Bryan Lawrence, who has died in his 81st year, was born Brian Lawrence Palethorpe in Birmingham, England. He began his dance training at an early age in regional schools in England and then trained, on scholarship, at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School (later the Royal Ballet School) from the age of thirteen. After moving into the senior school he began performing in walk-on parts with the Sadler’s Wells Opera and Ballet. He never legally changed his name but used ‘Bryan Lawrence’ throughout his professional career.
Lawrence joined Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet in 1954 and was promoted to soloist in 1955. His first professional dancing part, undertaken while still a student at the Sadler’s Wells School, was in the corps de ballet of The Firebird, as staged by Lubov Tchernicheva and Sergei Grigoriev for Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1954. Lawrence joined the company a little later and toured with them to regional venues in England until 1957.
Following a period of national service with the RAF he joined the Royal Ballet in 1959 and became a soloist in 1961. In 1964 he moved to Australia at the invitation of Peggy van Praagh and joined the Australian Ballet as a principal dancer.
While with the Australian Ballet, Lawrence partnered all the leading dancers in the company, including Elaine Fifield, Marilyn Jones and Kathleen Gorham. He toured with the company on their early overseas engagements, including to the Commonwealth Arts Festival and various cities in Europe, 1965–1966, and on a major tour to Montreal, Canada, for Expo ’67 with subsequent engagements in South America and elsewhere. In an article for The Canberra Times in 1968 he recalled some of the memorable off-stage experiences during the early part of the 1965 tour:
I recall riding a camel across the desert at 4 am to see the Pyramids after a long overnight flight from Perth to Cairo, and doing a class in the temple ruins at Baalbeck at seven o’clock in the morning when the sun became so hot we were unable to continue.
In his career with the Australian Ballet he is especially remembered for his role in The Display, in which he played the role of the Leader. Of his work on that ballet with its choreographer Robert Helpmann he remarked, in an oral history interview for the National Library of Australia in 1986:
It was interesting working with Bobby. I did, I think, most of the choreography for my bits myself. Bobby was inclined to do that. He worked out, obviously, the general thing, the story, but I can remember him saying before lunch one day, ‘Well, you know, think about something to do there.’ And I just worked something out myself and it was accepted.
Lawrence resigned from the Australian Ballet at the end of 1967 and in 1968, along with fellow Australian Ballet principal, Janet Karin, founded the Bryan Lawrence School of Ballet in Canberra. Together, Lawrence and Karin trained many fine artists, including Ross Stretton, Joanne Michel and Adam Marchant, all of whom rose through the ranks of the Australian Ballet to dance principal roles before going on to expand their careers in other significant directions.
The school’s performance group, the Bryan Lawrence Performing Group, presented its first classical production, excerpts from Coppélia, to Canberra audiences in 1970, and its first full-length ballet, Giselle, in 1974. Lawrence appeared in the school’s productions on occasions and was especially admired for his performances as Captain Belaye in Pineapple Poll, Albrecht in Giselle, and Dr Coppélius in Coppélia. He also occasionally choreographed short works for the school’s annual performances.
Lawrence left Canberra for Sydney in 1986. In Sydney he undertook a variety of jobs including a brief period of work as a teacher at the McDonald College. Lawrence remarried in Sydney and lived towards the end of his life in Victoria Falls in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. He was an accomplished pianist and in his retirement enjoyed composing original, short works for piano.
After he left Canberra, the Bryan Lawrence School of Ballet was renamed the National Capital Ballet School in 1987 and the associated performing company became the National Capital Dancers.
Bryan Lawrence is survived by his first wife, Janet Karin, with whom he had two children, a son Nicholas and a daughter Isobel (deceased). He spent many happy years with his second wife, Lyn Palethorpe.
Brian Lawrence Palethorpe: born 4 September 1936, Birmingham, England; died Katoomba, New South Wales, 8 July 2017.
