All for Mrs P: A daughter pays tribute to her mother’s journey

Thanks to the vision and energy of such pioneers as Eunice Weston, Frances Scully, Kathleen Danetree, Linley Wilson, Lorraine Norton, Phyllis Danaher, and Lucie Saronova, the syllabi of the Cecchetti Society, the British Ballet Organisation and the Royal Academy of Dance took hold in Australia.

Dancers from the Ballets Russes tours of Australia added to the teaching pool and by the 1950s, the students of those pioneers were teaching themselves.

Tanya Pearson’s journey was more complicated, involving geographical detours and adventures with different dance styles before she finally settled in Sydney as a teacher and created a ballet academy which has lasted longer than most.

Last weekend her story was told in a production created by her daughter, Nicole Sharp and the choreographer, Paul Boyd.

Titled Mrs P – 50 Years – A Celebration, the show was narrated by the Australian Ballet’s Colin Peasley and Danny Radojevic and staged at the Parade Theatre in Kensington, Sydney.

It showcased former students who are now professional dancers in Europe and Australia, among them the Australian Ballet principal, Lucinda Dunn, one of highest ranking of Tanya’s former students. In the last piece in the program, Dunn brought the final variation from Raymonda to a fine close.

Camera crews were in the foyer and the auditorium to record the evening as part of next week’s Australian Story on ABC TV, featuring Tanya’s life, from her birth in Russia to her 75th birthday this year in Sydney.

Born Tatiana Jakubenka in 1937, she was two years old when her mother, Anna, became ill, and placed her two daughters in an orphanage while she recuperated in Crimea. When the younger daughter, Nellie, died of malnutrition in the orphanage, Anna and Tatiana moved to the Ukraine to live with Anna’s parents.

The German invasion of the Ukraine forced the family to flee from Russia. They lived in Germany until 1948, when the family sailed to Australia. Tatiana, then 11, became Tanya.

Her ballet career began in the studios of Raissa Kouznetsova who had danced with Colonel de Basil’s Covent Garden Ballet Australian tour of 1938 and stayed behind to establish a company and school in Sydney.

When Kouznetsova returned to Europe in 1958, Tanya joined the Borovansky Ballet but soon after, Edouard Borovansky died.

In the early ‘60s Tanya danced with a troupe for HSV Channel 7 Melbourne then sailed for London where she appeared in several shows at London Palladium. In London she met and married Keith Pearson.

In 1964, back in Australia, Tanya danced and choreographed for Channel 10 and the ABC, then established her own ballet school, eventually running the Sydney City Ballet Company, then establishing the Glen Street Academy of Ballet and, in 1993, her Classical Coaching Academy.

The tribute opened with a video projection representing a kind of reverse aging of Tanya. A present day portrait dissolved into another and another, in what looked like five or 10-year sequences until we saw Tatiana as a child in her Russian years.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of the show were two seldom seen works, the first by Frederick Ashton, the second by John Cranko.

Stephanie Hancox, a soloist with the Bavarian State Ballet, danced in both, first in excerpts from Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and then with Matej Urban, a first soloist with the Bavarian State Ballet, in an excerpt from Cranko’s Taming of the Shrew.

Choreographed on Lynn Seymour by Ashton in the mid 1970s, Brahms Walzes was not meant to replicate Duncan’s dancing but to show the essence of her style.

When the work was revived by Rambert Dance Company in 2004, the English dancer writer, Judith Mackrell wrote: “For many viewers Seymour was an uncanny reincarnation. The rhythmic subtlety of her dancing, her rounded sculptural contours, her willingness to take risks all brought Duncan back to the stage”.

Both Brahms Waltzes and The Taming of the Shrew have a German connection. Ashton was talked into creating Brahms Waltzes by John Neumeier, artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet and John Cranko choreographed the Shrew in Stuttgart for Richard (Ricky) Cragen and Marcia Haydee.

Cranko’s biographer, John Percival, recalled how “John [Cranko] drew on Ricky’s strength, as a partner and as a solo dancer. Alone, he hurtled breathtakingly high above the stage…in the duets, he and Marcia threw each other around – literally, since they often had to end with a bump on the floor.

“The battle of the sexes acquired a ferocity new to the ballet stage, yet a gentle tenderness peeped through long before the reconciliation at the end”.

In the tribute to Mrs P, it was a pleasure to see the excerpt from Taming of the Shrew danced so well by Hancox and Urban, and very sad that only a couple of days later, we learned of Cragen’s death in Brazil.

Among the many highlights of the tribute were To My Suite, a duet choreographed by the late Tanya Liedtke, and national character dances by the late Rita Dubovsky who is so sadly missed by her many former students in Australia.

The hardest working dancer of the evening was the Classical Coaching Academy student, Grace Robinson, who portrayed the role of the young Tatiana and danced with much confidence with her partner, Joel Small, in a pas de deux choreographed by Paul Boyd for his ballet, Polar Express.

The major sponsor of the production was Bloch, the dancewear company that is also celebrating its own anniversary this year – its 80th.

Australian Story – Tatiana Is Dancing – will be telecast on ABC1 at 8pm on August 13.