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Farewell to Dame Gillian Lynne, a force in British theatre

I remember so clearly what Dame Gillian Lynne told me, that at 88 she could still do the splits.

I asked the choreographer how she remained so fit and flexible, to which she replied: "Even though I don't want to, I throw myself on the floor every morning and do my stretches."

She was quite simply awesome.

Little wonder that on Monday, composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who worked with Dame Gillian on the groundbreaking musical Cats four decades ago, credits her with starting a dance revolution in Britain, of showing young people what could be done in musical theatre, of encouraging so many young performers to reach her dizzy heights.

When I met Dame Gillian four-years-ago, she was reworking some of her choreography from Cats for a new revival.

Dame Gillian reworked some of the Cats choreography in 2014. Credit: PA

It was clear to see the reverence in which she was held by young dancers as she worked through the steps.

She was constantly revisiting her work to try and improve it - her enthusiasm was astounding, Sir Andrew reported.

She was still redoing steps when she was 90.

It was the fact that she had been in dance for so long that made her such a force in British theatre.

A prima ballerina in the 1930s, classically trained, she was there when jazz took hold on the dance floor, and when contemporary moves arrived courtesy of the likes of Hot Gossip.

Dame Gillian could do them all, incorporating all the styles into her award winning work.

A younger Dame Gillian. Credit: PA

It was of course only right that if anyone was to become the first choreographer - and non-royal female - to have a West End Theatre named after them, it was Dame Gillian Lynne.

How apt that it's the theatre where Cats premiered in 1981, and how lovely that after she'd been ill for a while, she was able to attend the ceremony to mark the occasion - just over a week ago.

At least she lived to see the naming and know that alongside the many performers she influenced in the generations that followed, there is another concrete legacy, in the place where she made such an enormous impact.