THE YORKSHIRE BALLERINA
Patricia was born in Leeds, the oldest child of Joan Castell and Robert Ruane, who hailed from County Mayo. She had a brother called Paul, who was 9 years younger than her.
She started dancing lessons aged just 4, being sent along with her older cousins. Her dance teacher, Louise Browne, who came from York, recognised Patricia’s talent and recommended her to the Royal Ballet School.
She went there aged 13, just one of two students accepted that year. Patricia graduated to the Royal Ballet aged just 17.
For her stage name, Patricia added another ‘n’ to her surname.
Her first lead, aged just 18, was as ‘The Girl’ in Kenneth MacMillan’s ‘The Invitation’. Shortly afterwards, ‘Giselle’ became her first classic ballet lead role.
She was known for being a quick learner and extremely athletic and was often, “thrown in at the deep end.”
She was made Principal Ballerina by the age of 24, working with the Royal Ballet Touring Company. They specialised in modern ballet and toured throughout Europe as well as visiting Australia and the USA. Her particular favourite was dancing in the north of England – performing for ‘her people’.
In 1972, Patricia married Richard Farley, a former ballet dancer who had become a photographer.
The following year, Patricia made the shock decision to leave the Royal Ballet and join the London Festival Ballet. The reason was she wanted to work with its director Dame Beryl Grey and also so that she could dance more classical ballets. She later said that leaving the Royal Ballet after 12 years was, “like leaving Mum and Dad.”
Grey noted she had never known a dancer so capable at transferring between classical and modern dancing.
Patricia’s male dancing partner, Paul Clarke, moved with her.
Her first role with the Festival Ballet was as Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. She was to become a very close friend of Nureyev’s.
She went on to create many leading roles. These included ‘The Siren’ in Barry Moreland’s ‘The Prodigal Son in Ragtime’, where she morphed into different women such as Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich; the lead role in ‘The Lady in Red’ and also in Ronald Hynd’s ‘The Sanguine Fan’.
She also starred in the premier of Hynd’s ‘Rosalinda’.
In 1976, Patricia had a terrible shock. Her dancing partner, Paul Clarke, died aged 28 after an allergic reaction to dental anaesthetic. She considered quitting dancing.
Around the same time, Patricia and her husband got divorced.
In 1977, she worked closely with Nureyev on a special performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to celebrate Queen Elizabeth 2nd’s’ Silver Jubilee. They spent 12 hours a day in rehearsals, followed by a 5-week run.
The third main character, Tibault, was played by a young dancer, Frederic Jahn.
Her performance won critical acclaim. “Patricia Ruanne acted Juliet with a genuine power, as a strong positive girl for whom luck runs out, and tackled the difficult dancing without faltering.”
It was always considered her greatest ever performance.
She said, “It was a shattering experience but there was no time to forget what went wrong the night before – the opportunity for development was fantastic.”
In 1980, she danced in the film ‘Nijinsky’ directed by Herbert Ross.
The following year, Patricia was the guest on Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’. She chose Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ballet suite as her favourite piece of music. ‘Lord of the Rings’ was selected as her favourite book and a pair of sunglasses was her luxury item.
She announced she was going to retire in 1983. Just as she was about to step down, the ballet ‘Onegin’ by John Cranko, was bought to the London Festival Ballet by the Stuttgart Ballet Director, Marcia Haydee. It had never been performed by a British company (and indeed did not enter the Royal Ballet’s repertoire until 2001).
Patricia was persuaded to take the lead female role, ‘Tatiana’ alongside Frederic Jahn (known as ‘Ric’). Director Haydee had herself danced Tatiana in the very first performance of ‘Onegin’.
Patricia’s performance was so outstanding that she was nominated for the Lawrence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
Then she danced alongside Jahn in the ballet ‘Nutcracker’. It was choreographed by her old friend Ronald Hynd, who was a notorious taskmaster. At one point, Hynd shouted at Patricia, “Right, take Ric’s hand.” She did – but moving onto other directions, Hynd forgot about them. They stood there, hand in hand, for an hour. Thus, romance blossomed.
Patricia married Ric soon afterwards. Hynd always called himself ‘The Matchmaker’.
After this performance, Patricia took on the role of Ballet Mistress (‘Maitre de Ballet’) at the London Festival Ballet. She had already realised she had a particular talent for teaching. “I was always interested in working with dancers. I used to coach at the Festival Ballet in the later years when I was still performing, and I loved it…It’s such a wonderful feeling seeing people understand and develop…”
She was known as being very disciplined and a perfectionist, but also as kind and generous.
Patricia did her very last performance in ‘La Sylphide’ in 1985.
Then, she was headhunted by the Paris Opera Ballet, at the specific request of Rudolf Nureyev, who had just been appointed Director there. He said to her, “Just come and just shut up and just do it” – a great sales pitch!
Together, they revitalised the company.
Nureyev died of AIDS in 1993. Patricia took over his role whilst he was ill and dying. She worked in Paris for three more years before retiring.
Then she and her husband Ric dedicated themselves to maintaining Nureyev’s legacy by putting on his ballets around the world. She also became a private ballet tutor.
She insisted on coming back to her home county in the 1990s to run the ‘Yorkshire Ballet Seminars’ at Ilkley College. She bought a home in Yorkshire.
She was persuaded out of retirement to become Acting Director at La Scala in Milan between 1999 and 2000. After leaving the role, she kept a second home in Milan.
In 2012, Patricia and Ric put on a Caribbean version of ‘Giselle’, performed with semi-professional dance troupe ‘Metamorphosis’ (who are based in Trinidad and Tobago), and with a full steel orchestra.
Patricia died in Rome after a long illness. She is survived by her husband Ric.
Jane Haworth, who danced alongside Patricia said, “She was one of the most divine, intelligent, artists. I feel so lucky to have been able to watch so many of her shows whilst in the corps de ballet, and be impressed whilst sharing the stage.”
Choreographer Ronald Hynd said of Patricia, “Elegance, beauty, sophistication, intelligence, musicality and a fine technique were the wonderful qualities which made Pat an outstanding ballerina…a supreme artist.”
RIP – Rudolf’s Incredible Partner