Is that who I think it is?
Photo credit BBC
Yes, dancer Wayne Sleep – “the greatest virtuoso dancer the Royal Ballet has ever produced” (Dame Ninette de Valois) lives in Strand on the Green and is often to be spotted in riverside pubs.
In a story which parallels that of the fictional Billy Elliott, he started dancing aged eight and at 13 won a scholarship for the Royal Ballet School. It meant that he was able to live away from home and away from a stepfather he disliked. Ninette de Valois, one of the most influential figures in the history of ballet and regarded as the “godmother” of English ballet, took a shine to Wayne because of his talent. Talking to Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar In Conversation at the Tabard Theatre in 2016, he described their relationship.
His breakthrough came at 17 when the Royal Ballet needed a small man to play the part of Napoleon. At 5ft 2ins his height had always been a concern, but it gave him his first contract.
He toured America for the first time in 1967 and became a Principal Dancer in 1973, appearing in more than 50 major roles created for him by Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth Macmillan, Dame Ninette de Valois, Rudolf Nureyev, Joe Layton and John Neumeier. He knew both Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov intimately. Among the many famous people Wayne Sleep has got to know during his long career was dancer, actor, theatre director and choreographer Robert Helpmann.
Acting with Judi Dench
In 1980 Wayne formed his own dance company DASH, which after many seasons in the West End toured the world, concluding back in London at the Coliseum. The concept for DASH was to present dance to a wider audience using a mix of styles including ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary. Wayne Sleep has also had an acting career in parallel with his dancing career. He talks here about acting alongside Dame Judi Dench and her generosity as an actor.
Dancing with Diana
To the majority of the population who aren’t particularly ballet fans, he is probably best known for his friendship with Princess Diana. It was 1985 when Wayne Sleep danced with Princess Diana at the Royal Opera House. The public were enchanted and the dance made Wayne into a global celebrity. He talked to Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar In Conversation at the Tabard theatre in 2016 and described what dancing with Diana was like.