On January 1st 2006 it will be 20 years to the day that I met Gillian (Gilly) Cornish at the Commonwealth Institute in London, and in some ways, if it hadn’t been for her, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now.
The occasion was the RAD annual ‘Assembly’ (now called a conference), and I was there because I started my first ever job in dance on 1/01/1986 at the RAD. With typical Australian friendliness, Gilly was the first person to grab my arm, say “you must be the new guy”, give me a cup of coffee, and fill me in on who was who and explain to me the curious world I’d just entered. To say that Gilly kept me sane is an understatement – we became best mates within days, if not minutes of meeting, and our barbecues, sunday lunches and bottles of wine were not only fun, but they were where I learnt about playing for dance. Having worked with ABT & Festival as a choreologist, she really knew her stuff, and like many notators, knew how to explain dance to musicians. She taught me all kinds of vital things about the quality of music needed for different areas of class; how to recognise when dancers were just dealing with their own problems, rather than having a problem with you.
It was through those hours, days of conversations with Gill that I realised this was how you learned to be a good dance musician – outside the studio, through conviviality and curiosity. I’ve continued that ‘conversation’ for 20 years with dozens of other dancers, notators and choreographers. Though Gilly moved back to Australia many years ago, and now runs Gillian Cornish Pilates, she’s one of the magic connectors between nearly all the people who’ll turn up in this advent calendar, especially Woytek Lowski & John O’Brien, both of whom I had my first opportunity to talk to at length at one of her famous barbecues; a great friend, and a real ‘force multiplier’ when it came to learning to love and understand dance & dancers. She also taught me Pilates, but that’s a whole other story!