Saturday, 24 December 2016

Mona Inglesby

Mona Inglesby as Giselle
Source Wikipedia

Mona Inglesby ought to be as famous as Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert as she founded and directed the International Ballet which was for a time Britain's biggest ballet company. She contributed at least as much to maintaining morale during the second world war and developing a mass audience for ballet afterwards as the Sadler's Wells Ballet and Ballet Rambert.  However, in one respect she did even more than de Valois and Rambert. She preserved Petipa's legacy by acquiring Nicholas Sergeyev's collection of choreographic notation, music, designs for décor and costumes, theatre programs, photos and other materials that document the repertory of the Russian Imperial Ballet at the turn of the 20th century.

De Valois and Rambert both became dames for their services to dance. Inglesby received no honours at all. I learned about her and her company only this morning while carrying out research for an article on Moira Shearer. Through that research, I discovered that Inglesby gave the 15 year old Shearer her first job.

Inglesby had trained with Rambert and had danced with her company at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill until 1939. In that year she was invited to dance at Covent Garden with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. The company also asked her to join its tour of  Australia but she declined volunteering for war service as an ambulance driver. She formed the International Ballet in 1941 upon realizing that she could do more for the war effort by entertaining the troops and essential workers.

The company launched in Glasgow with Moira Shearer and Harold Turner as well as Ingelsby herself in the cast. Throughout the second world war. it made two provincial tours followed by two 6 to 8 week season in the West End every year. After the war, the company toured Butlin's holiday camps and Rank Organization cinemas some of which had over 4,000 seats. As the largest classical ballet company in the UK, the International Ballet was invited to open the Festival of Britain by performing in the Royal Festival Hall in 1951. It also made extensive tours of Italy, Spain and Switzerland immediately after the war. The company appears to have created an enormous repertoire which included Inglesby's own works such as Endymion, Amoras and Planetomania as well as the Petipa classics which were staged by Sergeyev.

Sergeyev had been régisseur of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres from 1903 until 1918 and made the notations of Petipa and Ivanov's ballets in the course of his duties.  He fled Russia with his collection of notations and other materials immediately after the Bolshevik revolution.  He held a number of appointments and collaborated with a number of companies before Inglesby invited him to join the International Ballet as her ballet master and he remained with her until his death in 1951.

Sergeyev's death was a blow to International Ballet. Although Inglesby had acquired Sergeyev's papers after his death she found it hard to continue. Audiences for all forms of live theatre began to tail off with the increasing popularity of television. Anton Dolin's Festival Ballet started to compete for the audience that was left. Inglebsby failed to get financial support from the Arts Council and was obliged to wind up the company in 1953.  She sold Sergeyev's papers and her own company's set and costume designs to the theatre collection of Harvard University (see International Ballet. International Ballet scenery and costume designs, 1941-1951: Guide and Sergeev, Nikolai, 1876-1951. Nikolai Sergeev dance notations and music scores for ballets, 1888-1944: Guide).

Inglesby seems to have been a remarkable woman who made an enormous contribution to ballet. It is time to give her the recognition she deserves.

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