Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Dancers Next Door: A Review of A Leap Across the Atlantic, by Christine Du Boulay Ellis

For me, this book, subtitled "The Memoirs of Two Ballet Dancers," presents an unfamiliar international world of glamor, dedication, and hard work that I was pleased to enter through its pages. Christine Ellis dedicates her book "to Richard--the other ballet dancer, my love and partner in life." She also quotes W.B. Yeats' "The Fiddler of Dooney": "For the good are always merry, / Save by some evil chance, / And the merry love the fiddle, / And the merry love to dance." This is a book by and about people who love to dance.

Christine Du Boulay was born in London in 1923, the daughter of a Royal Air Force pilot of Huguenot descent and an Irish mother with a distant ancestral connection to poet William Butler Yeats. She developed interests in and studied both painting and dance, and was accepted by the Sadler's Wells School of Ballet.

Richard Ellis was born in London in 1918. He began dancing at the age of about six or seven at a ballet school in the basement of the Crystal Palace Hotel. In 1933, he joined the Vic-Wells Ballet, which later became the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company. To avoid being drafted in World War II, Richard enlisted in the Royal Navy, and he commanded a flotilla of landing craft on D-Day--surely an unusual assignment for a dancer.

After the war, Richard returned to the Sadler's Wells Company, of which Christine was by then a member. Sadler's Wells, later the Royal Ballet, featured many names familiar even to non-balletomanes: Frederic Franklin, Anton Dolin, Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, and many, many others. "We were fortunate to have so many fine artists in the company and to be a part of that golden era: an era created by Ninette de Valois," wrote Christine.

Christine Du Boulay and Richard Ellis fell in love, married, and shared the rigors and travel/sightseeing opportunities of ballet company tours, eventually touring America in 1949-50 and 1950-51. Both liked the United States, including Chicago. Richard suffered some back problems and decided to try teaching, so they accepted an invitation to open a ballet school in Chicago, the Allegro School of Ballet. Then came the Ellis-Du Boulay School of Ballet, which they operated at several Chicago locations from 1954 through 1994.

They also created and directed the Illinois Ballet for twelve years, performing in Chicago and surrounding states and on WTTW-Channel 11. They published Partnering. The Fundamentals of Pas de Deux (London: C.W. Beaumont) in 1955. In 1995, Richard celebrated his 25th year in the role of Herr Drosselmeyer in Ruth Page's The Nutcracker in Chicago.

During their long dancing and teaching careers, the Ellises met and/or formed friendships with ballet, theater, and film icons from both sides of the Atlantic, including Sir Frederick Ashton, Robert Joffrey, Alec Guiness, Danny Kaye, Audrey Hepburn, and far too many others to mention here.

Christine and Richard are now retired, with a home in Sawyer, Michigan, and a condo in Chicago. Christine continues to paint and hold exhibitions of her water colors.

Christine Du Boulay Ellis wrote this book to record two fascinating lives, mainly for ballet historians and their many friends and former students. However, it should also appeal to ballet lovers, Anglophiles, students of World War II-era history, and admirers of senior citizens who have led fascinating lives. Although the extensive celebrity name-dropping may sometimes seem tedious to outsiders, it is personal and sincere and approprate within the context of this book. I am proud to call Christine and Richard Ellis my neighbors and my friends.

A Leap Across the Atlantic, published by Gorski Advertising and edited by Lucia Mauro, is a large hard-bound limited edition book, illustrated with many photographs. It is not for sale on line. However, if you are interested in purchasing a copy, contact the author at 1515 N Wells Street, # 5 D, Chicago, IL 60610.

Photo: Christine and Richard Ellis at home in Chicago, 2006
(with a visiting friend)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Cover photo by John Reilly; 2006 photo courtesy of Christine Ellis


vicki said...

I came across your blog while doing a search for information about Mr. and Mrs. Ellis. I had taken ballet classes under their tutelage from 1983 till 1987, and had learned more in those four years than in the 14 years I had danced prior to moving to Chicago. I am so pleased to know that Mrs. Ellis has written their memoirs.

seniorwriter said...

Thank you, Vicki. I'll pass your comment along to Christine. I assume that you have her e-mail address, street address, and/or phone number. I thing she would like to hear from you if she hasn't already.


syurek said...

I would like to purchase a copy of the Book "A Leap Across the Atlantic" by Christine Du Boulay, if it is available. Can you direct me?

Thank you.

seniorwriter said...

You may contact Christine at 1515 N. Wells Street, Apt. 5 D, Chicago, IL 60610.

jwhite said...

Hi! I would love to buy this book. I took dance with the Ellises from 1973-1988. I started as an adult. It was a very special time for me. They are the best!

seniorwriter said...

Hello! Send me your e-mail address or "snail mail" address (to mstyne@aol.com) and I'll pass your inquiry on to Christine Ellis. I'm sure she'll be happy to hear from you and tell you how to buy her book. She handles sales herself. She has an e-mail address too, but I don't happen to have it at the moment.

Anonymous said...

My daughter would like to be able to contact Christine about her grandmother Nina Conway who trained under her. Do you have any contact information.

seniorwriter said...

You'll find her mailing address among the comments here.