A Tribute to Dame Gillian Lynne

We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dame Gillian Lynne, a hugely influential figure in British dance and musical theatre.

As choreographer for over 60 shows in the West End and on Broadway, Dame Gillian is best known for her iconic work on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Cats and Phantom of the Opera, two of the most successful and longest-running musicals in history. Just last month, The New London Theatre in London’s West End – the original home of Cats – was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre, in honour of her outstanding contribution to the stage. It is the first West End venue named after a non-royal woman.

Born in Bromley, south-east London in 1926, Gillian started dancing from a young age, and became a member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (soon to become The Royal Ballet) at the age of 16. She went on to become a prolific dancer, choreographer and director, performing in many roles with The Royal Ballet and on British TV, and working with companies including Northern Ballet, the Bolshoi and Australian Ballet alongside over 150 TV and film credits. In the 1980s, her ground-breaking work on Cats and Phantom of the Opera – to which she brought her distinctive jazz dance style – changed the face of musical theatre.

A truly inspirational figure, Dame Gillian was tirelessly committed to her work. In 2014, at the age of 88, she returned to the London Palladium for a new production of Cats, choreographed Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and released a DVD for mature audiences, Longevity Through Exercise.

Her many accolades include two Olivier Awards: Outstanding Achievement for her Choreography of Cats in 1981, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013; a BAFTA for her BBC TV dance drama A Simple Man; and Vienna’s Silver Order of Merit, Golden Rose of Montreux Award for her work on The Muppet Show. She was appointed a Dame in the 2014 New Year’s Honours for services to dance and musical theatre.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, says: “Dame Gillian Lynne was a warm, passionate and inspiring dancer and choreographer. I met her when I first joined Sadler’s Wells in 2000, and she was always a great supporter of the theatre and what we do. Through her work and endless enthusiasm, she gained the affection and admiration of large audiences, as well as influencing many dance makers and performers of our time. We send our heartfelt condolences to Dame Gillian’s husband, family and friends.”

Image: Dame Gillian Lynne in rehearsal with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Credit: Andrew Ross via Birmingham Royal Ballet