Marie Rambert’s background and influences, and the origins of Rambert Dance Company.

1957: Polish born dancer and teacher, Dame Marie Rambert (Cyvia Rambam) (1888 – 1982) balancing on the shoulders of a ballet dancer at the age of 68. Founder of Ballet Rambert (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

Marie Rambert’s Background

Born Cyvia Rambam, later to be known as Myriam Ramberg, before settling on the French form Marie Rambert, Marie experienced her own journey of identity as she adapted to her situation for survival. Born in Poland, Marie was brought up during the Russian Partition surrounded by a constant murmur of revolution and conspiracy. The Russians controlled the Polish by separation, rules, and the removal of their culture and history. Children were banned from speaking their home language in public and instead were taught in Russian – Marie found it easy to learn languages but not easy to stay quiet. She wanted to be involved in the secret conversations regarding revolution and liberalism and her conservative, Jewish parents worried about the attention Marie was capable of drawing to herself. When Marie attended a large demonstration and almost got arrested her parents decided to send her away to live with her Aunty in Paris.

Parisian life nurtured Marie, where she took a course in French and led an exciting social life where she danced at rich soirees. Interestingly, as a child she was not much of a dancer as the strict code of ballet did not suit her spontaneous tendencies. Women of the time were liberated by Isadora Duncan’s freedom of movement, expression and feminism and Marie was no exception – the only time she had gone back to Warsaw was to catch a Duncan performance. She also got to see Loie Fuller and Ruth St Denis perform around this time so she was clearly drawn to the modern pioneers of the time. Eventually Marie was persuaded to take ballet lessons to develop her technique, but, unimpressed, this did not last very long before she returned to her bare-footed ways.

After a period of illness, Marie was looking for a new adventure and she found herself in Geneva, joining a friend on a summer course in Eurythmics. Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics is a process for awakening, developing and refining innate musicality through rhythmic movement, ear-training and improvisation. The classes included movement such as walking, running, stopping, turning the head and even finger movements on given counts played on the piano. It was a rigorous course which demanded students to stick to rigid counts. Marie found the discipline a revelation, but when she became frustrated she would let her emotional side take over and sometimes she could find it very difficult to follow orders instead of being allowed to express herself. She also wanted to continue to find new ideas and often considered the idea that dance did not need to rely on music at all. This, however, was not something she explored. Her ideas came and went with the wind.

Towards the end of her 3 years of study with Dalcroze, she was introduced to Diaghilev and Nijinsky where she was hired to use her eurythmics training to help the dancers at Ballet Russes to understand the complex rhythms of Rite of Spring. During her year with Ballet Russes Marie observed the dancers in rehearsals, taught Dalcroze’s technique and started Cecchetti ballet lessons. She witnessed what it meant to be a great ballet company, and surmised that it all relied on creative collaborations with composers and designers. Her experience there opened her eyes to classical ballet and truly inspired and influenced the way she would work with her own company in the future, though she didn’t yet know it. Upon her return to Paris, Marie decided to return to regular ballet classes and take her training seriously. So seriously in fact, that she continued her lessons even during WW1, only fleeing to England to stay with a friend at the very last minute before the Germans arrived in France.

Rambert Dancers > Ballet Club

Once in London, Rambert taught eurythmics classes and slowly built up a circle of friends, whom introduced her to Ashley Dukes and they married in 1918. In the same year, Enrico Cecchetti opened his own school in London and Marie quickly continued with her lessons in the Cecchetti method, achieving her certificate in 1920. She immediately opened up a small dance school where she taught ballet. In the early years Rambert acquired an interesting troupe of dancers and she became known for choosing dancers with special qualities such as performance or choreography… or sometimes it was just down to height and good looks. Notable dancers include Walter Gore, Antony Tudor and Frank Staff. One of Marie’s protege’s was Frederick Ashton. Although Ashton did not particularly have great technique, Marie noticed and nurtured his choreographic abilities, co-choreographing A Tragedy of Fashion with him in 1926 which launched both of their careers. They performed in the lyric theatre, calling themselves The Rambert Dancers. In 1930 the company was named The Ballet Club, renamed to Ballet Rambert in 1935. The company performed classics, such as Swan Lake, but Marie’s passion for Russian ballet was evident through the dramatic scenes and collaborations with designers. Frederick Ashton choreographed many works for the company, his Duncan-inspired choreography settling into a distinct style. Unfortunately, after a few years she began to lose some of her best dancers, Ashton included, and was dubbed as an amateur. Marie could not pay her dancers and had given no signs of creating a permanent company – many left to dance for de Valois, a rival ballet teacher at the time. But Marie has gained a reputation of her own, that of a teacher who could nurture the unique qualities of dancers instead of focusing on cloning the dancers through technique and this was to serve her well.

World War 2

Her school and performances continued to run until the declaration of World War II brought them to a close in 1939. Marie lost a few dancers and choreographers, including Antony Tudor, who escaped to America before the war broke out. She moved the school to Berkshire for a short time, where Marie stayed for a while to teach children French even after the dancers returned to London. After some time of nervousness about the planes which flew over London each night, people began to return to their normal lives when nothing happened. Theatres re-opened and were doing well at this time as people wanted to escape. Small ballet companies began to pop up because of this, whilst other more established ballet companies were doing well to rival Ballet Rambert. The dancers at Ballet Rambert were not being paid much, if at all, so some of these rival companies were a safety net for some who left and took jobs elsewhere. Without Marie’s permanent presence the company was being looked over by her husband, who did not particularly like Marie’s venture and happily signed over the company to Harold Rubin to wash his hands of it. Little did he know that he almost lost the company for Marie altogether.

