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John Percival


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:08 PM

I have the very sad news to report that noted British ballet critic John Percival died yesterday (June 20) at his home in London. (I have this news from his wife Judith. John wrote for danceviewtimes for several years, I am very proud to say, and I had kept in touch during his final illness.)

John Percival was the main critic for the Times of London for decades. Here's a very nice interview with him on Ballet.co:

http://www.ballet.co...nt_percival.htm

Percival was one of the finest critics writing in recent years. He was one of my teachers by example. When I first became interested in ballet, I'd read his daily reviews in The Times and marvel at how he could pack so much detail into six lines yet still keep the writing individual and vivid. I realized after I'd been writing for a few years that I'd subconsciously been using the structure of his full length reviews in Dance and Dancers, where he was a mainstay until that magazine ceased publication.

What I think he had that no one else had, though, was a love of dance as keen as his eye, and an openness to all genres of dance that was rare in those days. I went to see Paul Taylor and Martha Graham because John Percival did. He also had a way of being honest about a new struggling choreographer's work without pulverizing him with wit. I'll also always value how he remained a strong voice in support of Ashton's work.

I never met John, though I spoke with him several times over the phone. I was extremely happy that he agreed to write for danceviewtimes, and if you read the reviews he wrote for us you'll see that his skills as a critic did not diminish with age.

My most sincere condolences to Judith, as well as all who knew him, whether as a friend, or as their window on dance.

#2 dirac

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:16 PM

So sorry to hear this. I always enjoyed his writing in danceviewtimes and back when he wrote for The Independent, and his Nureyev bio is on my bookshelf. RIP.

#3 atm711

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:34 PM

Thanks so much Alexandra for sharing the article from Ballet Co. -- it is a great "read". It is a pleasure to read his candid comments---and I especially enjoyed reading his opinion of Kaye and Alonso in their early careers. As his contemporary (in age, if nothing else!) we were both doing the same thing on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

RIP

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 07:00 PM

Thanks dirac and atm. Glad you two were also fans :) One thing John shared with others of his generation was an insatiable appetite for seeing dance. Soon after I got to know him, he was very excited because he had seen two productions of "La Fille Mal Gardee," a matinee in Birmingham and the evening performance in Covent Garden, on the same day. Very good for someone then in his late 70s, I'd say (and a terrific review of both, too).

I envied him for having seen so much. As the ballet.co article tells us, he began watching dance in 1943. This generation is dying off now. Horst Koegler (a close friend of John Percival's) died a few weeks ago. Between the two of them they'd probably seen every even mildly important production of a ballet, every choreographer, and every dancer of any note. We've lost a lot of cultural memory.

#5 Drew

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 07:28 PM

Thanks dirac and atm. Glad you two were also fans Posted Image One thing John shared with others of his generation was an insatiable appetite for seeing dance. Soon after I got to know him, he was very excited because he had seen two productions of "La Fille Mal Gardee," a matinee in Birmingham and the evening performance in Covent Garden, on the same day. Very good for someone then in his late 70s, I'd say (and a terrific review of both, too).

I envied him for having seen so much. As the ballet.co article tells us, he began watching dance in 1943. This generation is dying off now. Horst Koegler (a close friend of John Percival's) died a few weeks ago. Between the two of them they'd probably seen every even mildly important production of a ballet, every choreographer, and every dancer of any note. We've lost a lot of cultural memory.


I'm sorry for this news as well--I remember rushing to the library to find his review of Kirkland's first Juliet with the Royal Ballet.

Inevitable of course, but we are losing a lot of cultural--ballet--memory that I know means a lot to me.

#6 Helene

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:04 PM

This is such sad news. I had the honor to meet him a few years ago, and I think his writing shows not only the brilliant observer and writer, but also the humanity and the mensch.

My condolences to his wife, Judith, who also writes for danceviewtimes, and to the world's ballet community.

Rest in peace, Mr. Percival.

#7 sandik

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:57 PM

Oh this is sad -- Alexandra hits it direct when she says that we're losing this generation of critics. Which means we are losing a generation of skilled witnesses, to a period in dance that was incredibly fertile.

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 05:04 AM

Quotes of Mr. Percival-(along with Mr. Haskell's)- were often used in gala performances offered to Alonso in Cuba. I have never read his literature, but I will definitely, always in owe of those lucky people who witnessed the fertility of America's mi-century dancing.

RIP, Mr. Percival.

#9 Richka

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 08:59 PM

This is sad news indeed. Though I have always read John's writings, I've only recently became acquainted with him; through his wife Judith. This friendship has been entirely through the internet by way of emails. Johnn was a termendous source of dance knowledge, as is Judith and happy to share. I send my condolences to Judith.. John will surely be missed.

#10 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:23 PM

I loved his writing.

