Valerie Grieg (1922–2013)

‘Good dancers love dancing’ (Valerie Grieg, 2011)

Valerie Grieg, who has died in Melbourne on 27 March in her 91st year, was an inspired teacher of ballet whose deep understanding of the classical technique and how it can best be taught are contained in her publication Inside ballet technique: separating anatomical fact from fiction in the ballet class. Inside ballet technique was first published in 1994 by the Princeton Book Company and remains an essential guide to body mechanics and the anatomical laws behind classical ballet.

Valerie Grieg, 1951
Valerie Grieg modelling Prestige Ltd fabric, taken during the filming of ‘Fabrics in Motion’, Melbourne, Victoria, 1951. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Reproduced with permission

As a child in Melbourne Grieg studied ballet before going on to work with Elisabet Wiener, proponent of the Central European modern dance style. But ballet, with its strong technical underpinning, was where her interests and commitment lay and in the 1940s she joined Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. It was an extraordinarily creative time at the newly-formed Guild and Grieg’s colleagues at the time represented a roll call of Melbourne-based artists of the day. They included Martin Rubinstein, Strelsa Heckelman, Corrie Lodders, Max Collis, Graham Smith and Eve King. With Ballet Guild, Grieg performed in many of Martyn’s original compositions, including Sigrid in which she danced the title role, as well as in classics of the repertoire such as Serge Bousloff’s staging of Le Carnaval in which she appeared as Chiarina.

Teaching soon became an important aspect of Grieg’s career. In 1950 the Guild established a branch in Hamilton, Victoria, and Grieg became its director. A newspaper report in 1952 claimed Grieg had flown over 40,000 miles to give classes since taking on this role. Later she taught for the Guild on the Mornington Peninsula.

Grieg left the Guild, and Australia, in the early 1950s to work and study in the United Kingdom. In London she came under the influence of esteemed teacher Audrey de Vos whose approach to a number of technical issues Grieg absorbed into her own developing career as an educator.

After returning to Australia briefly Grieg left in the early 1960s to pursue her dance interests in the United States. She studied in New York at the Juilliard School where she especially admired the warmth and strength of Martha Hill, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked with Ohio Ballet. She was also the founding coordinator of the Dance Department at the University of Akron, Ohio. Eventually, Grieg returned to Manhattan where she coached, choreographed and taught master classes. She came back to Australia on frequent occasions to teach and coach. Later she returned permanently to her country of birth living first in Canberra and then in Melbourne.

Grieg’s students continue to teach and perform in the United States, Australia and elsewhere and many continue to develop and expand upon her influential approach to teaching. Her friend and colleague, Janet Karin, recalls Grieg’s influence:

‘In the 1950s, Valerie was a ballet teacher well ahead of her time. Her experience in modern dance, her anatomical knowledge and her enquiring, analytical mind enabled her to see the fundamental truths behind traditional teaching. As my mentor in my early teaching years, she was always generously encouraging. Her interest in discussing esoteric technical points inspired me then, and was still inspiring me as she reached the age of 90. Valerie helped lay the foundations of my teaching career.’

Grieg’s legacy lives on. She is survived by her nephews, Christopher Zegelin in the United States and Peter Zegelin in Australia.

Valerie Grieg: born Melbourne, 4 September 1922; died Melbourne, 27 March 2013.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2013

Strelsa Heckelman Lording (1925−2012)

Portrait of Strelsa Heckelman
Strelsa Heckelman, 1950. J. C. Williamson collection. National Library of Australia 

Strelsa Heckelman Lording, who danced under her maiden name Strelsa Heckelman in several early Australian ballet companies in the 1940s and 1950s, has died in Melbourne aged 87.

Described by friend and dancing colleague Athol Willoughby as ‘a sparkling dancer with a strong technique’, Heckelman began dancing early in her life in her home town of Brisbane. By the time she was thirteen she had passed all her Royal Academy of Dance examinations and shortly afterwards she was invited to take part in classes with Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe during the company’s 1940 Brisbane season. De Basil then invited her to follow the company to Sydney, which she did.

But, despite impressing de Basil, she did not join the Ballets Russes. Instead she continued her training as a full-time student with Hélène Kirsova in Sydney at Kirsova’s studios at Circular Quay and, when Kirsova started a ballet company herself in 1941, Heckelman joined it. She danced with the Kirsova Ballet until the company folded in 1944. With Kirsova she was part of the unique collaborative activities that Kirsova initiated when she commissioned composers, including Henry Krips, and designers such as Loudon Sainthill to work with her company.

Heckelman then joined Edouard Borovansky’s Borovansky Ballet performing in the company’s regular repertoire as well as in musical shows that Borovansky choreographed for the J. C. Williamson organisation. Later she danced with Laurel Martyn’s Melbourne-based company Ballet Guild, and in the early 1950s danced again in J. C. Williamson musicals, including Song of Norway and Oklahoma. Leading performers in musicals in the fifties were almost always brought in from overseas and Heckelman danced to considerble acclaim in both Song of Norway and Oklahoma with star American jazz dancer Matt Mattox.

Her final professional performances before retiring in 1953 to have her children were with the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne. With the National her repertoire included the full-length Swan Lake, the Giselle peasant pas de deux, which she danced with Ray Trickett, and the Head Girl in Kira Bousloff’s staging of Graduation Ball. She also alternated with Valrene Tweedie as Columbine in Tweedie’s 1953 production of Carnaval for the National. 

