Royal Ballet, the principal British ballet company, based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. It is noted for lavish dramatic productions, a superbly disciplined corps de ballet, and brilliant performances from its principals. Granted a royal charter in 1956, the company was formed from the Sadler's Wells Ballet, which had its origins in the Academy of Choreographic Art, founded by Dame Ninette de Valois in 1926. Dancers from the academy achieved renown in the 1930s as the Vic-Wells Ballet, performing at the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theaters.
The company's principal ballerina was Dame Alicia Markova; when she left in 1935, Margot Fonteyn, who had made her debut that year at age 15, was trained to become prima ballerina, a rank she held until she became guest artist with the company in 1959. Many other celebrated dancers developed with the Royal Ballet, as well as such choreographers as Sir Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko, and Wayne McGregor.
The company toured during World War II, then settled in the Royal Opera House in 1946. De Valois directed the group for more than 35 years, retiring in 1963. She was succeeded by Ashton in 1964 and MacMillan in 1970. In 1986, Sir Anthony Dowell became the company's director. He was succeeded by Ross Stretton, the former director of the Australian Ballet and the first non-Briton in the post (2001–2), who in turn was succeeded by Monica Mason (2002–12), who began as a dancer in the company in 1958 and later served in many capacities. Kevin O'Hare, who joined the company as a dancer in 1984, became company director in 2012.
The Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet (after 1956, the Touring Company of the Royal Ballet) was founded in 1946 by de Valois after the Sadler's Wells Ballet moved to the Royal Opera House. Based at Sadler's Wells Theatre (1946–55, 1970–90) and the Royal Opera House (1955–70), it traveled widely abroad after 1949. Renamed the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1977, it moved to Birmingham as the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1990 and became independent of the Royal Opera House in 1997.
See study by A. Bland (1981).