Choreographer Gillian Lynne passed away July 1, 2018, at the age of 92, according to her husband Peter Land, who tweeted the news from her account.
Born Gillian Barbara Pyrke in Bromley, Kent, February 20, 1926, the British Lynne began her career as a ballerina. She joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet, now known today as the Royal Ballet, during World War II. At just 20 years old, she earned her first major solo on the company’s presentation of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House.
In the ballet world, she became renowned for her performances as the Black Queen in Checkmate and Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, roles created specifically for Lynne. Her earliest choreographer credit was in 1963 for a work called Collages. From then on she continued to choreograph and direct for the ballet—including works like A Simple Man, Lipizzaner, and The Brontes for Northern Ballet, Journey for Bolshoie Ballet, and Fool on the Hill for Australian Ballet—and later the stage.
She made her Broadway debut choreographing the musical comedy The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd in 1965 and Pickwick later that year. In 1967, she choreographed How Now, Dow Jones for Broadway, as well. But it was in 1981 with the production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats that Lynne broke through as one of the definitive choreographers of the musical theatre canon. Helping humans to inhabit the lives of cats based on T.S. Eliot poetry, Lynne earned her first Tony nomination. Her dance introduced a new movement vocabulary and is considered a milestone achievement. She earned the 1981 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Musicals for Cats in London.
She collaborated again with Lloyd Webber for The Phantom of the Opera, which is currently in its 30th year on Broadway. She earned a Drama Desk nomination and her second Tony nomination for her work on the longest-running musical on Broadway. She also choreographed Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love, which bowed on the Main Stem in 1990. Her last original choreography credit on Broadway was with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2005.
Lynne directed over 60 productions in the West End and on Broadway. She worked on 11 films—from the 1967 Half a Sixpence to the 2004 screen adaptation of Phantom—and over one hundred television productions—including numerous episodes of the beloved The Muppet Show. The choreographer even met her husband while co-directing a production of My Fair Lady in 1978.
Her autobiography A Dancer in Wartime and her DVD Longevity Through Exercise stand as a testament to her impact on dance and its influence on her long life.
She received the Silver Order of Merit, Golden Rose of Montreux Award, BAFTA, Molière Award and The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award by the Royal Academy of Dance in 2001. A recipient of the Special Lifetime Achievement Olivier Award in 2013, Lynne was also named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997 and then Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2014.
Earlier this year, The New London Theatre was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre in her honor. Lynne is survived by her husband, actor Peter Land.