part 3 of my career chronicle

Royal New Zealand Ballet

The first two years of my directorship were dominated by a cash crisis and the insistence by the NZ Arts Council that the entire board resigned. When we were performing on tour in Germany I had to tell the company that although we had our tickets home, there was no guarantee that we would be paid, or that there would even be a Royal New Zealand Ballet!

Eventually a compromise was reached, but the cash problem, and then a lot of squabbling between the new board members about the company’s identity ensued. Not the happiest of times. Nevertheless, as always, “the show must go on” and the dancers did some marvellous work. We toured up and down North and South Islands from Auckland to Invercargill. Demand was for the classics, and I dutifully put on a new Nutcracker and Giselle. However, I was delighted to find that when our audiences (and dancers) had a taste of Balanchine’s choreography with The Four Temperaments they were hungry for more. Patricia Neary came to mount Agon (perhaps my very favourite ballet of all time). Amy Hollingsworth and Ou Lu were spectacular in the pas de deux.

I used these two dancers as Tatiana and Oberon in my modern dress Midsummer Night’s Dream. Apparently, spirits in Maori mythology, the Patupaiarehe, are long-haired blondes. I played with that idea and contrasted them with the Mechanicals, a group of punk musicians, lost in the forest. I commissioned a new score from NZ composer Peter Scholes and he delivered a witty score (saxophones and electronics, but great mystery, too) and I think my treatment of the four lovers and Puck on a skateboard was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t greet our ideas with as much enthusiasm.

After six years in New Zealand it was time to move to new pastures in Australia, even if they were not necessarily greener ones. When we were approached about buying a large ballet school in Sydney we jumped at the new opportunity.

Teaching in Sydney

The school was already well known as Ecole Classique. Jane and I quickly dispensed with the rather twee ‘Classique’. We ran the school for 20 years and hundreds of students passed through various levels of RAD training. Our vocational course produced many dancers who went on to join professional companies or to become teachers who now run successful schools of their own. (A surprising number of our vocational students who did not continue in dance went on to become lawyers or doctors – which says a lot about how dance training disciplines the mind!)

Cape Town season of my ballets

After nearly twenty years of teaching it was a lovely change to go back to professional theatre and to mount a season of my ballets for Cape Town City Ballet. I had already started thinking about my book on John Cranko, so it was good to be in the very same environment where he had started out. In a sort of tribute to him I decided to include two of his early works Tritsch-Tratsch and, in my own version, Beauty and the Beast, based on Cranko’s choreography.

Claire Spector and Daniel Szybkowski in Beauty and the Beast

In the same programme I revived Miraculous Mandarin and Sarabande from thirty years earlier and was pleased to see that they still had plenty of life in them.

Rosamund Ford and Ivan Boonzaaier in Miraculous Mandarin

Returning to Sydney, Jane and I tackled a full length Cinderella with our students, not to mention a farewell Gala event to mark our retirement from the school. It was wonderful to receive so many messages from former students, working in Australasia and all over the world. We were looking forward to having more time to ourselves, and I was already deeply embroiled in my book.

Research for Cranko: the Man and his Choreography was to take me off to Tel Aviv, Stuttgart twice, and London three times. You can read about those adventures here on this site…