Canberra dance pioneer dies at 80

Bryan Lawrence in “Les Sylphides”. The Australian Ballet, 1964. Photo by Walter Stringer

CANBERRA dance lovers have been saddened to learn that ballet dancer, dance director, pianist and composer Bryan Lawrence died yesterday in Katoomba, NSW aged 80.

Lawrence became best known in the ACT for having, together with his first wife, fellow Australian Ballet principal Janet Karin, founded the Bryan Lawrence School of Ballet, later the National Capital Ballet School, in Dickson.

The Bryan Lawrence Performing Group, later renamed the National Capital Dancers, performed their first classical piece to Canberra audiences in 1970, and their first full-length ballet, “Giselle”, in 1974.

Dance specialist Michelle Potter has written that he was Brian Lawrence Palethorpe in Birmingham, England, and went on to train at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School from the age of 13. At the age of 17 he performed walk-on parts with the Sadler’s Wells Opera and Ballet, joined Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet in 1954 and was promoted to soloist in 1955.

Following a period of national service he joined the Royal Ballet in 1959 and became a soloist in 1961. In 1964 he was invited by Peggy van Praagh to join the Australian Ballet as a principal.

Potter says he never legally changed his name but used “Bryan Lawrence” throughout his professional career.

While with the Australian Ballet, Lawrence partnered all the leading dancers in the company, including Elaine Fifield, Marilyn Jones and Kathleen Gorham. He toured with the company on their early overseas engagements. He is especially remembered for his role in “The Display”, choreographed by Robert Helpmann.

He resigned from the Australian Ballet at the end of 1967, and in 1968 co-founded the Bryan Lawrence School of Ballet in Canberra, where he helped trained many fine artists, including Ross Stretton (later the director of the Australian Ballet), Joanne Michel and Adam Marchant.

He left Canberra for Sydney in 1986, taught for a while at the McDonald College, remarried, and then lived towards the end of his life in Victoria Falls in the Blue Mountains. An accomplished pianist, he enjoyed composing original, short works for piano.

Lawrence is survived by his first wife, Janet Karin, with whom he had two children, a son Nicholas and a daughter Isobel (deceased).

Brian Lawrence Palethorpe: born September 4, 1936, Birmingham, England; died Katoomba, NSW, July 8, 2017. Further information about his career may be found at




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