Michelle Potter, 9 July 2017
Featured image: Bryan Lawrence in Les Sylphides. The Australian Ballet, 1964. Photo: Walter Stringer
16 thoughts on “Bryan Lawrence (1936–2017)”
On Saturday night scores of former Canberra students from many parts of the world held an online vigil in contact with those at his bedside, as Bryan Lawrence slowly slipped away. I took part in that thread with my daughters and was profoundly moved by the tributes and reminiscences that poured out from the men and women who had learned and laughed with him as youngsters. Along with his wife, Janet Karin, herself an exceptional teacher, Bryan had an impressive impact on the Canberra dance world. He will not be forgotten.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts Hilary. Yes indeed Bryan and Janet had a major impact on so many of us in Canberra.
An amazing gentle man, an amazing dancer, amazing teacher whom will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks for making dance come alive in this 8 yr old that is with me today and always. RIP
Thank-you for sharing. I remember Bryan fondly. He was an amazing man, and a very gentle soul with a beautiful and lyrical dance style. I loved his dance classes. RIP always remembered.
When i came to the Australian ballet as a guest in the 60’s I had the great pleasure and honor to share some of the same roles and we stayed in touched ever since then , He was a great gentleman and a marvelous dancer ,partner and his elegance was well known ,,some others will remember his smoking with his cigarette holder ,giving him a touch of class and always a reminder of his British roots. We were born the same year and month I shall miss him for his generous and kind words always . RIP my dear Bryan .
Thank you, Jean-Paul, for such personal memories. I didn’t meet Bryan and Janet until I moved to Canberra in 1970 and started taking classes with them, and then teaching for them. Of course I had seen Bryan dancing with the Australian Ballet but didn’t see him with his cigarette holder! He must have given up smoking by the time I met him. Thanks again.
I always remember looking up to Bryan, when I was at the Australian Ballet School (1965/66) and then so enjoyed seeing him close up in class, rehearsals, and performances, after joining the company, and having the privilege of performing on the same stage as him.
He will be sadly missed – a true gentleman!!
My condolences to Bryan’s family and thankyou Michelle Potter for telling his life story and what an amazing story and such a wonderful dancer he will remain an inspiration to us all
Rest in Peace Bryan
Thank you so Much Michelle…Bryan and I
used to chat on facebook ..i will miss him ….all the best for all his long list of friends …..sincerely JPC
Thank you Roslyn and Audrey for your thoughts. It has been interesting to see the extent of Bryan’s influence, which is clearly world-wide as those whose life he touched move on in the dance world.
Apart from being one of the most accomplished dancers I have ever seen Bryan was always a thorough gentleman and a most amusing companion.
I am greatly saddened to hear of Bryan’s passing. I met him about 10 years ago and was immediately struck by his generous nature, gentle soul and the wonderful way he still held himself so beautifully at 70 years old. Not to mention his charm, good looks and a dance history equal to that of royalty. I feel honoured to have known him and will always remember him.
Thank you Michelle for your wonderful tribute to Bryan.
I was a Student, and Teacher at the Studio in Canberra.
A wonderful person and amazing Teacher.
A shining light in the world of Dance.
I will always remember Brian as an important influence in my love of the ballet. Watching him on stage was such a privilege. I later went on to the school and company after he had left but will always remember the impact his beautiful dancing and presence was in my life! May he RIP.
Very sad news, Mr Lawrence was a remarkable man. A brilliant artist and a wonderful teacher. He taught so many young dancers, not just dance, but the communication of movement, style, musicality and told us the stories of dance, history, choreography and composers with passion. He was a great mimic and character dancer with the ability to make an entire class of young dancers burst into laughter at his witty gestures. Thank you Bryan, a true legend and classic Prince Charming of the dance world.
Bryan and I were close friends for many years, I got to know him during the days at the Royal Ballet School in Colet Gardens, Barons Court in London. I was appalled when I heard that Lyn had deserted Bryan in his hour of need, he was very ill and Lyn said that she did not want to be a nursemaid to a dying man. She will pay for this inhuman behaviour, r– I- h—.