Lucette Aldous AC, one of Australia’s few internationally acclaimed ballerinas, died peacefully at the age of 82 on 5 June 2021, surrounded by roses and photographs arranged by her daughter Floeur Lucette Alder. Her husband Alan Alder, born in Canberra, died in 2019. Former Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, David McAllister said, “Lucette was the first ballerina I ever saw live on stage. For me, as for the thousands of dancers around the world who saw her dance in the theatre or in the film of Don Quixote, she was an inspiration. She was a star in our great national company for so many years and we will miss her deeply.”

Lucette Aldous and Rudolf Nureyev in Don Quixote, The Australian Ballet. Photograph © Paul Cox

Indeed, Aldous’s performances as the fiery Kitri opposite Rudolf Nureyev as her lover Basilio were exceptional in the superstar’s new production of Don Quixote for The Australian Ballet, where they danced as guest artists. Both pint-sized by today’s standards, and equally obsessed with perfection, they filled the stage with a tour de force of provocation and joyous romance. The world premiere at the 1970 Adelaide Festival, with Sir Robert Helpmann as the Don, was a huge success, closing with 17 minutes of rapturous applause, cheers, and rave reviews.

It was, however, the company’s 1970–71 American tour across 18 cities in 14 weeks with alternate repertoire and casts, featuring Don Quixote, that made Aldous internationally famous, with lavish publicity and backstage photographs of her with Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and other New York fans. These were golden days for the company, a time of late-night parties and post-mortems, and Aldous loved it all. Absorbed into the company’s spirit, she abandoned her significant English career, and her first marriage, to become a resident principal alongside the impressive line-up of Marilyn Jones, Kathleen Geldard, Marilyn Rowe, and subsequent leading women. Her partners, from first principal Garth Welch to 19-year-old Gary Norman, were renowned for their strength and flair.

For all the ballet’s athleticism, it is the act two Queen of the Dryads scene, in which the Don dreams of his Dulcinea, that calls for classical sophistication and elegance, which Aldous delivered impeccably. The foundation for such finesse was laid early in her life. Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1938, but soon after brought to Perth, then Brisbane, Aldous studied from the age of three with ballet teacher Phyllis Danaher. She later moved to Sydney, became dux of Randwick High School, and for three years studied ballet at the famous Scully Borovansky studio.

In 1955, the 16 year old went to London’s Royal Ballet School on a Frances Scully Scholarship, and in 1957 joined Ballet Rambert, directed by Dame Marie Rambert, Vaslav Nijinsky’s assistant on his iconoclastic Rite of Spring. Aldous’s impressive talent flourished by dancing a diverse repertoire, and she quickly rose to soloist then Rambert’s star ballerina. The ballets included the classics – Coppélia, Giselle, La Sylphide, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, an earlier Don Quixote, and Rite of Spring – and new ballets by luminaries Sir Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor, or the younger John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan. She even performed in a Ballet Rambert tour to China, during Mao Zedong’s earliest door-openings to the West.

The Two Pigeons by Frederick Ashton, Lucette Aldous and Kelvin Coe, Principal Artists, The Australian Ballet. Photograph © David Parker, 1975

From 1963 Aldous danced successfully with London Festival Ballet while occasionally guesting in the Royal Ballet touring company, which recruited her in 1996. Here she danced Ashton’s greatest ballets to date, The Dream, La fille mal gardée, Cinderella, and other works, including The Nutcracker with Nureyev. All of these she would dance in The Australian Ballet with panache. First among many highlights was the splendiferous, society-loaded opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973, with Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, directed by ballet master Ray Powell, with Kenneth Rowell designs.  It was a huge success, followed in 1974 by Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, with close friend, Kelvin Coe. In 1975, she played the coquettish Valencienne in Ronald Hynd’s freshly-finished ballet, The Merry Widow, directed by Helpmann, again with Coe as her lover Camille, and in Ashton’s The Two Pigeons, also with Coe. Aldous became a star, but she was not a snob. In 1973, she danced the Le Corsaire pas de deux with American star Edward Villella in a Carol Burnett concert in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall; in 1976 in The Fool on the Hill, which Gillian Lynne (of Cats fame) created with Beatles music and 60s costuming for The Australian Ballet and ABC TV; and in 1977 in The Turning Point, a ballet melodrama starring Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In this period, the USSR’s cultural ministry invited Aldous and Alder to visit St Petersburg to study its prized pedagogy – Agrippina Vaganova’s refined techniques based on historical and modern ideas, as well as Boris Kniassef’s radical horizontal class, ‘floor-barre’, which Aldous adopted in London. This compelling experience would lead to a second career for them both. Alder retired in 1980 and taught at the Victorian College of the Arts, while Aldous taught at The Australian Ballet School. In 1983, Alder became head of dance at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where Aldous also taught. She was famously dynamic, generous and encouraging, and highly regarded across the academy. On retirement, Aldous was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Edith Cowan University in 2000.

Aldous could never leave ballet. She coached dancers of The Australian and West Australian Ballets, and served on the latter’s artistic advisory committee for some years.  She was honoured in two more films – Michelle Mahrer’s Three Ballerinas (2001) with Jones and Rowe, and Sue Healy’s On View: Icons (2018) with Shirley McKechnie, Nanette Hassall, Elizabeth Dalman, all leading director-choreographers. She was nationally honoured with the 2001 Australian Dance Award for service to dance education and the 2009 Life Achievement Award, and invested as a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2018 Australian Australia Day Honours List. How fortuitous that these awards were bestowed in her life time.

Sign up to the Limelight newsletter