Monday, 27 February 2017

Ballet at University


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In 1969 or thereabouts, I attended a student meeting to set up a dance society at St. Andrews. Most of those present were women.   I shall mention their names in case one of them reads this post or perhaps one of my readers can put me in touch with one of them.

Our chair was Sally Marshall who had either danced professionally or had trained to a high level. She came from Edinburgh, read biochemistry and taught our classes. There was Camilla Martiensen from London. A slightly built young woman but exceptionally clever and a delightful dancer. Then there was Meg Hutchinson who came from Argyll or somewhere else in the West. She was a beautiful highland dancer and was almost always accompanied by her mother and two dogs. I think she read modern languages, Spanish certainly and possibly also French. If any of those ladies gets in touch with me I shall be overjoyed.

As you can see from the video there is still a Dance Soc at St Andrews though I don't know whether it is a direct descendant of the society I helped to found.  Our club met for classes every Monday at the new sports centre on the North Haugh, We even had a pianist, a young chap who played purely for the love of music. I don't anyone gave him a bean. As well as classes we made trips to nearby towns to see Western Theatre Ballet as Scottish Ballet were then known. We even brought them to St Andrews for its first arts festival in 1971. Our professor of Fine Arts, John Steer, knew the company well when they were both in Bristol It was John Steer who introduced me to the company's artistic director, Peter Darrell and his stars such as Bronwen Curry, Elaine McDonald, Kenn Wells and Ashley Killar. I was also dance correspondent for Ἁɩεν, our student newspaper and reviewed his Beauty and the Beast.

The Dance Soc seems to have grown a bit since my day and now stages shows. It has a Facebook page which I have just "liked" and a full page on the Saints website. It also has its own society website though that is down for maintenance. It appears from the President's report that the Society did very well in competitions in Dundee, Durham and Manchester.

I was reminded of Dance Soc by a post to BalletCo Forum on Cambridge University Ballet Club's recent performance of Giselle on 17 Feb 2017. There are some lovely photos of the ballet on HJORTH MLED H's website and he has written a rather good summary.  Some of those dancers seem to be rather good and it is impressive that they have found the time to fit classes and rehearsals into their busy schedule.

I have also googled "ballet" and the names of some of our other great universities and have found ballet clubs or dance societies at Oxford, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dublin, Durham, UCL, King's College London (how could they not with Deborah Bull as their Vice-Principal), Imperial College, LSE. Manchester. Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham, Cardiff, Sheffield, Newcastle, Exeter and Southampton.

I gave up ballet when I graduated from St Andrews. I went to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1972. In those days there was not even a ballet company in LA let alone a ballet class. All that seems to have changed I am glad to see for ballet is now offered by UCLA Recreation.  I still attended ballets. Dance has been an abiding passion.  I supported Covent Garden and many other theatres and companies financially throughout my life. But I did not so much as touch a barre for very many years.

It was only in 2010 (shortly after I had lost my spouse to motor neurone disease and undergone some life changing surgery of my own) that I approached a barre again. I noticed an ad by Fiona Noonan, an Australian trained dancer for ballercise which turned out to be pilates, body conditioning and a bit of ballet. I took that class for a while and miraculously recovered my will to live. A little later she invited me to take her ballet class and my confidence grew.  In 2013 I joined Annemarie Donoghue's class for the over 55s at Nothern Ballet Academy. It is no exaggeration to say that ballet has turned my life around. When I thank Annemarie, Ailsa, Chris, Fiona, Jane, Josh, Karen or some other teacher for a class, it is not just for the 90 minutes of instruction. It is for giving me my life back.

At St Andrews we sing:
"Gaudeamus igitur. Iuvenes dum sumus.
Gaudeamus igitur.Iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem.
Post molestam senectutem.
Nos habebit humus —
Nos habebit humus."
Ballet has helped to keep the molesta senectutis  at bay up to now and with a bit of luck humus me non habebit at least for a while.

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