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Ivan, me and Jane Howarth, in Spain, 1992.

This is Dec. 11th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th

I have a huge soft spot for Ivan, not just because he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but also because he was the first director I worked for as a full-time company pianist. In that capacity, he presided over my debut performance with ENB which was playing for Apollo in Malvern, and I still treasure the chukkas card and present that he and his wife Marilyn gave me. There are only a handful of people who would realise how important & nerve-wracking that first performance would be; for a director to be bothered enough to send a card & a present as well is extraordinary.

At another premiere (this time the three eponymous Rachmaninov preludes in Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes) he came back after the performance and said “Well done. Maybe one or two places the tempo was a bit fast, but the feeling was right.” This, in a nutshell, is what made me adore Ivan – he cared the feel of things. With Ben Stevenson’s piece, and Rachmaninov’s music, it’s pretty obvious that if the feeling was wrong, there’s virtually nothing left of either, but in my view it takes a really enlightened director or ballet master to be more bothered about getting the atmosphere right than nit-picking over details.

As someone who had made a seismic shift in career direction only a few years earlier, and who had no idea whether I’d fall at the first hurdle, having someone as supportive and full of warmth as Ivan as my first director gave me the confidence and security I needed while I cut my teeth as a performer. Indeed, the combination of Ivan, Woytek & Jackie on the ballet staff in that period was a unique dream-team.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist