Ballet world mourns the death of Paul de Masson, dancer, teacher, balletmaster

The West Australian-born dancer and ballet master, Paul de Masson has died, aged 57.

De Masson, who appeared in character roles with the Australian Ballet’s last year, died from cancer on January 12, 2012.

The Australian Ballet’s artistic director, David McAllister, said “Paul was one of the great dance actors, most recently returning to the stage as The Bonze in Madame Butterfly and Njegus in The Merry Widow with us last year.

“As a young dancer, I had the great fortune to be able to watch and learn from his masterful interpretation of Mercutio in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. He was extraordinary to watch on stage and was an inspiration to many of us”.

Initially trained by Kira Bousloff, de Masson first danced with the West Australian Ballet. He made his European debut with the Ballet de Marseille and later joined London Festival (now English National) Ballet where he became a soloist.

He joined The Australian Ballet in 1976 and was promoted to principal artist in 1980.

During this time he danced most of the major classical roles in the company’s repertoire.

At the end of 1988 he left the Australian Ballet for a freelance career, appearing with the West Australian and Queensland Ballets.

He later joined Norwegian National Ballet for five months as ballet master and guest artist. In 1991 Paul returned to The Australian Ballet as guest artist in Equus and Romeo and Juliet

Later that year he was principal dancer and ballet master with the Ballet of the Berne Municipal Theatre in Switzerland, where several ballets were created on him including the successful Don Juan.

He returned to The Australian Ballet in 1994 as ballet master, then joined the Royal Danish Ballet and later Hamburg Ballet in this capacity.

More recently de Masson was ballet master at Singapore Dance Theatre, and had been a guest teacher with the Norwegian National Ballet, Royal Finnish Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Goh Ballet Vancouver, The Hong Kong Ballet and The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.

Paul worked closely with Maina Gielgud when she was artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet and in 2008, he appeared with her in Sydney in Maurice Béjart’s The Exquisite Hour, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days.

He is survived by his wife, Sakura.