The ballet world is that small, and Betty is that well-known amongst dancers that if you say ‘Betty’ to most dancers, it means Betty Anderton. The fact that I can’t find a single recent picture of her teaching, either in my own collection, or on the web, illustrates perfectly my motivation for this advent calendar. Considering the thousands of wonderful classes and rehearsals she has taken for probably thousands of dancers over the last few decades, and that those classes and rehearsals have been behind many of the greatest performers and performances you have seen, it is monstrously unfair and unbalanced that you can’t find more than a handful of sites which just mention her in passing.
I owe Betty so much, I don’t know where to start. When I first started freelancing at Festival Ballet, her remarkable expertise with working with music and musicians in rehearsals guided me through my first difficult calls. I was brought in one day to play for a principal call of Coppélia, the music of which I love – but like most people, I only knew the big tunes, not all the bits in between. I’ve seen many people flap under those conditions, but not Betty: she kept the whole rehearsal under calm control, singing and conducting to keep me at the right tempo or feel, and singing any missing lines, or over awkward page turns. At the end of that call, I knew Coppélia; the tempo and atmosphere of every scene were etched in my memory for ever, because she was so clear, and so kind.
Her singing is legendary. With her exotic looks, wild dark hair, and extraordinary presence, she looks like she has just walked off the set of Carmen, and she accompanies the marking of each exercise with a beautiful but slightly comical version of hits from the opera or the classical repertoire, interspersed with the names of steps, sound effects like ‘miaow’ or diggy-diggy ya-ta-tah and wise advice on the execution of steps such as “the exercise isn’t over when the music stops, if you see what I mean”. I do.
I’m grateful to Betty for many, many insights into playing for class, and I owe my understanding of musical phrasing entirely to her. The musical extract in the picture above is one of the solos from Flower Festival in Genzano. I always think of Betty when I hear or play this, because in one class at Rambert years ago, I played something which didn’t work for an exercise, and this was Betty’s solution to the musical problem. She explained something to me that day about the nature of what jumping music needed which has been one of my most valuable lessons. One day in a rehearsal of Romeo & Juliet she said “It needs to be a bit slower” – then paused for a moment and said “No, it’s not to do with tempo; it just needs more air between the phrases.” She was right; it was genius; it made Prokofiev sound like music again, and solved the problem.
And beyond all that, she encouraged me, gave me confidence, and made me feel like I had something to offer. What more can you ask?