Obituary: Suzanne Hywel

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The Independent Culture
AS A dancer Suzanne Hywel had a blazing dramatic presence that contradicted her cool blondeness. As a choreographer, her debut in 1968 with Western Theatre Ballet showed a promise that was confirmed by subsequent works, though her career then slipped a few notches downwards for the settled but less exposed pursuit of choreographing for opera.

In her dancing and early choreography Hywel was at the centre of two pioneering groups - Western Theatre Ballet and Northern Dance Theatre - which made a speciality of touring contemporary quality ballets and were to evolve into the bigger mainstream Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet Theatre.

She joined Western Theatre Ballet in 1962, straight from the Royal Ballet School. The company's director Peter Darrell gave her one of her first roles, as a Mod in his Beatles ballet Mods and Rockers (1963). His assistant Laverne Meyer gave her a bigger challenge by casting her as the daughter in his new ballet Reconciliations (1963): she produced a vividly frayed intensity in her portrayal of this fraught young girl.

In Houseparty (1964), Darrell's experimental television "play for dancers", she was wonderfully real as the innocent pretty house guest lured into the nursery and raped. In his A Wedding Present she excelled in the emotionally faceted role of the Bride, who enters marriage with shy nervousness, and expands into confident happiness with her husband until she discovers his former homosexuaityl and disintegrates into a blowsy, vulgar and desperate assertiveness.

She also danced ballets by Maurice Bejart (Sonate a trois), Walter Gore (Light Fantastic) and John Cranko (Beauty and the Beast). When Jack Carter made Cage of God (1967), he gave her a powerful solo of grief.

Her first choreography was Suite for Five Dancers, to a score by Jean Francaix. Where Peter Darrell and Laverne Meyer tended to make concentrated dramas, she preferred a lighter, more dance-focused touch, with hints of flirtation and rivalry but nothing definite enough to qualify as a plot. John Percival wrote: "It is a beginner's work and a modest one at that. Yet it has charm, ease and flow; it makes good use of its music and its dancers, and it is entertaining."

When Western Theatre Ballet moved to Glasgow to become Scotland's national company, Hywel joined Laverne Meyer who had decided to add to the regional trend in dance with his own company based in Manchester. This was Northern Dance Theatre and for its opening season Hywel was a stealthy cat in Frank Staff's Peter and the Wolf and the heroine in Andree Howard's Death and the Maiden.

She herself created Summer Music (1969), to a score by Samuel Barber, and The Clear Light (1970), to music by Messaien, which Percival said "bears the mark of an intelligent and original creator." It also showed off the remarkable expressiveness of the dancer John Fletcher who played the part of a man searching for an ideal. Yet Hywel's approach was almost abstract, with a consistent progression of movement running through the piece to give it a firm backbone.

She went on to choreograph Threequarter Profile, portraying an artist and his models, and in 1973 The Teachings of Don Juan, a monumentally ambitious piece derived from Carlos Castaneda's cult book of the same name, about the hallucinogenic drugs used by Yaqui I ndians. John McCabe wrote a commissioned score, and, although Hywel's conception was less than successful, she still managed to produce vivid movement images.

She decided to follow a boyfriend to London in 1973, although she later married someone else - John Powell, a jazz musician. In London she found work dancing in musicals and operas and choreographing for, among others, Opera North, D'Oyly Carte, and Scottish Opera.

In 1986 she was assistant choreographer to Anthony van Laast for Jonathan Miller's ENO staging of The Mikado, in which she also appeared as a dancer, and from there began a close relationship with the company in which she oversaw the choreography for seven or more revivals at the Coliseum. Suzanne Hywel also often collaborated with Anthony van Laast in musicals, opera, television and Royal Shakespeare Company productions. Her last job was choreographing the dances for Scottish Opera's The Queen of Spades last June.

Suzanne Hywel, dancer and choreographer: born Tunbridge Wells, Kent 15 February 1944; married John Powell; died 2 December 1998.