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Anthony Dowell was born in London and studied at the Hampshire School and The Royal Ballet’s Lower and Upper Schools. In 1961 he joined The Royal Ballet and, less than two years later, Frederick Ashton chose him to create the role of Oberon in The Dream. It was in this ballet that he first danced with Antoinette Sibley, who created Titania, and the foundation for an outstanding ballet partnership was laid. Dowell was quickly noted for the combination of an outstandingly strong technique with a lyrical quality and restraint in his dancing. Equally at home in classical or modern works, his innate dramatic sense enabled him to give life to the heroes of the full-length classical ballets such as Albrecht in Giselle and Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. By 1966, he had been promoted to the rank of principal dancer.
His major created roles in Ashton’s works include Oberon, Beliaev in Ashton’s A Month in the Country, Troyte in Enigma Variations, and Lo Straniero in Varii Capricci. For Kenneth MacMillan, he created Des Grieux in Manon, Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, Kchessinska’s partner in Anastasia, the Boy in Triad and Autumn in The Four Seasons. He also created the Boy with Matted Hair in Antony Tudor’s Shadowplay, Prospero in Nureyev’s The Tempest and the leading role in Hans van Manen’s Four Schumann Pieces, for which he was the inspiration. Roles in which he was particularly praised include the leads in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardeé, Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloe and Symphonic Variations; MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Romeo and Juliet; La Bayadère, Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and In the Night and Balanchine’s Agon.
In the late 1970s he danced with both The Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre in New York where his extensive repertory included the role of Solor in the first performances of Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère.
In 1979 he took the speaking part of the Narrator in Ashton’s A Wedding Bouquet for The Joffrey Ballet, a role he was later to repeat for The Royal Ballet. During The Royal Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations in 1981 he danced the title role in Helpmann’s Hamlet which had been especially revived for the season, and danced the leading male role in Rhapsody, a role created by Ashton for Baryshnikov in 1980.
In the Autumn of 1982 he participated in two productions that made up a triple bill at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, in celebration of the birth of Igor Stravinsky; for Frederick Ashton he created the role of the Fisherman, with Makarova as the Nightingale, in Le Rossignol and he also took the part of the Narrator in the composer’s Oedipus Rex.
In September 1986 he was appointed Director of The Royal Ballet, post he held until August 2001, having become Assistant to the Director in September 1984 and Associate Director in 1985. His first production for the company was Swan Lake which received its world premiere in March 1987. The Sleeping Beauty was premiered in April 1994 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. and was subsequently seen in New York, prior to its London premiere in November of the same year. This version of the ballet has also been filmed for television and video release with Dowell as Carabosse. He has designed costumes himself for other works including Robbins’ In the Night, Ashton’s Thaïs and, most recently, The Royal Ballet’s productions of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Symphony in C. Dowell continues to appear on stage in some roles, including Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty. In December 1989 he created the mime role of the aged Emperor in Kenneth MacMillan’s the Prince of the Pagodas and, in February 1991, the role of Masha’s husband, Kulygin, in MacMillan’s Winter Dreams; both were subsequently recorded for television and video. He appeared in the title role of William Tuckett’s television ballet, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and, in July 1995, narrated Matthew Hart’s new version of Peter and the Wolf, created for students of The Royal Ballet School, in which he also played the Grandfather. In December 1999 he created the role of Drosselmeyer in Peter Wright’s revised version of The Nutcracker.
In 1972 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, the youngest dancer ever to be so honored. In 1995, he was created a Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and presented with the Royal Academy of Dancing’s Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award for 1994.