Friday, October 31, 2014

The Launch of a Ballet Star

I'm not going to talk about all of June Roper's students who went on to stardom but I want to mention one incident in 1938.

Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russia announced they were returning to Vancouver in February of 1938. June started preparing her three most promising ballet students for an audition. She had spent three years working with Canadian youth and she realised an intense training programme can produce a finished dancer in that time. Another advantage was location. Her students were far enough away from Broadway or the motion picture industry so they wouldn't stop their training for high-paying, potentially glamorous jobs.

Three girls, Pat Meyers, Rosemary Deveson and Rosemary Sankey, were taken under June's wing. They were taught, among other things, fouettes in all conceivable combinations and they gained strength and ease in their execution. By the end of 1937, June was ready to put her work on the line and face the judgement of the revered Russians.

The de Basil troupe was performing in Seattle before coming to Vancouver. So June made a trip south of the border to talk to Colonel de Basil and his management team about arranging an audition for her girls when the troupe was in Vancouver.

The new resident choreographer, David Lichine, agreed to see June's pupils in the theatre an hour before curtain call on closing night. So at 7:00 pm on February 3, 1938 June took her three prize students to the Beacon Theatre in Vancouver where the girls went through some basic demonstrations on an empty stage. Lichine and the Colonel watched impassively for a few moments then conferred about what they had seen. The Colonel wanted to see the girls in another setting so he suggested an audition at the Roper studios after the performance.

June asked her office manager, Hope Brealey who was in the audience, to call their pianist and prepare the studio for visitors after the show. Brealey and her companion, both in elegant evening wear, left the theatre for the school. When they got there, the women found a cleaning crew washing the studio floor. There was only a few hours before the guests would arrive so they turned on the heat, opened the doors, hiked up their fancy skirts and got on their hands and knees to dry the floor with towels.

It was shortly after midnight when the esteemed guest arrived. David Lichine and his wife, Tatiana Riabouchinska; Colonel de Basil and Olga Morosova; principal dancer, Yurek Shabelevsky and a few curious dancers relaxed in the studio and watched the three young dancers demonstrate their broad range of skills. The audition went on for two hours. 

Once the demonstration was finished, Colonel de Basil praised June Roper. "Never before have I seen such excellent training Madame. I take my hat off to you." Other company principals who watched the audition said, "We have never seen anything like it from girls so young."

Colonel de Basil insisted contracts be drawn up before he left Vancouver and it wasn't until 5 o'clock in the morning before they were approved and signed by the parents of the girls. (Only two of the girls were accepted. Rosemary Sankey was not considered because of her height.)

This was a big deal. The press covered the story on February 4 and June Roper's fame as a ballet teacher began to spread throughout the profession.

Can you imagine how exciting that night, and the following days, must have been for June and her students? Sankey must have been severely disappointed and my heart goes out to her. But I rejoice in the accomplishments of June and all her students.

This information is coming from the book June Roper, Ballet Starmaker by Leland Windreich.

Have a happy - and safe - Halloween. I hope you find the beauty around you.

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