OBITUARY: PETER BRINSON - People - News - The Independent

OBITUARY: PETER BRINSON

eeting Peter Brinson for the first time, in the midst of a dance- world reception, I saw a tall, dignified figure with an impressive head, writes Marilyn Hunt. From kind, sad, and penetrating eyes, he looked on serenely and benevolently at the activity around him, slightly apart, going about his business. Innately courteous, he gave me, a newly arrived American dance writer, his full attention. His soft but sonorous speaking voice projected a gentle, non-assertive authority, at the same time it reinforced an impression of physical fragility. He somehow suggested fine porcelain that would never age or diminish but could possibly crumble in a breath.

This fount of expertise about the dance world, and of what he modestly referred to as the politics of dance, was ever generous with advice if asked and ever eager to absorb new information. He had a long, grateful memory for small attentions paid to him. Very clear about his own principles, he was not argumentative in conversation, always interested in what others had to offer. "I learnt so much" was a favourite comment. He was capable of friendship without a competitive edge. He did others the honour of assuming a seriousness of dedication equal to his own.

His sense of mission seemed to come from a quiet recognition of his own abilities and, hence, his responsibilities to dance and to society. His fortitude and his will-power were inspiring. After a long and exhausting plane trip to Australia to be the keynote speaker for a major conference on dance policy, his weakened body required hospitalisation for blood transfusions; yet he came back full of keen interest in what he had seen and learnt. And the incident did not stop him from travelling to South Africa on another mission soon after, as apartheid collapsed. He was consultant on dance to at least six Commonwealth governments and their arts councils and wrote a position paper on dance for the Labour Party before the last general election.

His respect for dancers' talent and hard work was evident in the obituary articles for he wrote for the Independent with such penetration, balance and tact, including pieces on Peggy van Praagh, Margot Fonteyn, Kenneth MacMillan and Rudolf Nureyev. He was a graceful writer, as he was a graceful thinker. He had a clear vision of the importance of dance to society. He cared deeply about dancers' welfare; as recipient of the prestigious Digital Dance Award, in 1992, he used their award money to develop a pilot scheme for a national dancers' injury and health service embracing all styles of dance.

His life was full of surprising accomplishments, of which he spoke infrequently and quietly. When he brought an unusual and fine British wine as a present, it might come out that he had at one time been wine correspondent for a leading London newspaper. Or he might remark that in the army he had traversed the entire battlefield of El Alamein in order to deliver a message; and 50 years later he would describe the whole panorama. The rapt listener thought of Prince Andrei at Austerlitz in War and Peace.

A convivial man and widely read, he could talk illuminatingly on any topic. One likes to remember him in the comfortable fine old house, in south London, that he shared with his friend and constant support, Werdon Anglin; to remember him in their garden when it was full of friends, flowers, cats, excellent food, wine and conversation. Surrounded by an ailing neighbourhood, the house stood physically embattled like Peter Brinson himself and yet, like him, a fortress of peace, good will and good work.

Peter Brinson, dance administrator, writer, lecturer: born Llandudno 6 March 1923; Founding Director, Ballet for All 1964-72; Director, Royal Academy of Dancing 1968-69; Director, UK and British Commonwealth Branch, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation 1972-82; Chairman, Inquiry into Dance and Education 1975-80; Chairman, Dance Board, Council for National Academic Awards 1975-84; died London 7 April 1995.

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