How different life might have been if Jackie hadn’t been doing the Professional Dancer’s Teaching Certificate at the RAD in 1986 when I had my first job there. I played for some of her classes, we got on, she liked the way I played, I liked the way she taught, and one Sunday afternoon, she invited me to meet some people from ENB (or Festival Ballet, as it was then), including one of the pianists. Sooner or later, I was invited to play for a company class, and over the next three years, I freelanced at ENB and fell in love with the company, its dancers, and everything it stood for.
Is it any wonder? After class one day, I stayed to watch Lynn Seymour rehearsing Anastasia since I had a couple of hours to kill. One evening, Peter Schaufuss asked me if I would mind terribly staying on another hour so that he and Lynn could rehearse Romeo & Juliet. One legend after an other walked in and out of those studios, and although it was often years before I realised just how lucky I was to have been there, there was a constant electrical charge from all the talent & artistry.
Then in 1990, both Jackie & I joined the company full-time, she as ballet mistress, me as pianist, and – as with most of the stories in this tale, we became best mates, and a great professional team. She was a brilliant ballet mistress, who managed to keep the respect of dancers, choreographers, directors and management all at once, a juggling act that few manage successfully.
Jackie’s expert analytical eye could trace the root of many a problem in the studio, which was great for dancers, of course, but also for me as an accompanist. She is one of only very few people who know instantly/instinctively when a problem is with the dancer rather than the music, or vice versa. If she doesn’t know, she will get dancer & musician together and analyse & discuss it until she does know, always with the utmost diplomacy and respect to everyone involved.
Her acute observation and analytical skills meant that she was often able to highlight why something did or didn’t work for class, and she cared enough to discuss it afterwards, or while the class were stretching. As with all the best teachers, she herself responded constantly to the music during class (as opposed to those who ignore the music themselves, but command their dancers to respond to it), often turning to me during an exercise with a smile and a compliment when it was something she particularly liked or was particularly suitable. Her marking was impeccable – clear, rhythmic, elastic, expressive and fun. Once the exercise had started, she could establish a good tempo with her voice within a couple of counts, a rare but essential skill.
She was one of the most efficient, practical, intelligent and professional people I’ve worked with, indeed, she taught me the meaning of most of those words in the context of the theatre, all done with the greatest warmth and sense of humour. I’ve lost count of the number of times we cried laughing on tour, and one of the first classes she taught, she made me corpse at the piano. I hope her students at the Royal Ballet School realise what a gem they’ve got.