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Georgina Parkinson passes away

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This sad news was conveyed by a release from ABT:


The dancers and staff of American Ballet Theatre sadly note the passing of Ballet Mistress, Georgina Parkinson. Ms. Parkinson, a cherished member of ABT’s Artistic Staff for more than 30 years, died Friday, December 18 after complications from cancer.

Born in Brighton, England, Ms. Parkinson was a highly acclaimed Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet. She first came to prominence in the title role of Andrée Howard’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci and with her performances as the Gypsy Girl in Two Pigeons and the Wife in Kenneth MacMillan’s The Invitation. With The Royal Ballet, she created several roles including Rosaline in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Winifred Norbury in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations, the second movement in Monotones and Chloë in John Cranko’s production of Daphnis and Chloë with the Stuttgart Ballet. Her last created role as a dancer was the Empress Elisabeth in MacMillan’s Mayerling, marking the end of her career with The Royal Ballet.

Parkinson was appointed Ballet Mistress with American Ballet Theatre in 1978. With ABT she has also performed the roles of the Stepmother in Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend, Madame Larina in Onegin, the Countess Sybille in Raymonda, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, the Queen in The Sleeping Beauty and the Queen Mother in Swan Lake. She created the role of Mrs. Harriman in Twyla Tharp’s Everlast and a leading role in Robert Hill’s Reverie.

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Sad, sad news indeed. I met her for the first time last year when Ballet West's Artistic Director Adam Sklute brought her in to work with the company on LES BICHES. We all adored her in the studio and her stories around the dinner table were hysterical. What a great star she was! May she rest in peace.

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From appearing as a page in Swan Lake on the 8th September 1954 Georgina Parkinson was to become a member of the Royal Ballet corps until a big break in La Belle dame san Merci opposite Donald Mac Leary which was choreographed by Andree Howard. As the only woman among the nine men who made up the rest of the cast, she became immediately recognised for her presence and her extremely beautiful face.

The first time I noticed her was Diversions where her very feminine quality of movement struck me. When Napoli pas de six was first staged for the RB she held her own against Merle Park and Antoinette Sibley. She was the notably vigorous Gypsy Girl in The Two Pigeons and stood out in Ashton’s La Valse.

I remember her as a warm embracing Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty in 1962 though she was slightly uncertain technically at her debut. I think it was in Symphonic Variations (1963) that she showed that she could adapt to Ashton’s subtle difficulties on my first viewing of this wonderful ballet.

Miss Parkinson was in the first cast of MacMillan’s Symphony at a time when Ashton’s impact as Director had moved the RB up to truly first rate technical company with clearly delineated aesthetics.

In 1964 she was given the difficult second variation in the Shades Scene from Bayadere and I remember her beautiful carriage and style in this role. Later that season she looked and moved beautifully in MacMillan’s Images of Love. Later in the year in absolute contrast to these two roles with superb carriage and hauteur she successfully essayed the role of The Aristocrat in Mamzelle Angot. In December of this same year she took the role of the Blue (boy/girl) in Les Biches recalling that detached look that you can see in Vera Nemchinova the originator of the role. This ballet hit the audience powerfully and the reception for Nijinska at the curtain calls was one of the happiest moments of my life at the ballet second only to her reception for Les Noces two years later when Miss Parkinson was again superb in her role.

The way in which Miss Parkinson unfolded the choreography in Ashton’s Trois Gnossiennes was mesmerising in this highly successful première.

Shortly after she essayed Calliope in Apollo in a production and cast I have always retained a powerful memory of.

There are so many performances to recall, I loved her debut as Juliet, in Song of the Earth, as Fridays child with Donald Mac Leary in Jazz Calendar, her deeply felt and expressive Winifred Norbury in Enigma Variations. As an Episode in his past In Lilac Garden, a glamorous Raymonda, imperious in Anastasia, memorable in The Concert.

Georgina Parkinson had a slow start to her career but remained a solid stalwart of the RB through what I consider to be its best years.

If like Lynn Seymour she had not been so close to Macmillan, perhaps yet again Ashton would have choreographed more for her.

For me she leaves a real legacy of contribution to the Royal Ballet over and above some of its more famous dancers.


I have amended an error kindly pointed out by a co-poster.

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Leonid, thank you...I remember her Empress Elizabeth in Mayerling where Macmillan wonderfully used her repressed fire.

I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and attended her first class at ABT in Santa Barbara where the company was touring. She coached and mentored so many wonderful dancers. She lives on in the technique she taught. Good thoughts to Roy and Tobias.

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Here's a fascinating interview from 2004:

I had made a rehearsal for myself as Queen of the Willis, because I was doing it the next night, and I hadn't had enough rehearsal. So in the lunch hour–which believe it or not we actually had at the Royal Ballet unlike life at ABT–I had the pianist and I had the room. There I was, leaping across the floor, rehearsing myself in Queen of the Willis. And who appeared in the doorway, but Bronislava Nijinska with Michael Soames? I continued to work, though I may have jumped a bit higher or tried a bit harder when I realized who was watching. And so that was that, and I left the room, and they came in for their rehearsal. When my name was added to the cast for Les Biches the next day I thought, how weird!
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I am so very saddened by this. She was a wonderful generous person. Listening to her in a rehearsal once, I was so fascinated by her insight and detailed criticisms which this "4mrdncr" recognized and agreed with, that I wanted to jump up and say, "Yes!, yes! Your right! Let me try!" As ggobob posted, "she lives on in the technique she taught."

But my favorite memory is of the first time I met her, when all I could blurt out was "You're Georgina Parkinson!" and her answer, "Yes, I am." I think that says it all. RIP Ms. Parkinson, and may all who know and remember you have my deepest sympathies.

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Here's a fascinating interview from 2004:

Thank you PeggyR for posting this interview. I had not read this before and found the following comments an interesting echo of what experienced members of audiences say.

“ABT is such a gifted company that in some way or another they will always produce a performance. That's not to say it's the ideal performance but you cannot underestimate the power of these dancers. They are absolutely phenomenal. Let me put it this way: they're not experiencing their art the way we did then. It's a different time. Ballet is a different, the requirements are different, and audiences are different. “


“You know, it depends who your audience is really and what they expect. Now audiences want to be stimulated and excited with bravura works: something they can identify with or something they can understand. It makes them excited. They clap their hands. It's very much instant gratification, I think, for audiences. In today's world it seems that frequently audiences are more interested in quantity and not so interested in quality “

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Thanks, Mme. Hermine, for the link to the Times. Two points made by Anna Kisselgoff in that article struck me as especially interesting.

One has to do with ballet outreach:

This fall she was asked to coach the actresses Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in a new Darren Aronofsky film, “Black Swan,” a thriller set in the world of New York City ballet.

The other has to do with Parkinson's teaching and ability to inspire:

Julie Kent, the Ballet Theater principal who worked most closely with her, said on Friday that Ms. Parkinson had helped her “develop my physicality to the point where I was able to express what was inside of me to a larger audience.”

“I learned everything from her,” Ms. Kent said.

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