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John Percival

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#16 Alexandra


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Posted 27 June 2012 - 12:18 PM

Thank you, vrs.

Here's an obituary that ran in the Guardian today. There was also one in the Times, but you can't see it unless you're a subscriber. (A friend wrote to say that the woman with her back to us in the photo is Queen Elizabeth.)


Editing to add: if it seems odd that an obituary is written by the subject's spouse, Judith Cruickshank is also a London dance critic, and, along with her husband, has long written the obituaries of major figures in dance.

#17 sandik


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Posted 27 June 2012 - 06:54 PM

Thanks for the link, Alexandra, although it does reinforce how much we've lost.

I loved this observation at the end

"His last years were dogged by poor health, but he remained cheerful, writing frequently and reading an endless succession of thrillers, though he did develop a late passion for Jane Austen."

I'm so glad he got around to Austen. But yes, the first person nature of the obit makes this statement

"John is survived by me ..."

very poignant.

#18 Paul Parish

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 09:48 PM

I don't stop feeling sad about the death of John Percival. I owe him a lot, much more than I realized until I saw the obituaries, pieced together the information, and mapped it onto my life.

He lived a long, full, very productive life, and he's now with Ashton, Buckle, Balanchine, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky -- and Vsevelovsky and Petipa, too, probably -- so he should be happy up there -- but the loss to us is bruising. It was great to see him again when he started writing for Danceviewtimes, and to realize how much I'd missed reading him, since the days when he first introduced me to the idea that dancing was something you could think about.

I started reading him when I was at Oxford, roughly in 1969, in the daily paper. I looked in the Times for his reports as I looked for news of what was happening in Berkeley and Cambodia. I was country-come-to-town, this was my first exposure to ballet, I'd been the best rock-and-roll dancer in my high school, I was crazy about dancing -- as indeed is almost everybody in Mississippi, where I come from -- but it was new to me to think of it as something you could think about and not just DO. My first ballet was La Fille mal Gardee, Saturday matinee, and I was thrilled, I realized I'd understood every word of it. but I did not know HOW.

SO I looked for someone as interested as I was, none of my friends were, even the balletomanes struck me as not-tuned-in -- but there was Percival, and he got it. AND he saw everything, and he had the sanction of The Times behind him, and the paper was free to read in the Grad Common Room, every day. And he was in it nearly every day, it seemed.

So if I couldn't get to every performance -- I was a graduate student, and Covent Garden was an hour away by the fastest train, and there was no fast train back -- Percival became my window onto the performances I had not seen.

When I look at the programs I still have, it's amazing how rarely I actually made it to the ballet -- I've only got about 10 -- still, it seems like I would have died without ballet, and I wrote about it in letters home all the time. I remember running through the train stations, and that as I got closer to Covent Garden I ran across the street crossings and tossed myself with little jetes onto the curb (pointed feet, heel forward,) and didn't care who saw me, and I'd slice through crowds by putting my arms epaulee, in 4th arabesque, like Dowell running off-stage. I couldn't stop myself, I was so excited -- I noticed it at the time, and thought 'that's odd' but didn't try to stop it -- I'd also developed a florid British accent, like no-one spoke except the widows of brigadiers, and hadn't tried to stop that, from happening, either, except that I also noticed that I still said 'y'all' and 'fetch' and 'tomAYto' -- again, with no struggle, the change was not for particular words, it was systemic, and ballet similarly took me like a disease -- and Percival was my mentor in this induction.

Percival was like my daily feeding. His writing was direct -- without being conversational, like Pauline Kael, he made you feel like he was your friend, you had company in this. And for a Brit he was emotional without being [like the Americans] "overboard". He'd been a conscientious objector and knew his mind, and this can not be underestimated.

in 1969 I was myself in the process of becoming a conscientious objector [to the VietNam War], and I can testify, it's an isolating, difficult process, to go against the grain of a vast tide of public feeling, to wrench yourself out of the ethos you belong to. And he was objecting to World War 2!!

DH Lawrence, EM Forster have written tellingly about being COs, the difficulties of being out of step with your whole generation, and the sense that you have to pay back in your own coin, something commensurate with the sacrifices that the soldiers your age have made.

Still, the British prize their eccentrics and do not make pariahs of them; au contraire, perfectly thoughtless people contrive to have opinions and parade them; everybody does it, or did it,even Christ Church toffs ["Antelope, excellent word! -- it has such a 'woody sound"].

I'd venture to say that part of Percival's need to write so much, and to praise the dancers who'd fascinated him, and to respond to their epiphanic performances with his honest impressions, was to make this payback. When people have real emotions and responses to art and can articulate them fast and often and with unflagging gratitude, as Percival could, it's a tremendous gift to society as a whole. it's testimony he's giving. It's almost secondary, how clearly and succinctly he can say what he means, unmisunderstandably.

