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.

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