Rosanna Achilleos-Sarll remembers being told she was ‘too tall’ by the celebrated ballet dancer, while Tessa Higgins praises the wonderful teacher Audrey de Vos
Your obituary of Dame Beryl Grey (11 December) brought back childhood memories of being on my way to a ballet class in 1965 which was taking place in the first-floor ballroom, overlooking Green Park, of the Arts Educational Trust on Piccadilly in London. I was in form 4B (special ballet) and would often encounter Alicia Markova, Yehudi Menuhin, Margaret Lockwood, Beryl Grey et al hobnobbing with other equally famous theatrical giants outside the principal’s office.
Form 4B itself comprised of Nigel Havers, albeit then in footless tights, and Jane Seymour – already a fabulous beauty at 14. In October 1965, the Cone-Ripman sisters announced that Beryl Grey would be the trust’s new director general and form 4B were assembled to appear in the press photograph.
Beryl Grey took one look at me and said “too tall”, and shunted me to the back of the class. I was 14 and already 5ft 6in tall to her 5ft 7in. Nonetheless, I appear at the back of the photograph, on the barre. Reality set in that day and I knew I was not going to follow in the new director general’s footsteps, although I stayed at the school and concentrated my ambitions on drama classes.
I was overjoyed to see the reference to the close relationship between Dame Beryl Grey and my wonderful teacher Audrey de Vos in your obituary of Grey because De Vos is so often overlooked in the annals of British dance of the 20th century. During the last years of De Vos’s teaching in her lovely studio in Linden Gardens towards the end of the 1960s, it was an almost daily occurrence to come to morning class just after Beryl Grey and De Vos had spent an hour or more working intensively together.
I profited enormously from my training with De Vos, who often likened her work to that of a sculptor, moulding the bodies of her students by working individually with each of them “from the inside out” and thus enabling them to realise their potential, not only technically but also as artists. Her classes were inspirational and never formulaic, her creativity aided and abetted by our pianist John, whose gift for improvisation made for a wonderful collaboration.
She was a pioneer in her field, and today I see so many of the ideas she sowed by integrating the techniques of classical and modern dance into her daily classes in the performance quality and amazingly high standards in companies everywhere.