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In Memorium, 7-14: The Archivist
Wallace Potts: Souvenirs of Nureyev
Submitted by Susan Pile
Edited by Paul Ben-Itzak
LOS ANGELES -- Wallace Potts, international dance historian, archivist and independent filmmaker, died Thursday, June 29, of complications from lymphoma, it was announced Monday by Sir John Tooley, chairman of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation. He was 59.
Mr. Potts was the film archivist for the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, tirelessly assembling a comprehensive collection of the legendary dancer's every known appearance on film and video. Building upon a library that Nureyev had compiled for himself, he gathered performances and interviews on film and video from sources around the world; his own 16mm films of Nureyev's performances in Madrid, Paris, Buenos Aires and Geneva, among others, are part of the collection. Acting on behalf of both the Bath, England-based Nureyev Foundation and the Chicago-based Nureyev Dance Foundation, Mr. Potts was instrumental in arranging for the archive to be deposited at the New York Public Library for conservation and access by students and scholars; a similar arrangement is in place at the Centre Nationale de la Danse in Paris.
"Wallace Potts played an essential role in Rudolf Nureyev's life and continued to do so after his death in 1993," said Sir John. "Intensely loyal to him and to the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, he was the purveyor of the truth about Rudolf and was quick to rebut any comments about him which he felt wrong or unjustified. He was instrumental in building up a unique film archive of Rudolf and dancers associated with him. This is a remarkable record of the career of a dancer who was to change the face of classical ballet....
Not only did Wallace have an extraordinary knowledge of film but he was also versed in the intricacies of ballet and was well able to advise on the best shots of Rudolf when a selection needed to be made for an enquiring broadcaster or writer."
In 1972, Mr. Potts served as first assistant director on a film of the Petipa ballet "Don Quixote," co-directed by Nureyev and Robert Helpmann. (Nureyev's 1981 production returns to the Paris Opera Ballet next February.) He became the driving force behind the film's restoration by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and its theatrical resurrection in 2000 as the centerpiece of a special retrospective, This is Nureyev!, which he presented at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art prior to the ballet's broadcast premiere as one of the Public Broadcasting System's Great Performances.
"Run do not walk to catch this event," the Dance Insider's Sandra Aberkalns raved in her 2000 Flash Review of This is Nureyev! "New Yorkers have a reputation of racing for the exit as soon as the curtain drops.... In all of the screenings I attended not one single person moved until the credits were over and the house lights came up." The New York Times called the restored "Don Quixote" "a dance film for all audiences, an exciting, intelligently conceived spectacle. It is a film that takes the dangerous risk of wedding cinematic realism with formal ballet conventions and triumphs as a genre of its own." Mr. Potts introduced the film to Paris in March 2002 for a celebration of Nureyev at the Cinematheque Francaise, then to London in January 2003, for a month-long tribute at the National Film Theatre of London.
During his career, Mr. Potts gained knowledge and experience working in various production capacities for directors Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mike Nichols and James Bridges. An independent filmmaker in his own right, he was writer, director, cinematographer and editor of the 1976 "More, More, More," and writer, director and producer of the 1979 "Le Beau Mec." In 1988, he wrote and directed a low-budget horror film, "Psycho Cop," successful enough to spawn a sequel.
Longtime friend Leslie Caron, actress, dancer, and star of "An American in Paris" and "Gigi," among other films, said Mr. Potts "brought qualities of friendship to a form of art. To those who were his friends, he was their best friend. It became clear to me that he kept himself alive, those last ten years, so as not to cause pain to those who loved him so.... Nureyev knew he could count on him, I did too and numerous others. He was smart and very funny -- his dog and all his friends will miss him terribly."
Added Sir John: "Wallace was a true friend and a wonderful colleague whom we sorely miss. He is irreplaceable, and for our part we will always be in his debt."
Wallace Potts is survived by his brother, Tommy Potts, of Montgomery, Alabama, and will be buried there near his parents. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, the World Society for the Protection of Animals or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Memorial services are pending.