Friday 15th June 2018 - It is with great sadness we share the news of the passing of our friend and colleague Errol Pickford (1966-2018)
Renowned as a Principal ballet dancer in the UK (The Royal Ballet) and Australia (Western Australian Ballet), and following his retirement from dance performance, an inspirational teacher and Head of Graduate Placement & International Links at Elmhurst Ballet School, Errol passed away on Wednesday 13 June 2018 after a very sudden and short illness.
Errol was born in Perth, Australia, and trained as a gymnast. After moving to England, he trained in ballet at the Hammond School, winning the Paul Clarke Memorial Scholarship and the Phyllis Bedells Award, and at the Royal Ballet School where he gained his Solo Seal and won the Adeline Genée Competition.
He danced with The Royal Ballet, becoming a celebrated Principal dancer, working with and creating roles in ballets by Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton and David Bintley, amongst others. Whilst there, he danced alongside Rudolf Nureyev at the Margot Fonteyn Gala, in a version of the Mandolin Dance from Romeo and Juliet, specially created for him by Kenneth MacMillan. He also won the first-ever Erik Bruhn Competition in Canada, and he created history when he was the first Western dancer to partner Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, on the stage at Covent Garden for the Armenia Gala, in a performance that was broadcast live on national television.
As a performer, Errol wowed audiences with his masculine presence, technical ability and fearless athleticism and during his professional dance career he received national and international critical acclaim, including:
‘A winner of the Erik Bruhn Prize, Pickford danced his solos with authority and, alone of the weekend Siegfrieds, added an optional sequence of entrechats (crisp, high, perfectly placed) to the Black Swan pas de deux…an ardent, considerate partner, he emphasized Siegfried's very human alienation from the realm of swans and sorcery: an effective, individual touch.’ (LA TIMES, 1991, for Swan Lake);
‘Errol Pickford, a rising talent with aptly springy entrechats in the 1948 Ashton-Stravinsky Scenes de Ballet.’ (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1991);
‘Technical virtuosity was left to Errol Pickford, who excelled in the pas de trois of Act I.’ (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1991, for Anthony Dowell’s Swan Lake)
‘There was fierce individuality as well among the new principals on Tuesday. Errol Pickford's classicism was stunningly pure and resilient.’ (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1994 for David Bintley’s Tombeaux);
Errol Pickford (with Deborah Bull) wonderful in arched leaps, were full of verve in the Bluebird Pas de Deux.’ THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1994 for The Sleeping Beauty);
And in 1995, The Independent said ‘Pickford's acting deserved an Oscar’ in Peter Wright’s Giselle.
Errol left The Royal Ballet in 1997 and became a Principal dancer with Western Australian Ballet. After retiring from dance performance, he passed his RAD Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma with distinction. He taught at the London Studio Centre, the Arts Educational School in Tring and Bird College, and on RAD Summer Schools and Yorkshire Ballet Seminars, as well as classes for the RAD Phyllis Bedells Competition and the Cecchetti Society’s Barbara Geoghegan Award. He was Ballet Master and School Director for K Ballet in Japan for four years and was a guest teacher with Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Rambert, Adventures in Motion Pictures and English National Ballet.
Errol joined Elmhurst Ballet School in 2008. He was charming, quick witted and generous of spirit and as a teacher he nurtured and inspired a generation of young dancers to excel and pursue their dreams. He was instrumental in creating the Outreach and Community work at the school and worked tirelessly to introduce the benefits of our art form to individuals who otherwise may not have been given the opportunity.
Errol will always be a hugely inspirational figure at the school and will be sorely missed by all the staff and students, past and present. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Olivia and daughter Polly, and his family and friends at this very sad time.
Jessica Wheeler and Robert Parker
Photograph: Errol Pickford. Photography by Tim Cross