Laurel Martyn, once a dancer, always a dancer
As a child in the 1920s, Laurel Martyn saw Anna Pavlova dance in Brisbane.
Of course she found Pavlovaâs performances beautiful. But that wasnât the reason that Laurel decided to be a dancer.
Laurel once told me: âI was always a dancer. I just knew I was a dancer ever since I was 4â.
And I think she was a dancer to the end of her life aged 97. She died in Melbourne this month.
We had a few conversations over the years, and once, in her 80s, she danced with her arms. Sitting in a chair at her Melbourne home she showed me an elegant port de bras.
Another time, in 2002, she told me about her years as a young dancer in London and winning a gold medal in the Genee Awards in 1935.
Lauren was born in Toowoomba in 1916. Her surname was Gill but she changed it, she told me, because she thought it sounded âlike a butcherâs nameâ. Perhaps she meant fishmonger!
But to go back to the beginning of her dancing days: âKathleen Hamilton taught me in Toowoomba.
âShe gave me a wonderful feeling for aesthetics, she answered my needs which were to find out more about dancing, not about the technique first. To find out how to dance better.
âIf anyone told me just put your hand on the barre and stand still, I would have left.
âI went to Brisbane because I decided to go to university to do archaeology.
âSomeone told me there wasnât any archaeology in Australia so I decided Iâd better keep on with dancing.
âMy family said to me âweâd better let you try to get it out of your systemâ. I wanted to be a dancer since age 4â.
The Brisbane ballet teacher, Marjorie Hollinshed taught her âthe beginnings of the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus.
âShe was a very intelligent woman and she had a wonderful mind for inquiry. That suited me because Iâm always inquiringâ.
Lauren visited Melbourne to get a further opinion about her dancing from Jennie Brenan, a woman who could never be accused of giving too much praise.
âShe said I was âquite niceâ (as a dancer)â.
In 1933, Lauren sailed to England on the Orient Line ship, the Ormonde.
âIt was lovely. I love shipsâ.
She turned 17 on the journey.
âI auditioned at the Association of Operatic Dancing [the earlier name of the Royal Academy of Dancing] with Felix Demery. He said I think you should study with Phyllis Beddells [one of the founding members of the association].
âI did. I lived and trained with her in Maida Vale where she had her house. We got on very well.
âI sat my RAD Advanced exam at Holland Park (where the association had its headquarters) and I passed and I won a choreographic scholarship and was also runner up in the Pavlova Casketâ.
The Pavlova Casket was a choreography competition. For her entry in 1935, Laurel created Sigrid, in which she danced the title role.
In the same year, she won her gold medal in the Genee competition, judged by Adeline Genee and Judith Espinosa.
âI remember Genee was very sweet and extremely nice to me, interested in my dancing from the word go. She loved my beatsâ.
The candidates had to dance a solo choreographed by themselves and a classical ballet dance but not a variation from a classical ballet such as Giselle.
Laurelâs own dance was called The Little Dancer from Spain.
The following year she was invited to join the Vic-Wells Ballet (later known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet) by the artistic director, Ninette de Valois.
âI didnât have the perfect figure, and not nice feet, but De Valois wanted me. She said I would be the allegro dancer. She made a mistake because I wasnât an allegro dancerâ.
âI joined the Wells corps de ballet and in two weeks I learned seven ballets. Not The Rakeâs Progress though. De Valois decided I wasnât suitable for that. Boro (Edouard Borovansky) didnât want me to be a harlot in a ballet so that happened to me twiceâ.
The Rakeâs Progress, choreographed by de Valois in 1935, has an orgy scene and five dancers who play the roles of Ladies of the Town.
Laurel told me she had her first pas de deux lesson with Anton Dolin and briefly travelled with the Markova-Dolin company.
She returned to Australia in 1938, supposedly on a yearâs leave of absence from the Vic-Wells as Jennie Brenan had convinced her she needed her as an assistant with her Melbourne school.
But Laurel did not return to England due to the outbreak of the war.
She joined the Borovansky Ballet in 1940 and danced in that company as a principal until her marriage to Lloyd Lawton in 1945.
The following year, she became the director of the Ballet Guild, later titled the Victorian Ballet Company and eventually Ballet Victoria.
We didnât speak of those times, unfortunately, but her Ballet Guild years are well documented in Ballet in Australia, by Edward Pask, and Australia Dances, by Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon.