Posted on August 3, 2016
At a book-signing event for London Ballet Circle on August 2, its patron, Sir Peter Wright, read out to the members gathered his tribute to the Circle that he was unable to include in his recently published autobiography, Wrights and Wrongs. With permission from London Ballet Circle, we publish here his speech in full:
“During the 1950s I had become very interested in teaching and Peggy van Praagh, a great exponent of the Cecchetti method, had helped me get my exams. I had also become very aware of the London Ballet Circle, which in those days was like a small club that had been formed to support dance in London and encourage its members to understand more about classical ballet.
“Several professional dancers, including myself, were invited to give classes to their members, which is how I got my first teaching experience, and it was the beginning of my long and lasting association with the Circle which happily has continued to this day, now as patron. I have to say that the conditions in those studios in Great Newport Street (right next the Arts Theatre Club) were absolutely appalling. Sometimes the yellowish fog would get into the studio and make it feel cold and damp and your lungs tight and constricted and the only heating was from a broken down small, smelly gas fire next to the old honky-tonk piano in the corner. No wonder the pianist used to nod off but continued to play in her sleep until I gently woke her up! The floors were horribly bumpy and full of protruding knots. However we managed to have some fun and learned something too, especially me, giving class for the first time.
“It was not long before I met Michael Broderick, who really held the whole Circle together. Tall, good-looking with excellent manners and charm, he really was its leading light. A man of real style with the most remarkable knowledge of dance, particularly Ninette de Valois and her already extraordinary achievements. In fact it was she who, when I became associate director of The Royal Ballet, told me how important the London Ballet Circle was and that I should do all I could to support its work. When I told her that was just what I was doing, she replied, ‘I am pleased to hear it. Just make sure you keep it up!’ Michael was always aware of what was happening in all the different companies and was a great admirer of Galina Samsova, then starring in London Festival Ballet. He got to know many dancers, choreographers and designers, which is why, when he became chairman, he was able to produce excellent programmes of talks and lectures with a wide range of artistes. When he interviewed me, I always felt very relaxed as he had an extraordinary gift of being able to get you back on track when you had completely forgotten what the hell you were talking about. I think we have all been incredibly lucky to have had Michael as chairman, a position he held for over 35 years. It was also Michael who persuaded me to become president when Dame Alicia Markova stepped down. And may I say what a pleasure it is to now have Susan Dalgetty Ezra as chairman and what a great impression she has already made. Also that now I have been made patron what a brilliant idea it was to invite Dame Monica Mason to take my place in that role. Having worked with her during most of my career I know she is the perfect choice. She has so much energy, a wonderful sense of humour and is a fantastic communicator.
“For a long time now, London Ballet Circle has covered the whole of the UK, not just London as the name implies. I remember it also used to make trips to various companies abroad. Sadly this is no longer possible, as it has acquired charitable status, so its funds can only be used for activities in the UK. However, I was so delighted when ten members made their own way to Budapest to see the first night of my production of The Sleeping Beauty last April.
“London Ballet Circle, having recently celebrated its 70th anniversary and being the oldest independent ballet club in the world, should be congratulated, not only for all the support it has given to our companies and schools in terms of bursaries, scholarships and awards, but most important, inspiration, to many talented young people, and that is what we still need more of now. This is why Paul Arrowsmith and I have dedicated my book to the London Ballet Circle for the huge contribution it has made to dance, with you, Michael, and its founder, Stanley Hawkins, now sadly no longer with us, at its centre during the past 70 years and I am sure for many more to come.”
Pictured is Peter Wright and Paul Arrowsmith with London Ballet Circle’s Susan Dalgetty Ezra and Michael Broderick. Photograph by Don Ezra.
Wrights and Wrongs by Sir Peter Wright and Paul Arrowsmith is published by Oberon Books (£25).