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Buzz, 2-3: The Day the Dancing Stopped
Moira Shearer, RIP: The Spell wasn't in the Shoes
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
Well, dance insiders,
as far as our leading citizens leaving us goes, this has been one
helluva rotten month. Last week we reported on the departure of
tap legend Fayard
Nicholas. On Tuesday, Nicholas was followed by another
icon, Moira Shearer, the Royal Ballet star who, in dancing herself
to death in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1948 "Red Shoes"
inspired a generation of dancers to give their lives to ballet and,
in parallel fashion, fostered a new generation of balletomanes.
Shearer. The Roger Wood Collection / ROH Collections.
Of course, it wasn't
the shoes but the woman who filled them who brought life to the
Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and especially its central sequence,
choreographed by Robert Helpmann and danced opposite Helpmann and
Leonide Massine. And the magic was not just in her feet, but in
a body inclined to dance and eyes enlivened by it that infected
us with its joy.
Shearer, who turned
80 in January, passed away Tuesday at the John Radcliffe Hospital
in Oxford, her husband, Sir Ludovic Kennedy, told the Scottsman,
having become weaker since her birthday. "She was full of spirit
and she was also very beautiful," Kennedy told the newspaper. "She
moved wonderfully and gracefully, as you would expect of a ballet
dancer. I found her very good company and I think the children did
too." Monica Mason, director of the Royal Ballet, said that everyone
at the company was "very sad to learn of the death of the great
ballerina Moira Shearer. She played such an important role in the
early years of the company and her fame and glorious talent helped
us acquire the international status we still have today."
For more details on
Shearer's life, check the Royal Ballet announcement I've posted
at the end of this story, or Mary Clarke's obituary piece in The
Guardian. For some more breathtaking images, by Duncan
Melvin and Gordon Anthony, click here.
It's a full-page Maurice
Seymour photo of the ballerina in Roland Petit's "Carmen," from
the 1950 program of the Ballets de Paris, that I have before me
now. On pointe, straight arms sloping, in shadow like her profiled
face, Shearer retains the haunted quality that gave "The Red Shoes"
its tragic depth, and leant the same to "The Jealous Lover" segment
of the 1952 Vincente Minelli/Gottfried Reinhardt tryptic "The Story
of Three Loves," my most recent screen viewing of her.
The scenario (credited
to John Collier, Jan Lustig, and George Froeschel) echoes "The Red
Shoes": Auditioning in a London studio, Paula Woodward (Shearer)
is just beginning to wow director-choreographer Charles Coutray
(James Mason) when she suddenly collapses. "It's not my ankle,"
she tells her former ballet dancer aunt (Agnes Moorehead). A doctor
tells her it's her heart, and that dancing could kill her. She tries
to stop, but one night finds herself at the premiere of Coutray's
"Astarte." In a trance, she lingers until long after the curtain,
then slowly descends to the stage where, in evening-dress, she begins
dancing to the Rachmaninov music, heard only in her head, rediscovering
her love of dance.
"Can you do that again?"
Coutray shouts, jumping from the shadows of a box and excitedly
rushing down to the stage. He wants to take her back to his home
and studio to repeat what she's done; the ballet has been missing
something, and this is it. She resists at first, trying to explain
that she's quit dancing -- he's now remembered her from the audition.
But she won't say why, and he assumes it was for a man. Dismissing
this, he finally convinces her to relent. Dazzled and re-smitten
with dance in his home and studio -- a dance palace strewn with
sculptures of dance figures, tulle, sketches and set models -- she
changes into ballet gear and, tentatively at first then building
to a frenzy of a finish, she works the dance out for him. In reality,
Frederick Ashton worked out the choreography, and he could not have
been better served. Shearer dances as everyone should -- as if discovering
the movement the moment she creates it. In effect, she is dancing
each movement as if it is at once new and final, and that's what
Moira Shearer brought to dance, an embodiment of the famous choreographer's
imperative that one should dance every moment as if both for the
first and last time. It's a valuable imperative for life as well,
and it was Moira Shearer's greatest gift to us.
Royal Ballet Statement
It is with great sadness
The Royal Ballet announces that Moira Shearer died on 31 January
2006. She was 80.
Moira Shearer was born
in Dunfermline, Scotland on 17 January, 1926. She trained as a dancer
from the age six. Two years of her childhood were spent with her
parents in Southern Rhodesia, and it was in Africa that she first
took dancing lessons from a former member of the Diaghilev Ballet.
She returned to Britain in 1934 and went to school in Scotland for
two years. She then came to London and began her theater training
under Miss Flora Fairbairn and subsequently under Mme L. Legat,
widow of Nicholas Legat.
She joined the Sadler's
Wells Ballet School in 1940 but returned home to Scotland during
the Blitz, rejoining the school in March 1942. Moira Shearer made
her debut with International Ballet in 1941 and was invited to join
the Sadler's Wells ballet troupe at age 16 in 1942 and became ballerina
from 1944 to 1952. As well as dancing the lead in "Swan Lake," "The
Sleeping Beauty," and "Giselle," she created a number of roles,
including Ashton's "The Quest" (1943), "Symphonic Variations" (1946),
"Cinderella" (1948) as well as Helpmann's "Miracle in the Gorbals"
(1944), and Massine's "The Clock Symphony" (1948).
Her dancing career was
interrupted, however, by her popular success in the film "The Red
Shoes" in 1948. Thereafter she had difficulty convincing the public
and press of her commitment to her career as a theatrical ballerina
and eventually left the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1952 to concentrate
on acting in the theater. She went on to dance as a Guest Artist
at Sadler's Wells from 1952-53, when she retired due to an injury,
only to return as a Guest Artist with London Festival Ballet in
1954. She continued to dance occasionally in films and made rare
appearances on stage in the 1970s and 80s, including Gillian Lynne's
"A Simple Man," (in which) she created the role of L. S. Lowry's
mother for Northern Ballet Theatre (BBC TV). Her film credits include;
"Tales of Hoffman" (1951), "Story of Three Loves" (1952), "The Man
Who Loved Redheads" (1955), "Black Tights" (1960) and "Peeping Tom"
(1960). Moira Shearer married the author and broadcaster Ludovic
Kennedy in 1950 and is survived by a son and three daughters.
Monica Mason, director
of The Royal Ballet, says:
"Everyone in The Royal
Ballet company is very sad to learn of the death of the great ballerina
Moira Shearer. She played such an important role in the early years
of the company and her fame and glorious talent helped us acquire
the international status we still have today."
Dance Insider ballet editor Aimee Ts'ao contributed to this report.