He was there for a good time, not for a long time
- The Sadler's Wells Invitation
At eighteen David was making the move from Winnipeg to London; his application to study at Sadler's Wells had been accepted. He needed parental permission to travel in those days (he could be drafted, but not drink).
Membership hath its benfits
And David made the most of his membership at Sadler's Wells, if only as a student:
"My introduction to London theatre has started with Covent Garden," says David, "where as a student in the Sadler's Wells Ballet school I was allowed to watch performances for free. None of the other students seemed interested, but I went as often as they would allow.
"Endless performances of Sleeping Beauty, with Fonteyn, Shearer, Paltengi. I devoured it.
"Eventually the choreography of Ashton, Massine, Helpman.
"There were other companies performing in London. Ballet Rambert where I saw my first ever performance of Les Sylphides, and hated it. How I would eat my thoughts later on when I would dance in hundreds of performances of that ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and Festival Ballet of London.
"I would see the Original ballet Russe, with Riabouchinska,Jasinsky,Dokoudovsky, Lichine.
"The Grand Ballet Marquis de Cuevas company with, Hightower, Eglevsky, Tallchief, Skibine.
"Les Etoiles de la Danse with Colette Marchand, Serge Perrault, Renee Jeanmaire, Vladimir Skouratoff.
"The Ballet Champs Elysées from Paris, with Roland Petit, Jean Babilée, Natalie Phillapart, (nicknamed Fallapart) Zizi Jeanmaire and a young Leslie Caron, later to be featured in a film with Gene Kelly. This company offered a repertoire that was so different than what we were seeing in London. A Young Man and Death with Babilée left a lasting impression. I shall never see another Bluebird pas de deux to equal his. He was indeed the Nijinsky of the 40s, and then some.
"I would see and hear Vaughan Williams conduct his own London Symphony at Albert Hall.
"Annie Get your Gun with Paddy Stone - ex Winnipeg Ballet dancer, doing an Indian dance.
"I wanted to see and hear as much as I could.
- David's Sadler's Wells Academic Assessment
Gontcharov's assessment; the ballet is less significant to David in later years ("has talent and is a keen worker.") Today, he's more amused by the reference to "imaginative essays".
- David's first Equity Contract
The holy grail of performing arts: the first Equity contract. Costuming would be a problem, and he never would perform with Sadler's Wells, but he'd share a rehearsal hall with Margot Fonteyn, and he would learn his first Coppelia.
- David's first professional costume call
Like many Company communiques at the time, notice came via telgram. This one said what every male wants to hear: "David, you're too big." At 6 feet tall, David dwarfed his European counterparts, and costuming became a challenge.
- David's first resignation
David picked his moments; in this case, six months after his costume call and 15 months after his contract was signed. The opportunities at the Metropolitan Ballet would prove far more exciting.
David: “Ballet classes began at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet school with George Gontcharov, De Valois with the senior company at Covent Garden, Peggy Van Praag at the junior company at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre but opened up with some of the teachers that were available in post-was London.
“George Gontcharov taught me an important piece of stage craft. You finish your solo–you do not move-you stay- you look at the audience, you stay, you do not move-then, your smile gets bigger, and finally you get up and take a bow.
“I never forgot his instructions in that area, I used them throughout my long career, and it worked every time, no matter where I was dancing.”