Gambling | The Smart Money

Fancy footwork

Grace, fragility and power are just some of the qualities horse racing and dance share – and that have long fascinated spectators, owners and artists.

February 27 2011
Jamie Reid

Rambert Dance Company (once known as Ballet Rambert), the inspirational modern dance troupe founded by Dame Marie Rambert in 1926, is moving to new purpose-built headquarters on London’s South Bank. Marie Rambert’s ideas about dance and choreography were heavily influenced by her formative years at the Ballets Russes and in 1912-13 she worked on the first production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Rambert’s new building on Upper Ground, a pirouette away from the National Theatre, will also provide a home for the company’s fascinating archive, dating back 85 years. Along with £17m of Arts Council of England funding, there are contributions from private organisations and individuals. The company has devised a fundraising scheme entitled “Name A Year”, which enables donors to name a year of Rambert’s history for a gift of £5,000 or more, and in return the contributors’ names will be acknowledged on a double-height wall running between the entrance to the foyer and the archives below.

You could choose 1926, when Frederick Ashton choreographed A Tragedy of Fashion and the company was born. Or 1948, when the young Audrey Hepburn studied with Rambert in London before embarking on her career as an actress. Or 2006, when top designer Roland Mouret provided original costumes for the company’s 80th-anniversary show.

It’s not fanciful to say that a few sophisticated high-rolling racehorse owners might like to contribute. The power of modern dance to exhilarate is not dissimilar to the beauty and spectacle of great thoroughbred racing. Indeed, there are intriguing connections. Edgar Degas, for example, was famous not only for painting ballet dancers but also for his sensitive sketches of racehorses. In both milieux, he was engrossed by the beautiful, if fragile, legs, the grace and concentration of the protagonists and their latent power.

Almost 100 years after Degas, some notable owners went so far as to name their horses after the legends of dance. The American mining plutocrat Charlie “Goldfinger” Engelhard gave the name Nijinsky to a perfect bay colt sired by the great stallion Northern Dancer. The horse was trained in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Lester Piggott and, in 1970, he achieved Turf immortality by winning the Triple Crown, the classic hat-trick of the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger.

Never was a racehorse better named; the equine Nijinsky was agile, athletic and highly strung. He was also thrillingly fast. Like his father, he went on to become a mighty stallion, and many sons and grandsons of Nijinsky and Northern Dancer were given evocative names. Nureyev was owned by Stavros Niarchos, while the sprinter Stravinsky and the champion sire Sadler’s Wells both sported the colours of Coolmore Stud.

Recital, a great-grandson of Northern Dancer and trained, like Nijinsky, at Ballydoyle, was one of the most eye-catching juveniles to race in Europe last season. At 16-1 with the Tote, he’s worth an ante-post bet for this summer’s Investec Derby at Epsom Downs. If he wins, you could name a year at Rambert Dance Company – or at least make a contribution to the new theatre with the profits.