OBITUARY:Bettina Vernon

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bettina Vernon spent her professional life interpreting and propagating the Bodenwieser dance style, which emanated from Vienna in the 1920s and enjoyed a vogue in its time.

Gertrud Bodenwieser (born in Vienna in 1890) based her invention upon central European dance forms, but she embraced both classical and gymnastic movement in her choreographic vocabulary. During the early part of this century pioneers of the modern dance such as Kurt Jooss, Mary Wigman, Yvonne Geogy, Palucca, Bodenwieser, and others throughout the German-speaking world sought to evolve a freer dance style with which they could interpret contemporary human problems. Despite their theorising - that to be realistically articulate the movement must spring from the centre out, as opposed to decorative peripheral posturing - they all developed a very individual style linked to the personal characteristics of the innovator.

As head of the dance department of the Vienna State Academy of Music and Theatre, Bodenwieser was able to train and develop a group of dancers who could perform her works to a high standard. The Bodenwieser Dance Group toured Europe extensively and was popular. Her powerful personality was central to the ensemble which portrayed such titles as Pilgrimage of Truth, Life of the Insects, Errand into the Maze. It had its own Viennese flavour and period characteristics and charm.

Bodenwieser's work was interrupted by the Nazi Anschluss of 1938 and the following year, with a group of her dancers including Bettina Vernon, she found her way to Australia where a tour was arranged for them. During the war she set up her school of dance in Sydney and spent the rest of her life in Australia.

A leading dancer, Vernon remained with Bodenwieser throughout the war years but in 1945 she had a longing to return to Europe. She teamed up with another solo dancer in the group, Evelyn Ippen, to make a company which they named Ballet for Two and, when the war ended, they returned to Vienna to take part in the first post-war international festival of dance. They brought back to Europe the Bodenwieser ballets with additional ballets by themselves and toured widely in Europe and even visited Japan.

Bettina Lanzer was born in Vienna, in 1920 (Vernon she adopted as her professional name), and as a child showed a natural aptitude for dance. She was trained by Bodenwieser in the Vienna State Academy from which she graduated with a diploma, immediately joining the company of her teacher and touring extensively throughout Europe.

She married in 1951 Wing Commander Charles Warren DSO, whom she had met some years previously in Japan, and she and Ippen settled in Britain, continuing to participate in tours and to teach and lecture. Most of these tours, undertaken during the 1950s and 1960s, were to small theatres and arts clubs where they succeeded in presenting entertaining programmes in the style of dance they endeavoured to perpetuate. Vernon was an accomplished artist, as was Ippen, and they complemented each other admirably. She had a deep love for her art and felt it her destiny to continue the Bodenwieser style; even to update it, and to instil its qualities into future generations. By her determination and zeal she accomplished much.

For some years she and Ippen were associated with the Dance Department at Surrey University, where they were part of an overall dance course for an MA degree. They still considered their outmoded style a viable dance form and an integral part of dance education. Vernon and Ippen were also active in arranging recitals and lectures.

They staged a centenary Bodenwieser exhibition, in 1990, at Surrey University and then at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, which filled the large upstairs foyer and contained many fascinating pictures of dance from a lost era much cherished in its time. More recently they staged a performance at the Lillian Baylis Theatre and right up to her death Vernon was working on projects for Linz, Vienna, and Moscow.

Her life expressed a constancy of motive and belief in the dance form that nurtured her.

John Gregory

Bettina Lanzer (Vernon), dancer: born Vienna 22 February 1920; married 1951 Charles Warren; died London 5 June 1995.