyed another important partnership.  Nerina’s created roles included The Faded Beauty in Kenneth MacMillan’s Noctambules in 1956, and the title role in Robert Helpmann’s Elektra in 1963.  In 1962 Nerina enjoyed an important partnership with Erick Bruhn the Danish dancer who appeared with The Royal Ballet as a Guest Artist, and also danced with Rudolf Nureyev.  Nerina left The Royal Ballet in 1966 but continued to appear as a Guest Artist until 1968.  In 1967 Ashton reworked his ballet Sylvia as a one act ballet and Nerina danced two performances as Sylvia with Gary Sherwood as Aminta; the first night on 18 December 1967 and 20 January 1968, her last performance as Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House.

Outside The Royal Ballet, Nerina undertook concert tours and was a pioneer of ballet on television collaborating with Margaret Dale, a former dancer with Sadler’s Wells Ballet.  Between 1957 and 1965, Nerina starred in Dale’s studio productions of Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Giselle, Petrushka, La Fille mal gardée and The Firebird.  These were ground breaking productions which won a whole new audience for ballet.  In 1960 Nerina was invited to Russia to appear with both the Bolshoi and the Kirov Companies.  She died on 6 October 2008.