Thelma Litster - Founder of Chelsea Ballet

Thelma Litster - Founder of Chelsea Ballet
Thelma was born in the South of France and brought up on the West coast of Scotland. She started to dance at the age of seven, learning ballet, tap, acrobatics and stagecraft. By the age of 11 she had passed her RAD Intermediate and at the age of 12 was accepted to Sadler’s Wells School (now the Royal Ballet School).

At 15, Thelma became a student at the Rambert School and during her first year danced several times with the company. In 1951, she made her television debut and also performed at the Old Vic for charity midnight matinees.

Thelma joined Ballet Rambert when she was 16 and performed with the company for the next ten years. During this time she toured widely throughout the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands. She toured Lebanon as well as many countries in Europe and America and was one the first western dancers to visit China after the Second World War. She took part in a Royal Command Performance at the Middle Temple Hall in the presence of the Queen Mother.

Thelma Litster

Amongst the teachers that influenced Thelma’s career were Tamara Karsavina, Lydia Kyasht, George Goncharov, Winifred Edwards and Kathleen Croften.

Thelma danced many roles including the Waltz and Prelude from Les Sylphides, leading Wili from Giselle, Polka from Facade, Lucille Grahn from Pas de Déesses, Cat from Peter and the Wolf and M’as tu Vue from Czeryana to name just a few.

After retiring as a professional dancer, Thelma was a guest teacher and speaker for a number of ballet schools and clubs throughout the country. She was a founder member of the Children’s Ballet Theatre, performing for schoolchildren and Sunday performances at the Purcell Rooms. For 15 years she was on the teaching staff of the Harlow Ballet Association (HBA) teaching classics such as Coppélia, Giselle, Swan Lake and Les Sylphides.

In 1997, Thelma underwent surgery for breast cancer and had a heart valve repaired. Fortunately both operations were successful.

Thelma returned to Harlow as a guest teacher and over the next few years taught at the HBA summer and winter schools. She was invited to be HBA’s vice president, which she accepted. She produced Les Sylphides for them and assisted with productions of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. At her suggestion HBA used the Cecchetti version of Coppélia and she assisted with the production.

Thelma was married to Clive who passed away on 17th September 2000 at the age of 70. Thelma was determined that she would carry on with her life as Clive would wish but sadly, on the first anniversary of Clive’s death, Thelma was diagnosed with liver cancer. Thelma was strong and vowed to live her life to the full. She even produced Coppélia for HBA and travelled to Bermuda for a holiday just a few months before her death. In April 2002, tests confirmed that the cancer had returned and she passed away on Friday 24th May 2002.

A service of thanksgiving was held on Saturday 19th October 2002 at St Columba’s Church of Scotland, Pont Street, Knightsbridge, London. Over 100 people attended and Thelma was remembered with much love and joy.

HBA renamed the prize for the student who has made the most progress since the previous summer school as the Thelma and Clive Bousfield Memorial Trophy. HBA has stated that as long as it continues, her memory and example will not be forgotten and HBA and school are both delighted that her daughter, Louise Hudson, will continue to teach and choreograph in Harlow.

Louise has vowed that Chelsea Ballet will continue to perform and carry on the work that Thelma started. The December 2002 performances of The Sleeping Beauty were dedicated to her memory.

You can read more on Thelma on her facebook page

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