Born and trained in Zimbabwe, Desmond Kelly began his professional career with London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) and became principal dancer at 21 before working with many international companies including Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet.
He performed in the UK during the 1960’s, and joined the Royal Ballet Companies in 1970, dancing principal roles in the major classical repertoire and and partnering many of the world’s leading ballerinas including Margot Fonteyn, Antoinette Sibley, Merle Park, Natalia Makarova, Monica Mason, Margaret Barbieri and Marion Tait.
Noted for his interpretation of the Balanchine repertory, Kelly also created numerous roles for choreographers including Bintley, Carter, Corder, MacMillan, Seymour and Tetley.
Kelly has taught classical ballet to many international companies since 1985, becoming instrumental in the development of numerous dancers, particularly at Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) where he became Assistant Director in 1990. He retired from BRB in 2008 to become Artistic Director of Elmhurst School for Dance, which he directed until his retirement in 2012.
He continues to stage Classical Ballet productions around the world particularly those of Sir Peter Wright. He was awarded OBE (2005), honorary Doctorates of Letters by Leicester University (2007) and Birmingham University (2008), a special Critics Circle National Dance Award (jointly with Marion Tit) for Ballet Hoo! (2007) and the Royal Ballet Governors Gold Medal (2008).
In 2012, he was appointed a Governor of The Royal Ballet.