Friday, 20 December 2013

Scottish Ballet

Tomorrow I go to Glasgow to see Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel. I am looking forward to it tremendously, partly because a new work by Christopher Hampson is a delight in itself but also because Scottish Ballet has a special place in my affections.

Although I had an interest in ballet when I was at school in West London - maybe because of a wonderful exhibition of costumes and scenery from the Ballets Russes or perhaps because I had got to know some of the students of the Royal Ballet School as they were just across the Cromwell Road from us - it was at St Andrews that my interest developed into a passion.  The Professor of Art History was John Steer who had come to us from Bristol. There he had got to know Western Theatre Ballet and it was through him that I got to know that company.

Peter Darrell  1928 - 1987
The company had a wonderful choreographer in Peter Darrell as well as wonderful dancers like Bronwen Curry, Ashley Killar,  Kenn Wells and my favourite Elaine McDonald. I began to follow them even while they were still at Bristol.

A year after Steer came to St Andrews the company moved to Glasgow and changed its name to Scottish Theatre Ballet. I do not know whether Steer had anything to do with that move but he was very close to the company and eventually became its chair.  Once when Scottish Theatre Ballet visited Dundee Steer actually introduced me to the cast.  I even had the privilege of giving two of them a lift to their lodgings.  One was Kenn Wells. I cannot remember who was the other.  Steer actually brought them to our university. They performed in the Buchanan Theatre in Market Street, on 15 Feb 1971, the day we adopted decimal currency.

The first of Darrrell's full length works that I saw was Beauty and the Beast.  I reviewed it for Aien our student newspaper.  I saw the ballet at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh shortly after they had moved to Scotland.  I also remember chartering a bus for our ballet club of which I was a founder member.  The dancing was superb and I can remember Thea Musgrave's score which Darrell had commissioned.   I could not find the ballet in the company's current repertoire which is a pity.

Darrell and Steer are now dead and I was very sad to learn today that Elaine McDonald is not in good health.  I was even sadder to learn that my world had intruded into hers when she sought a judicial review of the richest borough in England's decision to withdraw her carer to save a few thousand pounds.  But I have seen a film clip of her taken shortly after the appeal.  Despite her infirmity she retains her elegance and bearing as a star.

A lot has happened to Scottish Ballet since I left St Andrews. Tarama Rojo has come and gone and it now has an excellent artistic director in Hampson.  It has won critical acclaim around the world.  It is one of the UK's strongest companies.  I now have other loves in ballet but it was Scottish Ballet that was my first love.

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