Gailene Stock (1946—2014)

Gailene Stock, most recently director of the Royal Ballet School, has died from complications resulting from a brain tumour. Stock had been ill since 2013. Born in Ballarat, Victoria, and named Gail Stock by her parents, she changed her first name to Gailene at the request of Peggy van Praagh, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, who thought that the name ‘Gail’ was too short.

Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne 2012. Photo © Jean Stewart

Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne 2012. Photo © Jean Stewart

Stock was the middle child in a family of three girls born to Roy and Sylvia Stock. When Stock was quite small, the family moved to Perth, Western Australia, when her father, a journalist, took a job there. It was in Perth that she took her first dance lessons. When the family moved to Melbourne after a short time in Perth, Stock took up dancing more seriously at the Himing School of Dance where she studied the Cecchetti syllabus. As a teenager she studied with Paul Hammond who prepared her for her major examinations of the Royal Academy of Dance. Her dance training was interrupted for two long periods, however, first as a result of a severe bout of poliomyelitis and then following injuries sustained in a serious car accident.

Deferring a Royal Academy bursary to study at the Royal Ballet School, Stock joined the Australian Ballet, aged sixteen, for its inaugural season. But the following year, with a year’s leave of absence from the Australian Ballet, she took up her bursary and travelled to London. At the Royal Ballet School her main teacher in the theatre class, where she was placed because she had come from a company to the School, was Pamela May. Outside of the School she took classes with Maria Fay and after a nine month period at the Royal she took classes in Paris and then in Cannes with Rosella Hightower. Her classes in France were to satisfy van Praagh who thought that her dancing was very correct and that she needed a bit of French pizzazz. Before returning to Australia she danced with the Grand ballet classique de France and then with an Italian company.

Rejoining the Australia Ballet in 1965 she was cast in works by Antony Tudor and John Butler and her reputation as an exponent of dramatic roles grew. But after seven years she wanted what she has called ‘new pastures’ and joined the National Ballet of Canada on the recommendation of  Rudolf Nureyev. A position as principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet followed. She was joined in Canada by Gary Norman whom she married while in Canada.

(L) Gailene Stock and Paul Wright in Ballet Imperial, the Australian Ballet, 1967. Photo Walter Stringer. (R) Gailene Stock before leaving for London, Melbourne 1963. Photo Keith Byron. Images courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On their return to Australia Stock danced briefly with the Australian Ballet under Anne Woolliams before having her daughter Lisa and then directing the National Theatre Ballet School. Her next major step was the directorship of the Australian Ballet School which she took on at the end of 1989. Her last role was that of director of the Royal Ballet School. Stock has discussed her approach to her work in London at length in her oral history interview for the National Library of Australia, recorded in Melbourne in 2012. The audio is available online over the National Library’s website.The entire interview is a warm and informative account of her life and career and full of charming and sometimes very funny anecdotes about those she met and worked with during her life. Talking about her earliest dance experiences in Perth she says:

‘My debut on the stage was as a chicken and a hula girl. In the back of my mind I think I was already being a ballet mistress, teacher, director, because when we were doing our chicken dance I looked along the line and saw one of the chickens was very much out of line and lost. So I toddled over and shoved her back into line and got her into place and then went back to my own place and went on with the dance. I’ve always been obsessed with staying in line so it probably started at a very young age’.*

Stock is survived by her husband Gary Norman and their daughter Lisa.

Michelle Potter, 4 May 2014

* Gailene Stock interviewed by Michelle Potter, April 2012. National Library of Australia, TRC 6399.

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.

Dance diary: April 2012

  • Heath Ledger Project

In April I conducted two more interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project. This time, with cameraman John Parker, I recorded interviews with two emerging circus artists currently in their final year of training at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne.

Josie Wardrope is specialising in hand stands and swinging trapeze—she loves the feeling of flying—and in the group activity of risley. The term ‘risley’ sent me to a dictionary as I was researching for the interview and I discovered it is ‘a circus act in which an acrobat lying on his back juggles barrels or fellow acrobats with his feet’. It is named after a 19th century circus performer, Richard Risley Carlisle. Post-interview, watching Josie in a one-on-one trapeze session with her coach, her words about loving the feeling of flying were made visible. Exhilarating!
Josie Wardrope in CODA. Photo David Wyatt

Josie Wardrope on swinging trapeze in a performance of CODA, 2011. Photo David Wyatt. Courtesy NICA

Simon Reynolds gave up his childhood dream of an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics after seeing a performance by Cirque du Soleil. Now he aspires to a contract with this company at the end of his training. At NICA he specialises in contortion hand stands, tumbling tight wire and the group act, teeterboard. I have to say he is somewhat outstanding on trampoline as well. Watching him execute a series of mid-air twists and turns as he moved the length of a very long trampoline in a NICA rehearsal space was breathtaking.Simon Reynolds in CODA. Photo David Wyatt

Simon Reynolds executes a hand stand in a performance of CODA, 2011. Photo David Wyatt. Courtesy NICA

A typical day for these two young people is long and arduous but neither can think of anything they’d rather be doing. Both are full of praise for those who coach them, who bring to NICA the skills that they have honed in circus companies from around the world, including China, Russia and Argentina. Both are utterly determined to make a career in circus. Both are also in rehearsal for their 2012 mid-year show Lucy and the lost boy and agree that it is the performance side of their training that spurs them on to perfect their technical skills.

  • Jacob’s Pillow

My reflections on a visit to Jacob’s Pillow in 2007 elicited a response from Norton Owen, director of preservation at the Pillow. He mentioned, amongst other things, a DVD called Never stand still. It chronicles life at the Pillow and includes material relating to Gideon Obarzanek. The words of the title, ‘Never stand still’, are in fact those of Obarzanek, which he used in an interview for the DVD and which were then taken up and used as the title. Here is a promotional clip for the DVD.

  • Gailene Stock

In April I had the huge pleasure of recording an interview with Gailene Stock, currently director of the Royal Ballet School, London. I was inspired to suggest that an interview with Stock be made for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection after visiting her in London last year to talk to her about her recollections of working with designer Kristian Fredrikson. There was such a positive work ethic at the Royal Ballet School that I felt there had to be the hand of a strong and committed person behind it all. And there is—a director who cares deeply about what she is doing. And of course Stock had an impressive career in Australia as a performer, teacher and director before taking up her current position in London. Here is the link to the National Library’s catalogue record, although a summary of the interview is not yet available.

Gailene Stock

Gailene Stock. Courtesy the Royal Ballet School

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