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Theatre goers generally and ballet goers in particular will be said to learn of the death of Dame Gillian Lynne. Although she will be better known for her musicals, Cats and Phantom of the Opera, I shall remember her for three reasons.
First, her choreography of A Simple Man starring Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer. That was the first time I saw Northern Ballet shortly after I returned to the North to take a seat in Manchester chambers. My late spouse and I were regular ballet goers and I was a Friend of Covent Garden. Though we looked forward to occasional visits to Leeds and Manchester by touring companies we missed the Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells and The Coliseum. I had read of the Northern Dance Theatre (as Northern Ballet was then called) in Dance and Dancers when it was founded but I never expected much from it. Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man was a revelation. It was every bit as good as anything I had seen anywhere else in the world.
As a native Mancunian I was bloated with pride that it had been achieved by a Manchester company. After seeing that work I began to follow Northern Ballet. In my humble opinion A Simple Man has never been bettered though other great ballets were created by Christopher Gable and more recently Cathy Marston. It was Dame Gillian's masterpiece that attracted me to the company and it is one of the reasons why I have continued to support Northern Ballet through Friends' subscriptions, donations and other ways for more than 30 years.
The second reason I shall remember Dame Gillian is that she recreated Sir Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2014 (see A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014). She had been a member of the original cast. She said in The Inspiration which was reprinted in the programme: "There are very few people left alive from that 1944 creation and not one of us remembers a step." However, as I said in my review, Lynne re-created the ballet to Bliss's music in the style of Helpmann and it certainly looked authentic to me. In my My Personal Ballet Highlights of 2014 28 Dec 2014, I wrote:
"My favourite ballet of 2014 was Gillian Lynne's re-creation of Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet which I was at Sadler's Wells in October. I had seen Helpmann dance with Frederick Ashton in Cinderella and he also presented the gala to Sir Frederick which I saw when I first became interested in ballet. Miracle in the Gorbals broke new ground in many ways just as its almost exact contemporary Appalachian Spring did in the USA. Even though Lynne's production was a re-creation rather than a revival its performance was something of a miracle in itself and a joy to behold."The third reason I shall remember Dame Gillian is a charming story that Sir Ken Robinson told about her in a famous TED talk. I discussed it in Dance is just as important as Maths 17 Aug 2014. When she was a little girl in the 1930s Dame Gillian was thought to have a learning disorder because she was lacked attention and was disruptive in class. Her teachers referred her mother to a specialist in such disorders who gave her an opportunity to dance to the radio. Sir Ken continued:
"And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, .Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school.'"Dame Gillian's mother heeded that advice and the result was miraculous. In Dame Gillian's words:
"I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think. Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary."As I remarked about the specialist: "What a remarkably perceptive, far sighted, enlightened man he was. And what a wonderful mother."
I am sure all readers will join me in sending sincere condolences to Dame Gillian's family, friends and connections.