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As the Glove-Seller in Massine’s Gaîeté Parisienne. 1950.

Mona INGLESBY (1918-2006) Part I

November 2018

(b.London 3 May 1918;d.Bexhill-on-Sea, 6 October 2006)

Ballerina, founder and director of The International Ballet, and choreographer.

In the centenary year of her birth we celebrate this truly remarkable woman who holds a very special place in the history of ballet in Britain. In May 1941, and in severe war time conditions, her International Ballet Company gave its first season and began touring the theatres of Britain to give many thousands of people who had not had the opportunity of seeing ballet before the chance to see the great Russian classics and many other shorter ballets.  This touring continued until December 1953 when her company finally disbanded. At no time did they receive any subsidies whatever and always existed on what could be made at the box office.

In her memoir she writes “My very early years of study and experience served to develop me to a pitch where I was able, at the age of twenty-one, to take on the responsibility of heading a large ballet organisation.  It was a demanding task, requiring resilience and fortitude, and I have expressed my gratitude all along to the multitude of professional friends who had faith in me, and helped me so much in every way.

How did all this come about ?
She was born Mona Vredenburg, the fourth child of a Dutch entrepreneur, Julius Cato Vredenburg, and his wife Annie, who had settled in London before their children were born. Mona later danced under her maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Inglesby.

Growing up she loved swimming, sailing and skating and was taught drawing and painting by Violet Garrard.  She loved reading Kipling and Robert Graves and her favourite poet was Rupert Brooke.  The school she attended was Dunluce in South Kensington where she received elocution lessons  from Mrs Patrick Campbell.  Her capacity for hard work and dedication to whatever she attempted from the time she was seven was most unusual. By the age of twelve she was already talented enough in three different spheres to be able to choose any one of them as a possible future career.  She had won prizes for riding in the children’s classes at the National Pony Show and Olympia in 1928, had studied the piano with eminent teachers and had been to dancing classes since she was four.  She had always loved music and her mother had taken her to classical concerts at the Queen’s and Royal Albert Halls for years, so she was familiar with many of the great musicians and singers of the day. Concerts she attended by Pachmann, Kreisler and Tetrazzini made a lasting impression on her as did the visits she made with her father to the Old Vic on Saturday afternoons to see Shakespeare.

She was fortunate to be studying piano with the concert pianist Betty Humby (who later married Sir Thomas Beecham) and once a month had a lesson with the great teacher Tobias Matthay. She was encouraged to appear in the students’ concerts and played first at the Conway Hall and later at Wigmore Hall.  At one of these she played a movement from a Mozart concerto accompanied by Betty Humby.  “The sound and feel of two pianos in harmony was tremendously exciting, and it came as a compensation for the extreme nervousness I always experience at these concerts.  The senior student at that event was Eileen Joyce, who made the most wonderful expression. … The grounding I received in musicianship was a very important factor in my dancing career, as it produced an ingrained feeling for music, always with me in my work.  It helped me greatly when selecting music for new ballets in the company repertoire.”

It was at this point in her life that she made the decision to devote her life to ballet.  She writes “When I was twelve years old there was very little ballet to be found in England, so I was most fortunate in being taken on at that early age by Madame Marie Rambert, at her school in Notting Hill Gate.  They were formative years, and I owed her a great deal for my development.”

(Continued in Part II – February 2019)

Principal dancers and soloists of International Ballet.

The photographs taken for International Ballet are from Mona Inglesby’s Collection and reproduced with the kind collaboration of her son, Peter Baxter-Derrington.

All the quotes by Mona Inglesby have been taken from her memoir published in the book International Ballet – Ballet in the Blitz – The history of a Ballet Company by Mona Inglesby with Kay Hunter, London, 2008.