Read him all the time, for the report itself but also for the sense that he subtly cultivated of where the pleasures really lay; he always gave plenty of context, but hte great thing was, you could believe he was telling you what he really thought and how he really felt and responded to the ballet itself -- to the dancers, the dancing, the music, the choreography, the mis en scene, the phrasing, the look and feel of the whole thing.

#11 bart

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 07:35 AM

Thanks, Alexandra, for the Link to the Dec. 2002 Ballet.co interview. I hope everyone gets the chance to read it.

The art of ballet is transmitted, in the studio and on the stage, from one dancer to another. I have the feeling that our experience as audience members is also transmitted, and very much influenced, by audience members who came before us. Writers like Mr. Percival carry ballet history in their visual and emotional memory. I learn so much from such writers. I will miss his voice.

The ballet.co interview is full of delightful nuggets of what it was like growing up at ballet performances during the Second World War and the post-War era. I was intrigued to learn that Mr. Percival was a conscientious objector during the War, performing his alternative service as a hospital worker. It was fun to read his account of competing with an equally young Clive Barnes for "my" favorite cheap seat in the galleries at Covent Garden. (Later, Percival replaced Barnes as the ballet critic of the Times, when Barnes left for the U.S. to join the New York Times.)

Also: it's amazing to be reminded of a time before Margot Fonteyn before she had developed fully, a time when Percival felt that she might have something to learn from Alicia Alonso and Nora Kaye during Ballet Theater's first London season. I was delighted to read him say, of his years at Oxford, "The biggest thing was the visit of New York City Ballet to Covent Garden in 1950." Also, his appreciation of Jean Babillee (whom I never saw on stage) and John Gilpin (whom I did see), as well as his conviction that Ulanova was

the greatest ballerina I've ever seen. And I can be dogmatic about that on the strength of seeing her in only very few roles, notably Juliet and Giselle.


The following is a Percival insight which I hope will get many members of the ballet audience thinking:

Lately a certain number of technical tricks have been elaborated, most successfully by one or two exceptional virtuoso dancers. .... [B]ut formerly there were far more dancers with a real commitment to communicating the meaning of what they did. That's something which has been largely lost. It wasn't only a question of acting but of dancing expressively and with commitment to what they were doing. You still see a few dancers with that quality; Sylvie Guillem and Tamara Rojo at Covent Garden and Nicholas Le Riche in Paris spring to mind immediately. But I think it used to be more prevalent. It's that concern for expression, rather than his amazing technique, which makes Carlos Acosta so special. And this expressiveness can be in plotless ballets as well as those with a narrative.



#12 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 08:51 AM

it's amazing to be reminded of a time before Margot Fonteyn before she had developed fully, a time when Percival felt that she might have something to learn from Alicia Alonso and Nora Kaye during Ballet Theater's first London season.


I was happy to read this observation too, bart. I don't feel that Ballet Theater's weight and importance in mid-century's America's dancing has been fully discussed and exposed in literature the way Balanchine's company has, or even BRdMC with that wonderful documentary. I have always been under the impression that the dancers that didn't make the experimental trip to City Ballet when it was first created-(Alonso, Youskevitch, etc..)-were somehow side lined by the audience who instead started focusing more in this other new, exciting AMERICAN company. Still, many older people I know still mention the trilogy of Markova/Alonso/Kaye as THE creme of mid-century America's female ballet dancing examples. Same with Youskevitch, whom I've heard was to be considered by many the greatest bailarin of his era. Maybe it could be due to that up until NYCB started, all this stars from Ballet Theatre-(pretty much as it is now)-were foreign dancers who had not been nurtured by a national educational system, unlike Balanchine's, and so people started seeing City Ballet as something more of their own. Still, even if Kaye tried briefly next door, or Alonso and Youskevitch were put on a barre at first far from NYC, it is a fact that they DID represent probably the best of what America had to offer in ballet matters at the time, at one point for two of them to even be compared in advantage to such a legend as Fonteyn.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:31 PM

Jane Simpson has put up a lovely appreciation of John Percival here:

http://www.dancetabs...l-appreciation/

#14 Helene

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 03:24 PM

Jane writes,

And it was often through him that we first heard of new companies, new choreographers, new dancers, so that when someone like William Forsythe finally arrived in this country we already knew who he was and what he did and were agog to see him for ourselves. (That may sound commonplace in these days when the internet saturates us with publicity, but 20 or 30 years ago writing like John’s was our only information channel.)


Now that we can click a link to a YouTube video, it is so easy to forget that critics were often our only gateway to knowing what existed in the dance world, especially for those of us who have no or almost no personal connection to the dance world. To have had our eyes opened by John Percival is such a privilege.

#15 vrsfanatic

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:04 PM

Sorry, I did not see this earlier. Mr. Percival was a wonderfully knowledgable dance critic. His contributions to the art of ballet will be missed. Sorry Alexandra for the loss of your friend. May his family find solice in knowing there are many in the world who learned so much about ballet through his writings. May he rest in peace.


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