Gailene Stock (and the ballet documentary First Position)

I beamed with pleasure watching Gailene Stock, Australian-born director of the Royal Ballet School, presenting a scholarship to the School to Joan Sebastian Zamora in the recently released ballet documentary First Position. Stock radiated pleasure as she made the presentation and, judging by Zamora’s dancing in the documentary, she chose well. A native of Colombia, Zamora has wonderful stage presence, is a fabulous turner, has great feet and beautifully proportioned limbs and is very good-looking and filled with determination to succeed. Watch him in rehearsal here.

But I was saddened to hear, on my return from this afternoon excursion, that Stock is unwell. Here is the official Royal Ballet School announcement:

From Alan Winter, Chief Operating Officer, The Royal Ballet School:
As some of you may know, Gailene Stock, the School’s Director has been unwell recently and she asked me to let you know that she will be commencing treatment shortly for a tumour that has appeared on her brain. Gailene is in a strong and positive mood but recognises that her treatment will be demanding and last for several weeks. Whilst she will continue to lead the School, her level of involvement and ability to attend work will depend on how well she is feeling at any given time. Her husband, Gary Norman (Senior Ballet Teacher—Upper School), also wishes to continue with as normal a working life as possible but he may need to be with Ms Stock at different stages of her treatment.

Both Ms Stock and Mr Norman understand that everyone will want to send their very best wishes and be supportive but politely ask that people refrain from sending e-mails and texts to her for the time being. If you wish to send anything, please address it to the School for the attention of Rachel Hollings or via email to rachelh@royalballetschool.co.uk. Ms Stock has made it clear that the best tonic we can give her is for everyone to remain focused on the students’ training and welfare and ensure we continue to bring the best out of them. I can reassure everyone that this will be the case.

The Assistant Director Jay Jolley, with the assistance of Mark Annear (Head of Outreach and Teacher Training) and Diane van Schoor (The Lower School’s Ballet Principal), will cover the artistic management of the School during any of Gailene’s absences in the summer term. Academic and pastoral matters will remain the responsibility of Dr Charles Runacres and Pippa Hogg-Andrews. I will maintain an overview of all aspects of the School’s operations.

I will keep you updated on Gailene’s anticipated return to better health.

With very best regards
Alan Winter

As for the film, well it is as much about ballet mothers as it is about young dancers and ballet competitions, and most of the original choreography we see is appalling. But it is nicely shot and edited by Bess Kargman and the seven students who are singled out and followed through rehearsals and performances in the Youth America Grand Prix all have interesting backgrounds. But you have to love competitive ballet to love this film. It has many distasteful moments if competitions are not your scene.

Michelle Potter, 12 April 2013

I interviewed Gailene Stock for the National Library’s oral history program in April 2012. The interview is available online.

2 thoughts on “Gailene Stock (and the ballet documentary First Position)

  1. Delighted to see glimpses of Hannah O’Neill in this film. As you say Michelle, nicely shot and put together, and some of the ubiquitous, reality television style backstories are warmly human without one’s feeling too much manipulation. But the dance-sports aspects infiltrating classical ballet are not too encouraging.

  2. Yes, and Hannah’s story would have been quite interesting too. The idea of artistry seemed to be missing though, or taking second place to those infiltrations Adrian mentions. But Adrian is right, the back stories were (with a couple of exceptions) honest and heart warming.

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