Obituary: Michele Fox

The dancer, choreographer and film-maker Michele Fox was committed to finding ways of making modern dance on film and television as accessible and visually exciting as possible. She worked extensively on The South Bank Show with Melvyn Bragg, who described her as "as promising and talented as it is possible to be", directing several excellent films for the young arts documentary series Opening Shot, for London Weekend Television and Channel 4.

She was born in 1966 in Johannesburg, the daughter of Edwin Fox, the chairman of the Federated Stores group of South Africa, and Joscelyn Steele, the concert pianist. As a child she was a successful ballerina, performing with the non-racial South African Youth Ballet which toured the Far East under Audrey King. She also put on plays, puppet shows and animated films and was educated at Roedean, Johannesburg and Elmhurst Ballet School and Benenden in England.

After studying English and History of Art at the Oxford Polytechnic, during which time she helped choreograph and performed in Ouds productions of Guys and Dolls, The Soldier's Tale and West Side Story, she was accepted at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Goldsmiths' College, London. She achieved a first-class masters degree with a dissertation (now used in the Laban Centre's teaching syllabus) which explored the relationship between film and dance through the use of cinematic techniques like camera movement, flow motion, and montage. The short films she made for it, Essays in Time and Space (completed in 1992), were selected for the Dance Screen Festival and the BP Expo Film Festival in London.

Fox then founded - and was choreographer and one of the leading dancers for - an innovative new dance company, UBme I Bu, which performed in the Resolution season at The Place Theatre, London, in January 1993 and toured extensively in the south of England. The main piece, City, explored the rhythms and tempos of life in a large metropolis and was acclaimed in Time Out and City Limits.

She was then awarded an Arts Council traineeship on the BBC2 series Dance for Camera, and was also editorial assistant and researcher on Parallel Lines, an Arts Council book on dance and television. In 1993 she joined the South Bank Show team on Opening Shot, researching programmes on the brilliant tap dancer Sav-ion Glover, on Lord Menuhin and on child music prodigies.

This was followed by films produced and co-directed on flamenco dancing in Jerez, Spain, and the Youth Dance Project at The Place and her directorial debut, in which she followed young people working towards the ballroom dancing world championships in Blackpool. This colourful and amusing film, Ballroom (1994), received wide press attention and achieved the highest viewer ratings of the series over four years. She also choreographed the complex dance sequences for Johnny and the Dead (1995), a four-part ITV drama series based on an adaptation of the Terry Pratchett novel starring Brian Blessed and Jane Lapotaire.

In May 1995 Fox was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and began a brave battle for survival. She continued to work, however, between painful bouts of chemotherapy and produced and directed two more documentaries, for LWT and Bravo in the United States. The first was a documentary on Irish dance shot on location in New York, Dublin and London, which received an honourable mention at the Grand Prix International de Video Danse 1996. The other was a profile of the young American Ballet Theatre soloist Paloma Herrera which won an award for Best Youth Programme at the New York Film and Television Awards in 1996 and an award for excellence at the Chicago Film Festival.

Both Melvyn Bragg and Gerry Robinson, the chairman of Granada, were huge fans of the film, which was praised by the Dancing Times for "the clarity and simplicity of the director's presentation of her subject". She also presented a film profile for Keele University on Conroy Maddox, the English Surrealist, shown as part of a touring exhibition. Only very recently, Michele Fox heard that she had won an SABC commission with her producer sister Jacqueline for a new arts documentary series on South African artists, and she was also writing her first feature film script and preparing a feature-length docu-drama about a boy who travels the world in search of different dance steps. In the days before she died she was also preparing a new Opening Shot as well as writing a pamphlet to help others cope with the rigours of a bone-marrow transplant.

She fought cancer without complaining and was known for her teasing humour, fashion sense and generous personality. In her short life Michele Fox achieved much creatively and was on the cusp of coming into her own professionally and personally. To all who came into contact with her she leaves a beautiful, lasting impression.

Her film about Paloma Herrera will be shown at 12.30pm on LWT on Saturday 25 January, with a special introduction by Melvyn Bragg.

Gerald Fox

Michele Simone Fox, dancer and filmmaker: born Johannesburg 19 August 1966; died London 9 December 1996.

Comments