OBITUARY: PETER BRINSON
Saturday 08 April 1995
He was born at Llandudno, north Wales, in 1923. Endowed with a keen intellect, he was well-equipped for academic studies, but after attending university at Oxford he chose to direct his attentions to the visual arts. In 1948 he became a script-writer and research director at the London Film Centre, then from this activity he made his first incursion on the ballet scene by producing a stereoscopic film, The Black Swan, with Beryl Grey (1952). This established him as a dance personality. He went on to edit a Pavlova film (1954); thence, to write numerous articles on dance for the Times and for periodicals. He also gave extension lectures on the subject of dance to Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities.
He studied historical dance with Joan Wildeblood and produced a book with her entitled The Polite World (1965). His appetite for dance grew insatiably and he teamed up with Peggy Van Praagh, a Royal Ballet dancer (who later became Director of the Australian Ballet), to assimilate the technical intricacies of classical dance. For some time he was on the periphery of the dance world, but his real opportunity to put to use his artistic and administrative powers came with the assignment in 1964 to direct the Royal Ballet's Ballet For All, designed to take ballet to small towns and villages throughout the British Isles, a pioneering work which had been successfully carried out for several years by an independent company, Harlequin Ballet, with slender resources, but infectious enthusiasm.
With a substantial grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation and Arts Council collaboration, Ballet For All was well set to accomplish its mission. Brinson guided it with authoritative skills, augmenting his dancers with actors, to give verbal elucidation to his theories of dance evolution. His accent was on education rather than on entertainment, but the presentation enjoyed a popular success. Over a decade Brinson kept up a close association with Ballet For All, devising a number of attractive programmes, until, inexplicably, the company was closed down. In collaboration with Clement Crisp, he produced a book, Ballet For All (1970), and about this time was active in publishing several books on ballet, including The Choreographic Art (1963, in collaboration with Peggy Van Praagh) and Background to European Ballet (1966).
In 1968, he became Director of the Royal Academy of Dancing, a post he relinquished after only one year in office. However, so excellent had been his relations with the Gulbenkian Foundation that it was perhaps not surprising that he should be invited to become its director, a post he accepted and held for 10 years from 1972. During this period he chaired a national inquiry into dance education and training in Great Britain.
In 1982, he became Head of Postgraduate Studies at the Laban Centre at Goldsmiths' College, in London. The Laban Centre had been founded by Lisa Uhlmann to perpetuate Rudolf Laban's style of dance. In the early days it had been opposed to the artificiality of classical ballet, but later adapted its theories to bring dance into general education and did much to remove the barriers of psychic inhibitions and to encourage natural movement.
Brinson's principal concern was to gain the acknowledgement and acceptance of the importance of dance in academic circles. He gave lectures on drama at Surrey University and was Adjunct Professor of Dance at York University, Toronto. A very active man, always on the move, flying to many parts of the world, he made a worthy contribution to dance education by his vision, organising ability, clear-cut administrative principles and his underlying love of the art.
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