Harold Rubin owned The Arts Theatre Club, of which Ballet Rambert became one of the three resident companies in 1940, joining Antony Tudor’s London Ballet. Only months later Ballet Rambert was merged with London Ballet, gradually renamed to Rambert-London Ballet. The junior members were let go and London Ballet’s directors were appointed the Deputy Directors. In 1941, Rambert-London Ballet would perform x3 1-hour performances on weekdays and x4 1-hour performances on weekends. In September the dancers brought in Equity to address their low pay, which Rubin refused, leading to the company closing down. Rubin retained legal rights until 1943.

In March 1943 Ballet Rambert came under the management of The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (the forerunner of the Arts Council). It was at this time that the company toured extensively to non-theatrical venues, such as cinemas, miner’s welfare halls, open air stages and factory hostels and canteens, working hard to stay financially stable. The company had become very stale and lacked experimentation, repeating the same ballets over and over. This was for three reasons: firstly, the company did not have a choreographer at this time; secondly, their extensive touring period meant that there was less time to create new works; thirdly the change in the company’s performance venues resulted in a very new type of audience. They were no longer the small but knowledgeable Ballet Club fans. Instead, they were more general with less adventurous tastes, who expected longer ballets in addition to new works. This did not match Marie’s original vision for her company.

Post-War Company

In the years to follow, the companies revenue fluctuated constantly, matching fluctuating periods of touring overseas. In 1946 the company had reformed itself. It has been said that this was an exciting rebirth of the company. CEMA had evolved into the Arts Council and sponsored their season at Sadler’s Wells, which won back the reputation of Ballet Rambert. However, the Art Council’s support was sporadic and the company suffered under-funding, with Marie and her husband using their own money to make ends meet. They ended up in debt, asking for an advance from the Arts Council and begging for people to donate to the company. The loss in revenue was also party to blame for the dire running of the company – Marie was no businesswoman, and there were times when poor judgement of character left them penniless. It was particularly bad after a return from Australia, when 14 out of the 26 dancers decided to not return to England; other members started to leave once they became bored. The 1950’s were a very difficult time in Ballet Rambert’s history and almost led them to extinction.

After sticking to Mim throughout the war doing awful dates, the company expected a London season, but we found ourselves back at the Mercury. [Marie] had no confidence in her company, no push, never could expand, she was afraid to leave that building which seemed safe, she simply could not take a chance.

Elisabeth Schooling ( Kelly, 2009, p. 146)

Yet unknowingly, the 50’s was also a decade of planting seeds for the later development and modernisation of the company. Norman Morrice joined the school for training in 1952. In 1954 Martha Graham toured in England, which did not receive too much praise at the time but was adored by Marie Rambert and some of the other members of the company. It was a reminder of Marie’s roots of “bare-foot dancing” and over time she realised this was where British dance was heading. In 1958 Norman Morrice was given permission to choreograph, creating Two Brothers which was an early step in the company’s development due to it’s modern, casual costumes and challenging themes of sibling rivalry and urban violence. In 1959 the company performed at Jacobs Pillow, a very famous American dance festival. It was here that Norman Morrice’s choreography was noticed, resulting in a generous grant to fund Morrice to research the transatlantic dance scene. He studied with American pioneers of dance, including the Martha Graham company.

By 1959 the company’s finances were doing much better, thanks to student grants, and the company continued to run on a strict budget. They now ran an Educational School which was one of the first to incorporate formal education with ballet education for promising children from the age of 10, one of which was Christopher Bruce. Unfortunately this was another failed venture, closing down in 1969 due to their finances never allowing them to complete the refurbishment of the theatre.

Between 1965 – 1966 Ballet Rambert was in The Times newspaper multiple times, with articles titled such as Ballet Rambert Facing Extinction”. A documentary aired on BBC2 named “Ballet Rambert Struggles for Survival”, which showed the difficulties of the extensive touring of large ballet productions for the 33 dancers. Paying 33 dancers wages and funding lavish ballet costumes and set was taking its toll on the company’s finances, once again. It has said to have been Morrice who persuaded Marie Rambert that their difficult finances could be fixed by dropping the corps de ballet and focusing on a solely modern repertory with a smaller troupe of soloists. He was promoted to Associate Artistic Director in June 1966. In July the company closed for 1 month whilst it went through a reorganisation period.


It is almost shocking to consider just how many times Marie Rambert had to struggle for survival and adapt over the course of her lifetime, both personally and professionally. Because of this, understandably, Marie found herself always living in the present, never planning for the future. On the one hand we can describe her as rebellious and forward-thinking, inspired by the likes of Isadora Duncan’s and Martha Graham’s ‘bare-foot’ styles and Ballet Russes exciting collaborative approaches. On the other hand, she has been described as safe, precautious and lacking of any ambition for her company. Some wonder whether the changes of 1966 were truly what she wanted, as it stripped the repertoire, losing classic works by Tudor and Ashton forever. Yet the new artistic policy of the company very clearly connects with Marie’s early influences of dance. Keep an eye out for my next blog post, where I will be linking Marie’s background and the company’s origins to the later developments of the company 1966-2002.


Kelly, B. (2009) ‘Mim’: A Personal Memoir of Marie Rambert. Devon: Dance Books Ltd.

Rambert. (n.d) Timeline. Available at: (Accessed: 16th May 2021).

Special Correspondent. (1965) Ballet Rambert Facing Extinction. The Times. 10th December. A copy can be found here.


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