March 26, 2022Russell Kerr

On Wednesday 23 March we received the sad news that celebrated ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer Russell Kerr died in Christchurch at the age of 92 after a life devoted to ballet and the arts.

Born in Auckland in 1930, Russell Kerr was given a government grant in 1950 that allowed him to travel to Europe. He returned to New Zealand in the late 1950s and worked as director of the following companies where he passed on his wealth of knowledge:

·         Nettleton-Edwards-Kerr School of Ballet from 1959 to 1961

·         New Zealand Ballet from 1962 to 1969

·         New Zealand Dance Centre from 1969 to 1977

·         Southern Ballet Theatre from 1978 to 1990.

As Southern Ballet’s Artistic Director and Director of the Senior Company from 1978 until he retired in 1990 we remember Russell Kerr for his valuable contribution to the early years of Southern Ballet. Many of our staff were tutored and mentored by Russell during this time and he is very fondly remembered:

"I was asked this morning what made Russell special to me. The answer came quickly.  His kindness and his humour amongst his extraordinary talent. I spent two years at the beginning of my career and six months 25 years later at the end of my performing career, all of which I cherished. I always admired the ease that seemed to come when he was in the studio, his innate ability to hear and interpret music always astounded me and as a choreographer I found myself trying to emulate his style.  He is forever remembered as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend."
Glen Harris

"Russell was an incredibly inspiring teacher whom shaped my dance journey"
Brigitte Brocherie

Rehearsing at Southern Ballet in 1982


From Southern Ballets programme archives:

5th Birthday Gala Season: ‘Concerto’, La Boutique Fantasque’ Ballesque’

The most experienced ballet producer and prolific choreographer in New Zealand Russell Kerr has put all his energies and drive into assisting the development of ballet in this country since his return in 1957. He studied with many of the finest teachers in Europe, appeared with Jose Greco Spanish Company, the Sadlers Wells Ballet (now Royal Ballet), Ballet Rambert, B.B.C. Television and as a soloist dancer with London’s Festival Ballet toured throughout Europe, Canada, the United States of America, and Israel. He Married June Greenhalgh who was also a dancer with Festival Ballet and when they arrived in New Zealand they produced seasons for the Auckland Ballet Theatre, co-produced with Poul Gnatt, Rowena Jackson, and Philip Chatfield the seasons which led to the formation of the New Zealand Ballet Trust and in 1963 Russell Kerr was appointed Artistic Director of New Zealand Ballet. In addition to producing many of the classics and creating new works Russell Kerr was responsible for the first ‘Project to Schools’ programme in this country. In 1974 he took the New Zealand Dance Company to Fiji, the first New Zealand Company to present programmes of classical ballet outside of this country and first ever to be seen in Fiji. Russell Kerr accepted the position of Artistic Director of the Southern Ballet at the beginning of last year (1978) and the success of his first production ‘The Snow Queen’ was hailed as a triumph for regional ballet.

Friend Jennifer Shennan in the article on Stuff on Wednesday, 23 March 2022 said:
"He took such a joy in life."
"He was a candle you could not blow out."

His life of devotion to the arts was recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to ballet in 1986 and his appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2000.

Here is a link to a fabulous tribute to Russell Kerr commissioned by Tempo.

Southern Ballet Theatre express our deepest sympathy to family and friends of Russell Kerr and to the dance and arts community for the loss of such an accomplished dancer, teacher, mentor and choreographer.