THE JOY OF DANCE
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, where his parents, Peter and Dorothy Litchfield ran a pub.
Whilst at Auckland Grammar School he discovered a love of ballet. Consequently, Donald also attended a dance school at the same time.
At the age of 19 he won a scholarship at the Royal Ballet School in London, and so he came to England.
At home in New Zealand he had met with no prejudice at all. All his school friends were impressed by his dance exam scores. But in England it was different. Nobody could believe a New Zealand male would take up ballet.
In an interview, Donald said, “Its odd, some people are saying, that New Zealand – the home of the All Blacks, can produce male ballet dancers…People are beginning to understand that a ballet dance requires as much physical strength as an athlete.”
He had only just begun his studies at the Royal Ballet School when Dame Ninette de Valois asked him to join Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet – an offer he could not refuse.
There he trained under leading choreographers such as Frederick Ashton and John Cranco.
Next, Donald joined the Festival Ballet (now called the English National Ballet). There he rose to become a soloist. He toured around the world with them.
Whilst on tour, he fell in love with another dancer, Phyllida Porter. She had trained under Anna Ivanova and had worked for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Glyndeborne Opera and for Alicia Alonso’s Ballet Company in Cuba, before joining the Festival Ballet.
They married and had two children, Fiona and Louisa.
Donald then joined the Harlequin Ballet based in Chelsea. This enabled them to bring up two small children in a stable environment but also it gave him the opportunity to develop his choreography skills – something he was keen to work at. He was there for 6 years. During this period, he also studied Modern Dance.
In 1970, he joined the English National Opera as a lead dancer and actor, often performing at the London Coliseum. He was often on television and regularly appeared in the West End.
Donald was still able to dance, but Phyllida, bringing up the children, was not. So, in 1972, the couple decided to set up their own dance school.
The McAlpine Dance School was based in Stockwell, moving to Camberwell in 1993.
Both Donald and Phyllida were outstanding teachers, full of life and enthusiasm. To them it was not just about acquiring the technical skills but a love and appreciation for music and expression. Thousands of young people passed through their school, some going on to be professional dancers. There have been many testimonials such as this one.
“My girls have gone to McAlpine Dance since they were tiny and are growing into wonderful dancers. It shows in everything they do – the balance, poise and grace they have learned is there for all to see, every day. They have absolutely loved being in the biennial ‘big show’. They will never forget the excitement of their first proper theatrical performances.”
The couple so loved their dance school that Donald quickly gave up his other projects. To him the highlight of the year was the school’s biennial show, where he joined his young dancers on stage. The last time he did this he was 91.
And he remained incredibly fit. Photographer Steve Reeves recently joined him on his daily walk on Clapham Common and couldn’t keep up as they went up a hill. “He walked without a stick and his posture put mine to shame. It was hard to believe he was 91 and I wondered if it wasn’t too late for me to take up ballet.”
The McAlpine Dance School continues without him, and Phyllida survives him. She still teaches there, but it is run by their daughter Louisa. It has classes for everybody, from beginners to professionals, from young children to retired adults (Silver Swans).
“McAlpine is a wonderful, life-enhancing dance school with room for everybody”.
Donald made a lot of people very happy.
To see Donald and Phyllida dancing, see this You Tube clip.
RIP – Royalballet Involving Phyllida