Friday, October 24, 2014

B.C. School of the Theatre

June Roper took a cue from Ernest Belcher's expertise when training her students. She gave each student a vehicle designed to reveal that student's potential. This way each dancer was able to achieve a unique stage presence, which accentuated their individual charms.

For example, June recognized early on the ballet capabilities of the Meyers girls, Rosemary Deveson and Jean Hunt. They were given assignments in two of the ballet numbers. A tall girl, Rosemary Sankey, who would later go on to become a New York model, was cast as a dragonfly. Joy Darwin seemed more appropriate for an ensemble interpretation of Bolero.

In early 1935, Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes had visited Vancouver and June Roper was in attendance. She was awed by the vitality and glamour of the stars and by the diversity of their repertoire. However, she was also shocked by the ragged ensembles. She was determined, and stated it clearly, that she was not interested in training dancers for assignments in the corps de ballet. She had more elevated goals for her pupils.

June realized it was possible for a dedicated student to equal and even surpass the technical prowess of the exceptional soloists seen in the Ballet Russe. "Russian ballet" became the speciality of her teaching.

June had now spent a year as dance mistress with the B.C. School of the Theatre and it was a good year for her. Her health was restored, her energies and ambitions renewed. She decided it was time of independence.

Her mother, Elizabeth Roper, returned to Los Angeles and June found herself an apartment in Vancouver's West end. She decided to devote her time to the training of dancers.

However, she was faithful to teaching in the Sunday school classes at Vancouver's First Baptist Church on Burrard Street. She was quietly devout and didn't flaunt her religious beliefs.

As usual, thanks goes to the book June Roper Ballet Starmaker by Leland Windreich for the information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And So She Arrives

June Roper's life had taken a sharp turn. Health problems, stress and a changing industry left the young dancer's future uncertain. Her sister, Anne, was now married and living in Vancouver and she invited June to come for a visit. Anne was also interested in having June coach Anne's daughter, Betty Mills, who had started ballet lessons with local teachers. In the summer of 1934, June and Elizabeth Roper arrived in Vancouver.

In Canada during the Depression, ballet training was popular for the daughters of wealthy families. However, the girls were not expected to make a passionate commitment to the theatre.

Vivien Ramsay, an active force in children's theatre and a producer of pantomimes, joined with her friend Yvonne Firkins, a fellow ballet enthusiast and leader in the city's Little Theatre, to open a dance school. They had seen June Roper's photograph on the cover of the February 1929 issue of The Dancing Times and had read all about her European career. When the two read in the local papers about June's visit to Vancouver, they felt that none of the local ballet teachers could provide the kind of high-powered professional training June could provide.

These are photos of the TedVancouver event at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre where I volunteered over the weekend. These shots are taken from the stage as we were tearing everything down.

Firkins wisely avoided any mention of June's delicate health. Instead, she suggests that the reason the dancer was in Vancouver was that she was tired of travelling and did have relatives in the city. The assignment gave June a chance to spend the two-year period required for her divorce from Stewart in a safe environment.

The dance school was evicted from the first studio for disturbing the peace. So Firkins and Ramsay set up the B.C. School of the Theatre at 712 Robson Street where it flourished for nearly a year.

June Roper's formal introduction to Vancouver took place on November 2, 1934 at the "Journalists' Cabaret", a benefit at the Hotel Vancouver ballroom. June appeared with her niece Betty Mills and some of the more advanced students who had transferred from other Vancouver studios. The performance inspired a number of young girls to start training with June.

This group photo of the volunteers is compliments of Agnes Pytko at AgnesPics.

One of June's students was nine-year-old Jean Hunt from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. She had to take a ferry to Vancouver for her weekly lesson. Several of Roper's students would go on to join professional dance companies: Patricia and Sheila Meyers; Rosemary Deveson, who had recently arrived from Manitoba and was one of the few students who had seen a real ballet performance (Vancouver had not hosted a full ballet troupe since the one-night stand of the Diaghilev  Ballets Russes in 1917)  and Joy Darwin.

Rosemary Deveson joined the new school at the age of thirteen and had fragmentary ballet training as child in Winnipeg and briefly in England. She recalls her excitement when she and her mother presented themselves to the school and were invited by Vivian Ramsay to watch June teach a class. "Frail, sipping a glass of milk - but so gorgeous!" June would go on to become Rosemary's idol and mentor.

Thanks to the book June Roper Ballet Starmaker and its author, Leland Windreich.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Life's A Changin'

If you remember from Friday, June Roper was preparing to rejoin the Cochran production after a vacation but her mother, Elizabeth Roper, fell ill during an Atlantic voyage. Elizabeth was so sick June doubted her mother would survive the voyage. June wired a brother living in Kentucky to meet the ship.

Elizabeth remained in a New York hospital in critical condition for three months. She was pronounced well enough to travel and was on her way to the train station to accompany her son to Kentucky when she had another attack. She was once again bedridden - this time for a month.

It was impossible for June to return to London and fulfil her duties in the second Cochran revue. The weeks of stress and anxiety had sapped the young woman's strength and she felt her control over her future was slipping away.

When her mother could finally travel, June went with her to Kentucky where she collapsed and had to be hospitalized. The symptoms she was suffering included pain, depression and anorexia - conditions for which psychological causes had yet  to be explored. The doctors in Kentucky were convinced removing June's appendix would cure her. However months later, her advanced depression left her speechless. So the doctors removed her tonsils. (In later years, June described her condition as a nervous breakdown.)

Elizabeth's health was improving though and she would go on to enjoy another eight years of life.

June returned to Los Angeles and tried to regain her energies and re-establish her dancing career. As her health permitted, she worked with Ernest Belcher and served as an instructor in his studios. Performing however was more difficult. The effects of the depression were now being felt in Europe, causing many of the lavish revues to close. Those were replaced by the motion pictures. In the U.S., the entertainment field suffered drastic cutbacks so many road companies stopped touring.

For a while, June worked with William and Royal Stewart, to brothers who had come from the Belcher Studios. Royal worked in the film industry - he was the dance instructor who taught Shirley Temple and Jane Withers dance routines used in their movies.

William and June married but the marriage lasted less than six months because William began to display tendencies for violent behaviour.

Once again, I would like to thank the book June Roper Ballet Starmaker and its author, Leland Windreich for the information above.

I hope you find the beauty around you.