History of London Contemporary Dance School

London Contemporary Dance School has been the UK's leading institution for the training and education of dance artists for over 40 years.

Early days: 1954 - 68

In 1954, the Martha Graham Company performed in Britain for the first time. Hotelier and philanthropist Robin Howard was inspired by these performances to bring contemporary dance to Britain.

In 1966, Howard formed the Contemporary Dance Trust, with Lord Harewood, Sir John Gielgud, Henry Moore, Ninette de Valois, Marie Rambert and Martha Graham as patrons. The dancer, choreographer and teacher Robert Cohan was persuaded to join from the Graham Company to head up the venture, and the School opened its doors at a studio in Berners Place, London. Among the first students were Richard Alston, Robert North and Siobhan Davies.

The first decade: 1969 - 78

In 1969, the Contemporary Dance Trust moved into 17 Duke’s Road, London, which was christened “The Place”. The new premises provided more studio space, a small theatre, offices and a restaurant. Patricia Hutchinson Mackenzie was appointed the first Principal of London Contemporary Dance School, and joining the faculty were two more distinguished former colleagues of Martha Graham: Jane Dudley, who would serve as Head of Graham Studies, and Nina Fonaroff, Head of Choreography.

London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) was set up as the Trust’s professional touring company. The company was made up of dancers from the School, though other students were supported as they pursued different paths. Around the same time that LCDT made its debut at Sadler’s Wells in 1973, Richard Alston was presenting performances by the UK’s first ‘independent’ dance company, Strider, at The Place.

Thanks primarily to the sale of books and land owned by Robin Howard, the Trust was able to purchase the freehold of The Place in 1976. By 1978, the first major redevelopment of premises was completed, with the School moving into new studios at Flaxman Terrace.

Growing the School: 1979 - 88

Dr Richard Ralph was appointed Principal in 1979. He designed and developed the first University validated dance degree programmes in Europe. The first cohort studying for a BA (Hons) degree in Contemporary Dance, validated by the University of Kent, began their studies in 1982, and three dancers from LCDT – Charlotte Kirkpatrick, Anca Frankenhauser and Patrick Harding-Irmer – were among the first graduates in 1985.

The development of the School was helped by the long-service of several key members of staff.  Among them were administrator Janet ‘Mop’ Eager, Peter Connell, who joined as a ballet teacher in 1976 and would retire from the post of Assistant Director 28 years later, and Jenny Henry, who worked in the Costume Department from 1969–2011. HRH The Duke of York became Patron of The Place in 1988 and continues in that role to this day.

A decade of change: 1989 - 98

A few months after standing down as Chair of the Contemporary Dance Trust, Robin Howard died in June 1989. Developments that Howard had initiated continued in his memory, including the expansion of The Place’s theatre programme under the direction of John Ashford, with a strong strand of cutting-edge international work and platforms for a new, ground-breaking generation of British artists including Matthew Bourne, Shobana Jeyasingh, Lloyd Newson and Wayne McGregor.

The School created 4D, a postgraduate performance company which would tour nationally and internationally creating a new bridge between training and professional practice for dance artists.

Following a triumphant season at Sadler’s Wells for which the company won an Olivier Award, London Contemporary Dance Theatre closed in 1994. Richard Alston was appointed as the new Artistic Director of The Place, which would be home to a new dance company: Richard Alston Dance Company.

Veronica Lewis, whose pioneering work developing access to dance in Cheshire was being emulated nationwide, was appointed as the new Director of London Contemporary Dance School in 1998.

Building for the future: 1999 – 2008

A major redevelopment of The Place, refurbishing the historic Duke’s Road building and constructing eight new studios at Flaxman Terrace, began in 1999. The £7.5million project was completed in 2001, with a further two studios added in 2008.

As the first cohort of students began their courses in the new building, London Contemporary Dance School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) formed the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, a new higher education institution with Veronica Lewis as Joint Principal. This move enabled dance and drama students for the first time to receive funding for their study equivalent to students of other subjects.

The Conservatoire would subsequently expand to provide funding and support for eight affiliate specialist conservatoires, providing training in dance, drama and circus arts in London, Bristol and Leeds.

The School’s unique ties to the dance profession enabled it to offer students exceptional learning opportunities, including hosting residencies with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Siobhan Davies Dance and Akram Khan. The postgraduate company was re-launched as EDge and presented work by choreographers including Javier De Frutos, Frauke Requardt and Hofesh Shechter. A new undergraduate touring company, LC3, was launched in 2006 to give final-year students more performance experience.

New possibilities: 2009 -

The Place celebrated its 40th anniversary with a year-long programme of special events in 2009-10, among them a reunion for over 300 alumni. The 10th anniversary of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama was marked by a gala performance in 2011, one of an increasing number of projects where students from the eight conservatoire schools collaborate together.

Many of the School’s alumni now have leadership roles in dance companies and organisations, including at The Place. In addition to Artistic Director Richard Alston and Head of Postgraduate Studies Mary Evelyn, Vanessa Lefrançois (Director of Recreational and Prevocational Dance), Eddie Nixon (Director of Theatre and Artist Development), Isabel Tamen (Executive Director of Richard Alston Dance Company) and Kenneth Tharp (Chief Executive) are all former LCDS students.

The School supports the continuing professional development of its faculty members, whose research projects and independent practice maintain engagement with the profession and leading-edge expertise.

The School has taken steps in recent years to expand access and increase the diversity of its student body. It accepts roughly equal numbers of male and female students onto its programmes, and its students come from all parts of the UK, from across the EU and around the world. It maintains a proud commitment to selecting students solely on the basis of talent and potential, irrespective of background or financial circumstances.