Since 1982 the 29th of April has been celebrated as International Dance Day. It was on this day in 1727 that Jean-Georges Noverre was born in Paris. He went on to be a pioneering ballet master at the Opéra Comique. He was the choreographer of over 100 ballets although they have all been lost; the technique for recording dance steps had not then been devised. It was he who developed the ballet into an art form; previously in had just been a showcase for feats of acrobatic agility. It was contrary to their father’s wishes that Jean-Georges and his brother went in the world of dance. He would much rather they had followed him into the army.

Though Jean-Georges is the most famous member of this dancing family, it is his younger brother Augustine who I wish to base this blog on. The two brothers came to England in 1755, but it was while performing a series of engagements in the London theatres that war broke out between England and France. During a fracas on stage Augustin drew his sword to defend himself. Thinking he had killed his assailant he fled to Norwich, where the Huguenot community made the Frenchman feel at home.

It was in this way that the association between the Norwich and the Noverre family began. While Jean-Georges returned to France Augustin settled in Norwich. He set up a School of Dance at the Assembly House in Norwich. His son continued as a dancing master but also became one of the first directors of the Norwich Union Insurance Society. Augustin’s daughter Jane Louisa married into the family that owned the Norwich Mercury newspaper. itself one of the first provincial newspapers in the land.



The Noverre bloodline has permeated down the generations of this Norfolk family. When I arrived at Gresham’s, Norfolk’s own public school, one of the first masters I met was Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, my geography teacher. Although I did not know it at the time he was a great-great- great grandson of Augustin Noverre. Indeed I wonder if he was even aware of the distant connection. Although he was a man of distinguished abilities, especially as a naturalist, I would not put dancing down as one.

Although the Noverre name has now died out in Norwich many of his descenants still live about the county. The Noverre Theatre, a cinema in Nowich, lasted until the last years of the 20th century. The name persists as that of a Gallery and Shop at the Assembly House.




One response

  1. Dick Bagnall-Oakley was an inspirational teacher who knew everything about ornithology and photography. He once gave me a light meter, which was pretty generous, even if it was an old one. But one pupil who got up his nose was James Dyson, who always mucked around in lessons and made smart-arse comments. Their mutual rudeness provided much amusement for the whole class.


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