Obituary: Simone Michelle

Simone Moser (Simone Michelle), dancer and dance teacher: born Paris 10 May 1916; member of the Ballets Jooss 1936-39; Director, Leeder School of Dance 1958-65; senior lecturer, Laban Centre for Movement and Dance 1965- 91; married 1945 Willi Soukop (one son, one daughter); died London 27 June 1993.

IF IT is true that in dying the passage of your life appears before you Simone Michelle's last vision must have been not just her own achievements as a dancer but the memory of Britain's first attempts at modern dance in the theatre. She became one of the finest performers and teachers of the Leeder system of modern dance in Britain. She was also a remarkably kind person, widely loved and respected.

Born Simone Moser in Paris in the darkest days of the First World War she graduated at the Ecole Normale de Musique before moving in 1934 to study as a professional dancer at the newly founded Jooss Leeder School in Dartington, south Devon. The memory of Isadora Duncan was vivid still in people's minds and Kurt Jooss's modern dance epic The Green Table had just won first prize at the first international choreographic competition in Paris.

Vivacious, with a compact, neat physique singularly expressive in movement, Moser was also very pretty, attracting much attention when she became a member of the Ballets Jooss at Dartington under the name Simone Michelle. Not only the Ballets Jooss with choreographers and teachers like Rudolf Laban, Jooss and Jooss's closest collaborator Sigurd Leeder were among the artists at Dartington in retreat from Hitler's Europe. There were actors and actresses, singers and other musicians, painters and sculptors, among them a penniless Austrian sculptor named Willi Soukop. He became a Royal Academician and Simone's husband.

Leeder, Michelle and others contributed an important strand to the growth of British modern dance long before American dance missionaries brought the teaching of Martha Graham in the 1960s. There were others, of course, in this development. Madge Atkinson, Ruby Ginner and especially Margaret Morris evolved their own modern styles aiming at the theatre but the Leeder system was based most soundly on theatrical experience and communication. Michelle's career personifies the legacy and influence of this Central European tradition upon British theatre education.

Supplementing her Leeder training with studies in classical ballet under Vincenzo Celli, the foremost Cecchetti teacher in the United States, then with studies in Spanish dancing, she toured the US giving solo recitals and performances for five years. She had gone there at the beginning of the war to be near Willi Soukop who was interned in Canada before being released to return to Britain after only nine months. She herself had to remain until 1945.

The other day I listened to a tape in the oral history section of the library at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance. Her voice with its distinctive French accent, gentle in cadence, recreated her presence. She told of her meeting with Willi, their separation during the war and her return and marriage in 1945. They lived together in one room in Hampstead making cups of tea on a gas stove.

Presently she taught movement part-time for singers at the National Opera School, then full-time at the London Opera Centre, then movement for actors part-time again in drama schools. Finally for seven years from 1958 she directed the Leeder School in London before joining the Laban Art of Movement Studio in Addlestone, Surrey, in 1965. All this with a son and daughter and being wife to a rising star of sculpture.

In the 1950s I watched her dance in a concert at Morley College. She was near the end of her performing career, but still a marvellous mover with a face and body which communicated emotion to the back of a crowded hall. In her time there was no grant system, so that the burgeoning modern dance of which she was a leader had to compete unaided with the hegomony of classical ballet. For that reason the Leeder School closed but Michelle took with her to the Art of Movement Studio all her knowledge of the Leeder method. Teaching the method, she became one of the remarkable group of teachers in many dance styles assembled by Marion North, the studio's new director, when the studio moved in 1974 to south-east London to become the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance.

For 25 years until she retired in 1991 the centre and her students were a passion shared with her family now increased by grandchildren. The one was an extension of the other because the students were her students. For them she fought in committees, in the preparation of timetables, in examinations and when they presented their work in the Laban theatre. 'Her loyalty to colleagues, students and the centre was extraordinary,' says Marion North. 'Always she saw the best in students drawing from them qualities they never knew they had.' 'She had a remarkable perception of how young people could progress, especially in choreography,' said Marion Gough, a senior colleague at the centre. 'But her particular contribution was teaching Leeder technique, especially appropriate to the centre over her whole period here.' For myself watching her teach I saw also an artist in performance. It was a bit like going to their house in north London. Everywhere were images and shapes through which dance and sculpture came together in the human figure, and a sense of art, British-based but drawing on a European tradition.

There is an unfinished book of her teaching which the centre will complete and publish just as it will mark her achievements in the autumn with a special celebration of the generations she taught not only in Britain but abroad. She was in demand frequently, most recently in China where only ill-health prevented a third visit.

Simone Michelle would never have seen her departure as a loss to more than family and friends. In fact a whole community and tradition are deprived. She had, like her husband, an artist's humility towards her work. In the history of British dance, though, she will remain significant, a VIP.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?