It's with great sadness that we learn of the death of Dame Gillian Lynne – celebrated choreographer of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical CATS, among many others, and longstanding and dedicated ArtsEd patron.
Principal Chris Hocking says:
“Gillie was an inspiration to everyone that worked with her. What an honour it was to have Gillie work on CATS at ArtsEd in 2010. She treated the students like professionals and they all learned so much from her wonderful knowledge, passion and wicked sense of humour. Dame Gillian changed the face of Musical Theatre in the UK and we will always be in her debt for this. I was luckily enough to see her last week at the naming party Gillian Lynne Theatre in the West End – a fitting tribute to one of the all-time Dance and Musical Theatre greats. She still had naughty sense of humour and an eagle-eye for detail. Our thoughts are with her husband Peter and family at this time.”
ArtsEd President, Andrew Lloyd Webber, paid tribute to Dame Gillian on Twitter: “Farewell dearest Gillie, three generations of the British musical owe so much to you.”
While Elaine Paige, who played the lead in the original production of CATS, remembers her “dear friend and teacher”.
Based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, the show opened in May 1981 with Elaine Paige, Bonnie Langford (ArtsEd alumna) and Paul Nicholas among its cast.
Last month Dame Gillian attended a special ceremony in her honour hosted by Lord Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh. The New London Theatre, the original London home of CATS, is now known as the Gillian Lynne Theatre – the first West End venue named after a non-royal woman.
Dame Gillian Lynne enjoyed a long and illustrious career. Chosen as a teenager by Dame Ninette de Valois to join Sadler’s Wells Ballet during the Second World War, she was quickly promoted to Leading Soloist and spent eight years in the company. She then moved to the London Palladium as their star dancer while acting and dancing in films with Errol Flynn, Arthur Askey and Anthony Newley. Gillian was instrumental in the development of jazz dance in Britain and her distinctive style – a fusion of classical and jazz – led to her groundbreaking work on the world famous CATS. In 1981 Dame Gillian took on Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical which ran for almost 9,000 performances in London. She also worked on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking hit Phantom of the Opera for which she provided the musical staging and choreography – one of more than 60 Broadway and West End shows she has helped mastermind.
Gillian Lynne’s television direction and choreography won her the Best Arts Programme BAFTA, while she received the RAD’s Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award for services to Ballet and she has been given the freedom of the city of Vienna for her production of CATS, the first proscenium version. She was made a Dame in 2014 for her services to Dance and Musical Theatre.
Group photo shows Dame Gillian with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and dancers from CATS at the renaming of the New London Theatre in June 2018. Photo: Craig Sugden