Lynn Seymour – Edited transcript of Lynn Seymour and Sir John Tooley at the Holburne Museum, Bath 2004
It is a great privilege and a huge pleasure to welcome you, Lynn, to Bath, where you appeared a good many years ago with Rudolf Nureyev, following that dreadful day when Margot Fonteyn heard that her husband had been shot and was extremely ill as a result, and Lynn came down. But many things have happened since then. Lynn, one of the truly great actress dancers of her generation and indeed of all generations, – she is a truly remarkable artist who worked a lot with Rudolf and it seemed totally appropriate, in view of her rather brief connection with Bath those years ago, and because she performed so much and was a friend of Rudolf’s too, that we invited her to come and talk today: so a huge welcome, Lynn.
Lynn, what was your first encounter with Rudolf?
My first encounter with Rudolf was back in the sixties when he first came to London and I was rehearsing with some others of my colleagues “The Flower Festival at Genzano” and Eric Bruhn was teaching us. Rudolf came to the rehearsal because he wanted to learn the dances himself. We immediately hit it off because he instinctively and impulsively and generously started helping everybody and he also, I think, recognized a fellow struggler in myself because I was far from the best of the group, but I was a very determined sort of individual and I think he liked that, so we warmed to each other right away.
Yes, of course, you’ve touched upon one of the extraordinary qualities of Rudolf, which was a generosity to all his colleagues. He could be ferocious in all sorts of directions and even ferocious with his colleagues too, but essentially he was a man of real generosity of spirit and a willingness to help, just as was Maria Callas.
But then, Lynn, as I remember it, the first production you took part in was one of Rudolf’s and that was “Bayadère” and you were one of the three ballerinas, the other two being Merle Park and Monica Mason. Could you talk a little bit about that because it was first time Rudolf mounted a production in Europe and indeed on the Royal Ballet:
Well, in fact, before “Bayadère” we did a MacMillan ballet called “Images of Love”. In that ballet Rudolf and I danced together with Christopher Gable. We became very good friends and I think we’d had a company tour in between where we discovered that we both loved hats and he taught me how to pack. I never had room for my hats and he always managed to accommodate them so I had my first really good lesson in good packing for long tours!
But Bayadère really was, for me, a fantastic time because by this time Rudolf was a friend and he was very candid with me. The three soloits had very difficult little variations to do and the rest of the work they had to do was pretty thankless actually and very hard. He gave me the worst and most thankless solo. It wasn’t showy, it wasn’t brilliant, it wasn’t charming, it was slow, it was a balancing act, it was dull and kind of finished on a funny up note that didn’t really make you feel that it had ended and it was really hard.
I said to him one day when I was struggling away with it, “Rudolf, why did you give me this solo? I’m not the strongest person here.”
He said, “You are the only one I thought that could make something of it! You’re such a good actress!”
So I said, “Do you mean classical ballet is all about acting too? “ and he said, “no, far from it”. Well, we were joking, but what he taught me was something that was against my grain as I had always considered that when you are on the stage it was a place of mystery, of magic and what you didn’t want the public to see you didn’t show them. So no matter what, you would disguise difficulties with apparent ease, keep a pleasant look on your face and never show that anything was amiss. Well, Rudolf didn’t seem to follow this at all and in fact he was famous for stopping orchestras and starting all over again and slamming into the 5th position with a really, really horrible look on his face. I didn’t agree with that, but nonetheless he taught me how rigorous you had to be when doing a purely classical ballet. There were no short cuts, there was no way to disguise your shortcomings so the best way of making a good fist of it was to be brutally honest in your execution and faithful to the hardships, so that you spared yourself nothing by plastering over a crack, if the crack showed, but it was an honest attempt, was his view. It took a lot of courage to do that sort of thing. But it was a great lesson for me because then I was able to start to tackle the fundaments of doing the purely classical role in a way that was far more conducive to building and growing and improving.
So I have a great deal to thank him for that. It didn’t stop there, the same encouragement went on well after this ballet too but this was the first seed that he planted in my mind.