That's speculative, -- and memory is clouded by nostalgia, and an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, and even more by my ignorance at the time when he was virtually the only person telling me what I should admire and how I should feel about what I'd seen. He made it seem reasonable that a "thinking man" would think about this extravagant subject and have plenty to say and not hesitate to report on this wordless art as if he knew with great certanty what the dancers had been saying with their bodies, He could distinguish fairly -- it seemed so to me, I'd seen the same dancers and felt much the same way -- between the singing tones of Anthony Dowell and Donald MacLeary, Sibley, Mason, Park, Collier, and Nureyev - the last of whom was then as intoxicating a performer as Mick Jagger. I think I saw Performance and Dances at a Gathering within a week of each other -- all the above-mentioned dancers were in DAAG [except MacLeary], AND Lynn Seymour (the girl in green) -- and each seemed one to be absolutely NOW.

I don't remember any of his particular opinions, nor what Percival said about DaaG, though I wish I did now.... but the point is, he was not discussing an esoteric art. He wrote plenty about non-academic dance -- which was not strange at the time (though maybe it was in England). in New YOrk, Croce [whom I had yet to read] was writing about ice-skating and Fred and Ginger and and Balanchine, Jill Johnson was pushing hte art of the personal essay into manifold voluptuous cul de sacs. I'd bet (though I don't know) that Percival was reading them. I wasn't yet -- I was reading HIM, grateful for the example of someone who clearly did not feel he was crazy to be so interested, and was skilled enough at reporting to give you an idea of what you'd missed.

On reflection, I can not remember in particular anything Percival said -- but I do know how strongly he affected me. it was the kind of attention he believed that dance deserved that emboldened me to think i could think about it, too. Whether or not I shared his opinions is secondary; the example he set was how much he made you feel he'd enjoy comparing notes with you, with anyone else who watched with as much desire as he did.

Now that i write about dancing myself, and know how panicked I feel if I have to write more than twice a month -- I feel like I'm disappearing if I can't get some solitude -- I wonder where he found the nerve to write so often. It poured through him, as if he were an Aeolian harp, responding to the spirit of the dance.

He saw, he felt, he wrote.

#19 sandik


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Posted 27 June 2012 - 10:11 PM

On reflection, I can not remember in particular anything Percival said -- but I do know how strongly he affected me. it was the kind of attention he believed that dance deserved that emboldened me to think i could think about it, too. Whether or not I shared his opinions is secondary; the example he set was how much he made you feel he'd enjoy comparing notes with someone else who watched with as much desire as he did.

When you first are taken with something as powerful as dance, it's such a relief to find others who share that obsession. It sounds like Percival did that for you.

He saw, he felt, he wrote.

This is very, very nice

#20 Drew


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Posted 27 June 2012 - 10:31 PM

Thanks Paul Parish for that deeply felt tribute...

#21 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 02:19 AM

I really wish I could post a photo I have of a review he wrote of a performance I saw at Covent Garden, but I will content myself with this quote:

"The vision scene found her dancing with such soft movement as to draw the audience into extra alertness, like an actor compelling attention by whispering. The adagio, in which the prince falls in love with this vision, was almost transparent in its delicacy, but her solo generated a warmth that became incandescent."


#22 leonid17


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Posted 01 July 2012 - 11:30 AM

[size=4][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]For the first seven years of my ballet going I never had the temerity to approach the two groups of critics that formed in the old foyer and the Crush Bar of the Royal Opera House as they seemed to me to be to singularly austere. It later turned out that in several cases it proved not to be so.[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Richard Buckle and John Percival were the only two critics that I spoke to thereafter and most occasionally to the affable but more serious John.

John Percival was not only knowledgeable he was entirely sincere in what he wrote. He did not cultivate foreign dance company impresarios, but remained entirely his own man.
Throughout that golden age of the 1960's one got to the newsagent to buy "The Times" on the way to work to see how last nights performance had inspired Mr Percival to reveal his often warm and sometimes cutting response, to the fare on offer. He was always able to directly point out comparisons in matters of historical performance in an open manner and was always generous in what he saw as excellence. He was a direct influence on my taste in the appreciation of both ballet productions and dancers.

By the 1970's I chatted to him more frequently and found him to be in possession of a somewhat reticent manner until, a spark of interest aroused his enthusiasm. Then John would expand on the how, why and when something was right or wrong.

His last few years I understand were not his best, but his best years were among the best of the best in London's ballet and dance criticism.

#23 4mrdncr


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Posted 01 July 2012 - 06:46 PM

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.

This reminds me of that controversial final chapter/Afterward in "Apollo's Angels" where the author said much the same thing, though she cited Diana Vishneva, Angel Corella, and Alina Cojocaru as the examplars of those with "a wider vision" in addition to their stellar technique(s).

#24 dirac


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Posted 01 July 2012 - 08:28 PM

My impression is that the-faceless-technicians-have-taken-over is a perennial complaint heard with every relatively recent generation. I don't doubt the sincerity of those who express the sentiment, and no doubt it's often accurate enough, but it's not exactly something that's never been said before.

#25 Mashinka


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Posted 02 July 2012 - 01:08 AM

In my experience there have always been 'faceless-technicians' knocking around, the difference today is that the ratio of these types to true artists is significantly higher.

#26 dirac


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Posted 02 July 2012 - 09:59 AM

True artists are always rare, but the technical level generally has risen across the board, which could account for that.

#27 innopac


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Posted 22 July 2012 - 12:26 PM

[font=georgia,serif][size=4]John Percival[/size][/font]

[font=georgia,serif]Obituary. The Telegraph. 22 July 2012.[/font]


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