David Wall, a Prince Among Dancers, Is Dead at 67
Published: June 20, 2013
David Wall, who became the youngest principal dancer in the history of the Royal Ballet (as of 1966) and was ranked beside Rudolf Nureyev and Anthony Dowell in leading male roles of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Tuesday at his home in London. He was 67.
The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden confirmed his death. The cause was cancer, according to British press reports.
Mr. Wall, a handsome redhead widely known as Ginger, created roles by the choreographers Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor and, most notably, Kenneth MacMillan. Some of those roles — especially that of Crown Prince Rudolf in MacMillan’s three-act “Mayerling” (1978) — remain exceptional in today’s repertory.
He was also a superlative partner to many ballerinas, including Margot Fonteyn, Lynn Seymour, Natalia Makarova and Alessandra Ferri.
David Wall was born on March 15, 1946, in London and studied with the Royal Ballet School. Upon graduation, at 17, in 1963, he joined the Royal Ballet’s touring company and rapidly ascended the ranks. He was 20 when he became a principal dancer in 1966.
Mr. Wall was leading-man material in every way, bringing a virile charm to the principal male roles of “Swan Lake” and Ashton’s “Fille Mal Gardée” and “Two Pigeons,” among other works. His jump was splendid and his dramatic force unswerving as he brought an emotional vividness to many classic ballets. Within moments of his first entrance as the prince — be it in “The Sleeping Beauty” or “Cinderella” — he established the poignant need for romantic fulfillment that the ballerina in due course would fill.
Around Britain, his partnership with the ballerina Doreen Wells was widely praised in the 1960s. Fonteyn, 27 years his senior, first identified him as a favorite partner while he was only 17. Ashton, then the artistic director of the Royal Ballet, gave him a lead role in “Sinfonietta” (1967), a showcase for Mr. Wall’s fleet jump and tireless energy.
His later creations for Ashton included “The Creatures of Prometheus” (1970), “A Walk to the Paradise Garden” (1973), “Le Papillon” pas de deux (1975) and “Amazon Forest” (1975), in which he partnered Fonteyn.
In 1970, Mr. Wall joined the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, dancing beside Nureyev, Dowell, Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour, Monica Mason and others in the company’s celebrated 1970 first cast of Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering.” With these and other colleagues he appeared in New York and other cities on many international tours.
Three of the MacMillan roles — Lescaut in “Manon” and Golden Hours in “Elite Syncopations” (both 1974) and Rudolf in “Mayerling” (1978) — have remained in repertory at Covent Garden and with other companies. While MacMillan was artistic director of the Royal, Mr. Wall and Mr. Dowell would not only play opposite each other as Mercutio and Romeo in MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1965) and as Lescaut and des Grieux in his “Manon,” but also exchanged roles.
Rudolf, in “Mayerling,” although limited in scope in pure dance, is still called by many the greatest male role in ballet.
The role, based on the young crown prince whose affair with a baron’s teenage daughter scandalized the imperial court of Austria-Hungary in the late 1880s, depicts political subversion, morphine addiction, adulterous lechery and a drive to suicide. Rudolf dances with no fewer than six different women before the final death-pact duet with his mistress.
No full-length male role had featured so much acrobatic partnering or psychological intensity as this; Mr. Wall, who danced the role on tour in the United States in 1978 and in New York in 1983, once remarked that it had shortened his career by five years.
Mr. Wall is survived by his wife, the dancer Alfreda Thorogood; their two children, Analiese and Daniel; and several grandchildren.