Strelsa Heckleman in the peasant pas de deux from 'Giselle'. National Theatre Ballet, 1952.
Strelsa Heckelman in the peasant pas de deux from Giselle. National Theatre Ballet, 1952. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

Athol Willoughby recalls a somewhat incredible feat that took place during a rehearsal for the National’s Swan Lake. He says: ‘Our rehearsals for the 1952 season were conducted in a large church hall in the suburb of Hawthorn. At a rehearsal for “Swan Lake” Act 3, Strelsa was dancing in a cardigan because she had a cold. She began the 32 fouettes of the coda when her nose began to run. Without missing a beat she took a handkerchief from a pocket in the cardigan, blew her nose, put the hanky back in the pocket concluding the series of fouettes without moving from the spot. That seemed to me to be quite an achievement!’

In between jobs with a ballet companies, Heckelman worked in a photographer’s studio and later in the perfume department of the Melbourne department store, Georges. Following her stage career she established her own ballet school and also taught for other teachers in the Melbourne area. She remained active in the dance world in her later years and in 2002 became patron of the Tasmanian Ballet Company.

Heckelman once recalled that she never tired of dancing. She thought of every night as an opening night and always relished the overture starting, the curtain going up and seeing the lights in the theatre. That was the magic of the theatre for her.

Strelsa Heckelman married Jack Carruthers in 1951. After the death of Carruthers, Heckelman married Tom Lording in 1984. He died the following year. Heckelman is survived by a son, Ian, and a daughter, Lynn, from her first marriage.

Strelsa Heckelman Lording: born Brisbane, 20 July 1925; died Melbourne, 28 December 2012

Michelle Potter, 7 January 2013

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Rachel Cameron Parker (1924-2011)

Rachel Cameron Parker, dancer and dance teacher who has died in London just a few weeks short of her 87th birthday, worked all her life to maintain the classical basis of ballet.

rachel-cameron1
Rachel Cameron adjusting her ballet shoe, 1940s. Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australian Ballet. With permission of the National Library of Australia. Photo by S. Alston Pearl [?]

On a trip to Australia in 1976 Cameron told oral historian Hazel de Berg:

‘I want the pure classical basis of the ballet to continue. I want it to continue in England, the whole of Europe, America, and Australia, so that we can extend and continue to build on this basis. I feel that out of 200 pupils maybe only one will grasp the real significance of this basic work. But out of 200 or 300, one person is enough for it to be handed down to future generations. I don’t want it to be lost.’

Cameron was born in Brisbane but spent her early childhood in Townsville in northern Queensland before moving to Sydney aged about 5 or 6. In Sydney she began dancing lessons with Muriel Sievers who had studied in London with Phyllis Bedells and who taught the syllabus of the Royal Academy of Dancing, as it was then called. It was with Sievers that Cameron first began teaching as Sievers quickly had her helping teach the youngest classes on Saturday morning. Sievers also insisted that Cameron take piano lessons and also lent her Tamara Karsavina’s book Theatre Street.

In the early 1940s Cameron danced with the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company, which later became the professional Borovansky Ballet and then with the Kirsova Ballet in Sydney, a company led by former star of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, Hélène Kirsova. There were also opportunities for Cameron to develop her teaching skills in Kirsova’s school, which was firmly grounded in what Kirsova referred to as the ‘Russian method’.

Cameron was given major roles in a number of Kirsova’s works including Revolution of the Umbrellas, Faust, A Dream…and a Fairy Tale, Harlequin, and Hansel and Gretel. She has recalled that her happiest days as a dancer were with Kirsova:

‘She was a woman who tried to mould her company in the Diaghilev tradition where music, the scenery, the dancers became part of one whole, and there it was I think that the true beginnings of Australian ballet lie.’

Moving to England with her husband Keith Parker, Cameron danced in Song of Norway and in a company directed by Molly Lake. She also studied in Paris with former stars of the Russian Imperial Ballet, Lubov Egorova and Olga Preobrajenska, and with many notable English teachers including Anna Northcote.

By her own admission one of the most exciting periods of her life came when she was asked to demonstrate for two great teachers and former ballerinas—Lydia Sokolova and Tamara Karsavina. With Karsavina she also developed a teaching syllabus for the Royal Academy of Dance.

‘Sokolova was absolutely marvellous,’ Cameron once recalled. ‘She was not content with near being good enough, it had to be exact or else.’

Of Karasavina, she has recalled: ‘I found for the first time that what I had always dreamed of was true, and that’s why, now, I am such a stickler for perfection of technique.’

Cameron was guest teacher for many companies around the world including the Australian Ballet. In December 2010 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award for a lifetime of services to dance. Rachel Cameron is survived by her brother Alister and nieces Alison, Fiona and Christine.

Rachel Cameron Parker: born 27 March 1924, died 6 March 2011

Michelle Potter, 13 April 2011

Postscript: One of the images of Cameron that has fascinated me, as much for its 1940s glamour as anything else, is that of her with her colleagues from the Kirsova Ballet, Peggy Sager and Strelsa Heckelman, posing outdoors at Taylor’s Bay close to Kirsova’s home on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour.

sager-heckelman-cameron
Clockwise from top: Peggy Sager, Strelsa Heckelman, Rachel Cameron, Taylor’s Bay, Sydney, 1943. With permission of the National Library of Australia.

Added 28 April 2011: Maina Gielgud studied with Rachel Cameron at various points in her life and they remained close friends until the end of Rachel’s life. Maina  shared this recollection:

Memories of Rachel from when she gave me private lessons when I was nine years old:   Passionate, outspoken, knowledgeable. I believe she was an excellent dancer with lots of personality and mammoth technique.

I always remember her coming to see me in Newcastle (UK) performing Swan Lake with Festival Ballet. I thought I was dancing quite well (for once!)—she said nothing, but wrote me a long letter which quite disillusioned me, but certainly made me rethink what I was up to and how I went about my work and my dancing…

She knew I knew that she only bothered because she thought I was worth it…