Date of Birth: April 26 1977, Northampton, UK
Birth Name: Jonathan Byrne Ollivier
Nicknames: Jonathan Ollivier
Jonathan Ollivier, the dancer, was an internationally acclaimed star in British companies, particularly the choreographer Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Northern Ballet.
With his vulpine good looks and rangy body, Ollivier could inject an ambiguous mystery into leading roles in contemporary ballet stories, such as Bourne’s male Swan in his celebrated Swan Lake rewrite, in which the Wall Street Journal’s critic considered that he had even more forceful charisma in 2010 than the role’s originator in 1995, Adam Cooper of the Royal Ballet.
Jonathan Ollivier had built up a rack of stage roles such as Stanley Kowalski, Dracula, Heathcliff and Romeo in productions at Northern Ballet, Leeds, where for seven years he was a major attraction as principal dancer, able to cut an appealingly romantic figure in a variety of costume roles.
Even though few of the ballets were highly rated by critics, Ollivier’s distinction as a performer was consistently given critical recognition and was twice nominated in the National Dance Awards as Best Male Dancer in 2003 and 2004.
Despite the success of his youth, it was in his thirties, and after he decided to become freelance, that Ollivier achieved a more complex and interesting artistic profile. This arrived mainly through his performing of three subtle character creations by Matthew Bourne, in which the mature Ollivier found a new dramatic range.
As the mysterious, dangerous male Swan in Bourne’s modern Swan Lake, as the amoral 1960s London “babe-magnet” Speight in Play Without Words, and this summer as the devilish mechanic in The Car Man, Ollivier deployed a memorable unpredictability and virile presence.
It was his ability as a dance-actor to fuse edgy vulnerability with fatal attractiveness that led to his being given the prestige of leading the last performance of The Car Man’s run, tragically prevented on Sunday.
Jonathan Byrne Ollivier was born in Northampton on April 26 1977. His father, a builder, left when Jonathan was two, and his mother brought him up on her own with his three sisters. Having an Irish grandfather, he had taken up Irish dancing young, but after being shouted at by his teacher changed to ballet aged six.
He asked his mother to let him stay to watch two of his sisters as they took ballet and tap classes, rather than go with her to the shops, recalling later: “I made up my mind from a very young age that it was exactly what I wanted to do.” He dealt with bullies at school by taking up karate and progressed to a black belt.
At 16 Ollivier considered himself fortunate to have failed the Royal Ballet School audition, since full-time training at the Rambert Ballet School opened up a range of possibilities in both ballet and contemporary dance that he would exploit later. Aged 19, he got his first job in South Africa with Cape Town City Ballet, where he met his future wife, the South African dancer Desiré Samaai.
Three years later he returned to Britain to join Northern Ballet Theatre, Leeds, where Desiré Samaai, whom he had married, joined him. Ollivier soon originated the role of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire by the contemporary choreographer Didy Veldman and the main part in Michael Pink’s Dracula. He then attracted fans by dancing the more classical Romeo and Tybalt in Massimo Moricone’s Romeo and Juliet, he said he preferred playing the bad Tybalt to the good Romeo.
While in Leeds, Ollivier was a dancer of notable strength, though not always in works worthy of him. He proved his versatility by the range of the leading roles created for him: in Birgit Scherzer’s Requiem, Moricone’s Jekyll and Hyde, and in many by Northern Ballet Theatre’s choreographer-director David Nixon including Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream .
In 2005 Ollivier and his wife starred together in Veronica Paeper’s dance version of La Traviata.
Ollivier left in 2007 for the more classical atmosphere of Canada’s Alberta Ballet, but returned to Britain as a freelance in his thirties, with signal success. Soon after his first son was born, he caught attention in three highly varied roles, with Michael Clark in his New Work 2012, and in Britain’s first tour of the musical Dirty Dancing, in which he starred.
He was then hired by Bourne for his innovative Play Without Words, a dance production based on Joseph Losey’s film The Servant, in which Ollivier’s Speight was considered by one critic to be “as explosive as Elvis”.
After this, he took over the leading role in Bourne’s Swan Lake, hailed as exceptional in New York on the company’s 2010 tour, and then to The Car Man this summer.
Always an eloquent advocate for ballet for boys, in 2006 Ollivier was presented with an honorary fellowship from the University of Northampton. “I don’t think people understand how athletic dance is,” he said. “It’s actually very close to training for martial arts .”