Desmond Kelly partnered Margot Fonteyn, worked with George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton and two years ago brought ballet into the living rooms of the masses with the remarkable Ballet Hoo! project for Birmingham Royal Ballet.
It was no surprise then that a gala celebrating his career encompassed the many facets of a remarkably talented dancer, coach and mentor - or that he got a standing ovation from the audience and a rarely-presented Gold Medal from the governors of the Royal Ballet Companies for his contribution to dance.
Dancers, past and present, had flown in from the States and Europe to take part in the tribute and tickets - including a £200 a head VIP package with post-performance meal - were more or less sold out.
It was a tribute with tears, many amusing anecdotes and some top-class dancing. Every performance told a story from Kelly's five-decade career. Roberta Marquez and Ivan Putrov from The Royal Ballet recreated a Fonteyn-Kelly pas de deux from La Sylphide; Former BRB principals Tiit Helimets and Robert Parker performed Apollo and Prodigal Son, respectively, two of Kelly's acclaimed Balanchine roles; Rachel Rawlins and Matthew Lawrence danced the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince pas de deux from The Nutcracker, which Kelly staged for Australian Ballet last year.
BRB principals Ambra Vallo and Dominic Antonucci produced a stunningly vivacious Spring Waters pas de deux, which Kelly performed with Galina Samsova while with London Festival Ballet. Samsova told the audience that on learning the role Kelly admitted he had never done a particular lift before and the ballet master had demonstrated it - and fallen backwards into the orchestra pit whilst holding her in his arms.
Two of the stars were dashing Filip Barankiewicz of Stuttgart Ballet and Lesley Heylmann of Hamburg Ballet who pulled off the daringly athletic and immaculately-timed Petruchio and Katherina fight pas de deux from The Taming of the Shrew having never danced together before. Indeed, they met just two days prior to the show.
Robert Parker also did the clog dance from Hobson's Choice, the David Bintley ballet in which Kelly created the role of the drunkard Henry Hobson to critical acclaim. Looking relaxed and tanned, Parker reminded us all of what the dance world lost when he retired early from BRB a year ago to pursue a new career. His Will Mossop was strong, with fine comedic timing.
The evening would not have been complete without reference to the televised Ballet Hoo! Romeo and Juliet project. Seven of the project's original cast performed the mandolin dance, receiving enthusiastic applause, while Christina, who played the nurse, spoke movingly of working with Kelly.
Fittingly, the gala ended with students from BRB's associate school Elmhurst performing the finale from Balanchine's Theme and Variations. Kelly, who had originally planned to retire to his allotment and a world cruise, is not hanging up his dance shoes yet. He takes over as artistic director of the school in September.