Over forty years ago, Peter Schaufuss made his debut on the London Coliseum stage as The King of the Dandies in Leonide Massine's Le Beau Danube. He was a twenty-year-old Principal Dancer with London Festival Ballet, now known as English National Ballet, a company with which his outstanding career has been associated as both a dancer and the company's Artistic Director (1984-1990).
Peter Schaufuss was born to dance. His parents were both principal dancers at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen, and his father was subsequently Director of the Royal Danish Ballet. With such a background it's hardly surprising that Schaufuss started with the Royal Danish Ballet School at the age of seven, soon to dance in the company.
Some say that Schaufuss technique was more precise and expressive than Rudolf Nureyev's but without question his personality carried a unuiquely powerful authority and an irresistible belief in his chosen art form. His dancing career spans the complete range of classical and modern dance. As a guest star Schaufuss has visited most of the world's leading companies, including the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, the Kirov Ballet in St Petersborg and American Ballet Theatre in New York, the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London. During this period he has also worked with some of the greatest choreographers of the age, including Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Roland Petit and George Balanchine.
In 1984 he was appointed Artistic Director of the London Festival Ballet and launched a Golden Age for the company. Schaufuss brought to the UK dance industry the first serioous commitment to private, as well as government sponsorship. His brilliance both on stage and at the box office had a magnetic effect on international stars who flocked to work with him, including Katherine Healey, Trinidad Sevillano, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev and Patrick Dupont.
In what could be seen as a marketing master stroke, as he signed his contract with Festival Ballet, BBC Television screened in 1984 a BBC Television four patr series simply titled Dancer. Featuring Schaufuss's life, loves and gruelling work schedule, the programme endeared him to the British public. In the six years of his tenure as Artistic Director, Schaufuss introduced 6 full length productions into the repertoire including Natalia Makarova's Swan Lake. In addition he was responsible for staging 35 new one act ballet's including Roland Petit's Carmen and Swansong by Christopher Bruce. His own production of La Sylphide won both the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards. in 1987 Schaufuss founded the Festival Ballet School, now English National Ballet School, as no great ballet company, in his opinion, could build for the future without it's own feeder school.
Always keeping ahead of the game and acutely aware of the absence of any government grants for the metropolitan appearances, in 1989 Schaufuss decided to change the company's name form Festival Ballet, to English National Ballet. It was a tactical success in the battle for funding. At a stroke, Schaufuss embedded his company into the fabric of the nation as a whole rather than the exclusive, and crippingly expensive, little enclave around the Palace of Westminster. In a simultaneous pincer movement Schaufuss invited Diana, Then Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales, a keen ballet fan since her schooldays, to be Patron of the company, a position she held to her death in 1997. Very quickly Schaufuss created the first genuine rval to Britain's Royal Ballet.
Schaufuss went on to lead Berlin's Deutsche Oper from 1990 to 1994, creating his award winning Tchaikovsky Trilogy, a reworking of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty & The Nutcracker. There followed a spell at the Royal Danish Ballet (1994-1995) before he founded his own company, the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, in Holstebro, Denmark, in 1997. Much to his own surprise he discovered that creating dance came freely to him, and there followed a decade of choreographic creativity. In thirteen Schaufuss's proflific out put has produced 2 one act works and 22 full length pieces. The most controversial, Diana, (2003), contains some of his most creative choreography while Midnight Express (2000) is a riot of dance making drama and invention. Schaufuss's search for the magical formula transforming classical ballet into entertainment includes Satisfaction (2006), Divas (2004) and Marilyn (2008), all seen in London's West End.
Former Dancer , Dance Critic & Arts Feature Writer for the Sunday Express