US-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > US-OBITS > 2007-05 > 1179667760
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [US-OBITS] HOLDEN: Stanley Holden 11.may,2007
Date: Sun, 20 May 2007 14:29:20 +0100
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 19/05/2007
Stanley Holden, who died at Thousand Oaks, California, on May 11 aged 79,
once hoped to be a music hall tap-dancer but rose instead to become the
leading character dancer at the Royal Ballet.
A poor boy from the East End of London, Holden possessed a Chaplinesque wit
and nimbleness that were etched permanently into the role of the Widow
Simone in Frederick Ashton's comic masterpiece of 1960, La Fille mal gardée,
in which the Clog Dance, originated by Holden, invariably stops the show
wherever the ballet is performed.
As the bossy, social-climbing, bonnet-tossing mother of the naughty heroine,
Stanley Holden gave Widow Simone a humorous humanity far above the pantomime
coarseness of some later performers of the role. Moreover, having been the
All-England hoofing champion in his teens, Holden provided the Lancastrian
clog steps which the choreographer delightedly put into the Widow's dance.
Ashton also showed off Holden's attractive individuality in his Elgar ballet
Enigma Variations (1968). For it, in the role of Elgar's friend
Steuart-Powell, Holden, smoking a pipe, performed an arabesque on an ancient
bicycle borrowed from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Holden was born Stanley Waller on January 27 1928, the youngest of eight
children in a working-class family at Romford. As a boy he paid the
shillings for his dance lessons with his winnings at snooker.
He turned to ballet only so as to improve his tap-dancing; but at 16, on
being offered a job at Sadler's Wells Ballet, where due to call-up there was
a shortage of men, he rapidly won solo parts. These included a street boy in
Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals, and Puss in Boots in the historic
production of The Sleeping Beauty, with Margot Fonteyn, that reopened the
Royal Opera House after the war.
After completing his military service, Holden returned to his ballet career,
this time with the smaller, more theatrical Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet,
rather than with the more classical Covent Garden company. Despite his
youth, he was seized upon by choreographers.
In Andrée Howard's ballet Selina (1948) the 20-year-old Holden played the
inept witch Agnes who tries to sabotage the lovers. Agnes, the critic Caryl
Brahms wrote on seeing Holden's show-stopping performance, was "clearly to
become the Queen Lear of ballet ... Her lunacy, as ineffably enacted by
Stanley Holden, is utter ... Her gaze has the vacancy of a burst bubble."
Subsequently, Holden was chosen by John Cranko to play Pierrot, a leading
comic role in Harlequin in April; and his gifts as a balletic clown were
confirmed when, soon afterwards and still only 23, he played the eccentric
old toymaker Dr Coppelius in Coppelia, a role that he performed to acclaim
for almost 50 years.
During a period when uncertainty hung over the future of Sadler's Wells
Theatre Ballet, Holden took up teaching in South Africa. But he soon
returned, this time to the Covent Garden-based Royal Ballet company, where
he was now a considerable draw.
He successfully took over from the towering figure of Robert Helpmann in
Ninette de Valois's frolic The Prospect Before Us, playing the rogue theatre
manager Mr O'Reilly with Cockney flamboyance.
When in 1960 Helpmann withdrew from the role of Widow Simone in the new
comic ballet that Ashton was creating ("It's not really me," said Helpmann
grandly. "All I do is scold my daughter"), Ashton turned to Holden in
relief. "You never camp it up," Ashton advised him; and Holden successfully
turned a cardboard dame into a wholly lovable, if exasperating, mother. He
would perform the role 89 times at Covent Garden alone. Memorably amusing
touches that Holden provided for the Widow became sacrosanct parts of the
When dressing to impress the Mayor, for instance, the Widow looks admiringly
at herself in the mirror for a second time - a touch, Holden confessed,
resulting from a spontaneous improvisation to cover a timing mistake. Yet it
was a typical demonstration of Holden's exceptional theatrical acuity in
bringing eccentrics to life, a talent driven by sharp-eyed love rather than
Holden's interpretation of Dr Coppelius was another example of his ability
to tap tears and laughter at the same time, and he was one of only two
performers whom Ashton allowed to play both the "shy" and the "bossy" Ugly
Sisters in Cinderella.
His Chief of Police in Massine's Mam'zelle Angot was described in a review
as "a seedy, would-be Scarpia whose constant discomfiture is unerringly
ludicrous". And he splashed indelible colour on to the characters in the
corners of classical ballet scenery too, making vivid individuals of the
addle-headed Master of Ceremonies or Gallison, a butt of blind-man's-buff,
in The Sleeping Beauty.
Holden's standing in the Royal Ballet company, and the regard in which he
was held there, was shown by the 25-minute ovation that ended his retirement
performance as Widow Simone in 1969 - after which he moved to America to a
new marriage and a new teaching career from which, he said, he derived even
more gratification than from performing.
After directing the Dance Academy in the Los Angeles Music Centre, he opened
his own Stanley Holden Dance Centre in Los Angeles, where his students
included not only Hollywood actors and visiting ballet stars but President
Reagan's son Ron. Woody Allen wrote the story for Holden's ballet Dmitri,
created in 1989 for the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, and Holden occasionally
appeared as Dr Coppelius or the Widow Simone.
After surgery for a heart condition, Holden closed his dance centre in 1997,
but he continued to teach regularly until this spring.
His first marriage, to the Sadler's Wells dancer Stella Farrance, by whom he
had two daughters and a son, was dissolved. He married secondly, in 1970,
the MGM film dancer Judy Holden. His wife and three children survive him.