Julia Farron, Acclaimed Ballerina From Age 14, Is Dead at 96


Versatility, attack, imagination, authority: These virtues stamped performances by the British dance artist Julia Farron over a remarkably enduring career, beginning in the 1930s when she was a teenager.

In a 40-year stage career, mostly with the Royal Ballet, she created roles for a host of eminent choreographers, among them Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Robert Helpmann, Andrée Howard, Kenneth MacMillan, Léonide Massine and Ninette de Valois. Several of those roles remain in the repertories of American and British companies.

And though she appeared in ballets to music by Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Léo Delibes, Ms. Farron also performed to a wide range of new music.

She died on July 3 at 96. The Royal Academy of Dance, where she was the director in the 1980s, confirmed the death but did not say where she died.

The 1930s, ′40s and ′50s were an era when many scores were commissioned for British dance. Ms. Farron, often in solo or lead roles, danced in world premieres of at least 14 scores by 12 composers, including Lord Berners (“A Wedding Bouquet”), Benjamin Britten (she was Belle Épine in his three-act “The Prince of the Pagodas”), Hans Werner Henze (Berta in his three-act “Ondine”), and Michael Tippett (a solo in the premiere of his opera “The Midsummer Marriage”).

Ms. Farron also became known as an inspiring teacher at both the Royal Academy and the Royal Ballet School, helping to shape the careers of many future ballerinas.

She was born Joyce Margaret Farron-Smith on July 22, 1922, in London, the first of two children of Hugh and Amy (Ellis) Farron-Smith. Her father was a civil servant, her mother a teacher.

After studying all kinds of dance in childhood, she became one of the first two scholarship students to attend the Vic-Wells Ballet School. It was de Valois, the school’s artistic director, who chose the name Julia Farron.

She joined the Vic-Wells Ballet (known now as the Royal Ballet) in 1936 on her 14th birthday. Nine months later, in 1937, she was still the company’s smallest and youngest dancer when she created the role of Pépé the Dog in Ashton’s “A Wedding Bouquet.”

This was danced to a Lord Berners choral score employing words by Gertrude Stein, who took delight in the girl who was cast as the dog.

Ms. Farron always remembered that Ashton had remarked afterward, “Now you must grow.” She did, creating roles for him over the next 21 years.

Good-humored, frank, intelligent, imaginative and hard-working, Ms. Farron happily absorbed everything she could from de Valois, Ashton, Helpmann (then a star dancer) and the music director Constant Lambert. While she acquired a strong technique, with fast footwork and a vivid upper body, she also became a noteworthy dance actor.

Hers was the ballet generation that performed through the London Blitz, dancing while falling bombs were shaking the West End theaters in which they were performing.

The highlight of her career, Ms. Farron later said, came in 1946, when the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (as Vic-Wells was known by then) moved to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden — a haven after the war’s vicissitudes.

Ms. Farron was unafraid to show lewd or vicious aspects of character. Her roles ranged from the Prostitute in Helpmann’s “Miracle in the Gorbals” to the Queen in “The Sleeping Beauty.”

In 1948 she married the South African dancer (and later choreographer) Alfred Rodrigues. She gave birth to their son, Christopher Rodrigues (now chairman of the cultural organization the British Council), in 1949, during the Sadler’s Wells Ballet’s epoch-making debut season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

Ms. Farron was thrilled the next year when George Balanchine came to Covent Garden to stage “Ballet Imperial,” a work from 1941. It was she who led the corps onstage at the start of the third movement — a bit of dancing that she later called her favorite in her entire career. (She also danced the same work’s taxing grand ballerina role in 1951.)

Ms. Farron created many roles for Ashton, among them the irate goddess Diana in the three-act “Sylvia” and the exuberant, fleet-footed Neapolitan dance in “Swan Lake,” both in 1952 and both still danced today.

Even though she went on to dance lyrically poetic roles throughout the 1950s — one was the Prelude in Mikhail Fokine’s “Les Sylphides” (1909) — she also continued to depict psychologically jagged characters, most notably when she created Belle Épine in the Cranko-Britten collaboration “Prince of the Pagodas” in 1957 and Berta in Ashton-Henze’s “Ondine” in 1958.

Both of these were three-act roles to important new scores. Both characters, too, were antiheroines, and Ms. Farron revealed their complexity — dignified yet sensual and given to startling flashes of venomous anger.

She initially retired from the stage in 1961, having been a professional dancer with the same company for 25 years, and having toured with it to the United States and Russia. She quickly trained in dance teaching, joining the Royal Ballet School staff and remaining with it for many years.

Ms. Farron helped shape generations of dancers, including the future ballerinas Leanne Benjamin, Bryony Brind, Fiona Chadwick and Alessandra Ferri.

Enthusiasm, thoughtful analysis and humor were part of her teaching style: plasticity of the upper body, spruce footwork and imaginative theatricality were her objectives. On his 80th birthday in 1984, Ashton singled her out as a teacher who knew what he liked in dance and who passed it on to her students.

Kenneth MacMillan brought Ms. Farron back to the stage in 1965 as Lady Capulet in his new three-act production of “Romeo and Juliet,” a role she continued to play (also on tour in America) until 1976. Even in casts led by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, Ms. Farron made a searing impression, above all in the outrage with which her Lady Capulet lamented the death of her nephew Tybalt.

Ms. Farron’s teaching career climaxed with her appointment as director of the Royal Academy of Dance (known then as the Royal Academy of Dancing) in 1983; she held the post until 1989. Based in London, the academy, founded in 1920, establishes standards for dance teaching from Canada to Australia.

In addition to her son, Mr. Rodrigues, Ms. Farron is survived by two grandchildren and a great-grandson. Alfred Rodrigues died in 2002.

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