A tribute to Philip Chatfield: 1927 - 2021

Queensland Ballet was saddened to learn of the passing of British dancer Philip Chatfield last month, aged 93, on the Gold Coast. Philip pursued a flourishing career with The Royal Ballet during the 1940s and 1950s, rising to the rank of Principal.

When Queensland Ballet’s founder, Charles Lisner OBE, was dancing with Sadler’s Wells (now The Royal Ballet), he shared a dressing room with Philip and John Cranko, and fondly remembered the fun and laughter the three young dancers shared. It was during this time that Charles became good friends with Philip and his wife, fellow Royal Ballet Principal Rowena Jackson. This friendship remained through the ensuing decades with Charles’s widow, Valerie Lisner, after Philip and Rowena settled on Queensland’s Gold Coast where they coached aspiring dancers for many years.

Frequently partnered in principal roles, Philip and Rowena thrilled Australian audiences as Albrecht and Giselle (Giselle) on The Royal Ballet’s 1958 tour. Following retirement from the stage, they relocated to New Zealand (Rowena’s home country), where they made a legacy contribution to ballet throughout the 1960s and 1970s, first as directors of the New Zealand School of Ballet and subsequently as Artistic Director and Associate Director of the (now Royal) New Zealand Ballet from 1975-78.

Former QB Principal Artist, Rachael Walsh, first met Philip and Rowena when preparing for François Klaus’s Fonteyn Remembered, produced in collaboration with Des Power (2010). “Philip and Rowena generously shared their memories of working alongside Margot Fonteyn – it was a great help to me and my colleagues Carol Burns, Bille Brown and Eugene Gilfedder as we prepared for our respective roles in the production. Philip was a lovely man with so many stories and a wicked sense of humour!” Rachael recalls.

A warm connection was established, and in 2014, Philip and Rowena attended QB’s production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, to witness Rachael’s final performance before retiring from the stage. They were both very impressed with the Company’s production of an iconic work in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire.

We extend our sincere condolences to Rowena and family as we reflect on how Philip’s life was distinguished by artistry, dedication, kindness and good humour. His contribution has deeply enriched our art form and nurtured many artists.

A tribute to Philip Chatfield: 1927 - 2021

Philip Chatfield as Franz and Rowena Jackson as Swanilda in Coppélia. The Royal Ballet, Melbourne 1958. 

Photos: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia, Walter Stringer Collection, Album 994