On Point: Royal Academy of Dance at 100

On Point: Royal Academy of Dance ran until 29 August 2022.

A free display at the V&A museum in London, celebrating 100 years of the RAD, told the story of how it shaped the future of dance training, the famous faces who lead the way, and how it continues to bring the joy of dance to the lives of people across the world. The RAD is home to one of the largest dance collections in Europe, and this is the first time in its history it has given access to its archive on this scale.

Karsavina in Russian dance costume 1929. Dress by Gontcharova. Photographer unknown.The display presented costumes, designs, photographs and more from the RAD’s archive and the V&A’s Theatre & Performance Collection, exploring the RAD’s story from its foundation to its influence on ballet and dance internationally. It highlighted the role of successive presidents, including Nureyev’s first performance in Britain in partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn.

Original ballet costumes and accessories worn by RAD founders and presidents were on display, along with 60 original objects and over 80 supporting archival images. Other items included busts and sculptures, sketches and drawings, as well as letters, posters, programmes, audio-visual footage and some original photographs. Highlights include:

  • Ballet Exercises for Athletes – A unique pamphlet with original artwork by Punch illustrator Fougasse, famed for his ‘Careless talk Costs Lives’ WW2 posters. In 1954, the RAD was approached by a training club for British high jumpers who were seeking ways to increase their elevation. They wondered if ballet exercises would be beneficial to the training of athletes and, following a pilot in 1956, a series of exercises were created, based on ballet, but adapted to athletic needs.
  • Rudolf Nureyev’s Swan Lake costume – This tunic, designed by Carl Toms in 1963 for a production of Swan Lake by The Royal Ballet, was worn by Nureyev when he was at the height of his career. Nureyev’s first performance in Britain was at an RAD fundraising gala in 1961. He was invited to perform by Dame Margot Fonteyn, the RAD’s longest-serving President, laying the foundation for their famed partnership. This set in motion one of the most exciting chapters in dance history, with Fonteyn and Nureyev still regarded as two of the best dancers to have ever graced the stage.
  • Dame Darcey Bussell’s costume from Prince of the Pagodas – After the premiere of this ballet by Kenneth MacMillan, Darcey Bussell became Principal at The Royal Ballet at the age of just 20 years old. Darcey has been President of the RAD since 2012 and has a key role in supporting the Academy carry out its work.
  • Harlequin by Alfred Gilbert – Made by the sculptor of Eros at Piccadilly, this figure of Harlequin was given by Stanislas Idzikowski to the RAD ‘Production Club’. Established in the early 1930s, the Production Club aimed to provide a link between the students of the RAD and the dance profession. It also mounted performances of original choreography and is credited for offering famed choreographers Robert Helpmann and John Cranko their first opportunities in the industry.

The performance floor and barres in On Point have been generously supplied by Harlequin Floors.