Deirdre Kelly

Dance On High

 

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In a dark space lit with flickering candles, a tangle of flailing arms, gyrating hips and pogo-ing legs pulse to a rhythmic beat.

“Bliss,” is how Taeji Nedilsky describes it, with a glassy-eyed beatific smile. “You can’t explain it. You have to do it. Just move.”

Whether it’s called trance dance or rave for adults, ecstatic dance that claims to take the participant out of the body and onto a higher plane of consciousness is growing in popularity with classes offered in most major cities across North America.

But is meditative movement really dance?

Former National Ballet of Canada member Kathleen Rea, now an independent dancer and choreographer whose works have been produced by Ballet Jorgen and FFIDA in Toronto, and festivals and companies in Europe, thinks so. She first went to an ecstatic dance session about four years ago, mostly out of curiosity.

“I was awestruck by the beauty of these people who had no training,” she said. “It was beautiful and humiliating at the same time because I thought that I had all this training, that I was a dancer and other people couldn’t be because they didn’t have training.”

 

 

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Marusia Borodacz organizes  “Sweat Your Prayers” dance nights at various downtown Toronto venues, and brings other teachers up from the United States to Toronto to lead spiritual dance workshops.

“I had always wanted to dance,” Borodacz says. “But I could never follow instructions. I always felt klutzy.” Then she went to New York to study with dancer Gabrielle Roth, the author of the 1997 spiritual handbook, Sweat Your Prayers.

Borodacz acknowledges that the idea of spiritual dance, “to free the body to express your innermost self,” is a challenge for professional dancers. “It goes beyond the formulas and allows the intuitive and creative to come forth.”

Rea, on the other hand, finds there is enough inherent structure to give her a direction. Sweat Your Prayers, she says, “is a very good structure to do improvisation in because it represents a flow of emotions — so it’s a way to follow the flow of emotions.”

And she has found artistic rewards in this loosening of her aesthetic process, recently producing a show in Innsbruck, Austria, that mixed two professional dancers with 10 non-professionals. “The only thing we had in common was we wanted to express ourselves in an authentic manner and it was a beautiful show, because it broke down the boundaries of what performance dancing has to be.”

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Erica Ross trained in Russian ballet, but has recently banded together with therapist Nancy Keyser to offer women-only classes in spiritual dance. Like the Sweat Your Prayers sessions, the atmosphere at Transcendance is dark and mysterious. Altars dedicated to goddesses are heavy with beeswax candles, crystals and batik. A sculpture of fleshy women performing a circle dance sits centre-floor. Ross and Keyser, a psychotherapist, move entranced around it. Their arms undulate by their sides and with eyes closed they weave and bob their bodies, making them look like giant butterflies in flight.

“I don’t care what people think of me when they see me dance,” said Ross, resting between barefoot dips and swings. “After years of studying classical ballet, where everything has to be a certain way, that is quite liberating for me.”

Ode to the Turtleneck

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It’s one of the first places to show your age, and one of the hardest to lift, peel, de-sag. We’re talking about the neck. It is the pillar on which rests the noble head, girded by gold or precious stones. It is the home of the throat and a shelter for daubed perfume. It is an erogenous zone where noses nuzzle, lips linger and hickies bloom like obscene hothouse flowers. The neck is powerful. And clothing designed to showcase it is equally potent, perhaps none so much so as the turtleneck.

Young people wearing bulky sweaters.  (Photo by Pierre Boulat//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

 

The high-collared sweater is a staple of most people’s wardrobes, men and women alike. Its perennial popularity stems from its close-fitting, uncluttered lines, as well as its promise of warmth — an especially welcome feature for those of us about to enter a savage Canadian winter. But for the aging baby boomer, the turtleneck has emerged as one of life’s essentials, as important as ginseng and weekly colonics. And all because the turtleneck conceals.

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No wonder a senior style-setter like Kate Hepburn was never seen without it. The turtleneck flatters and rejuvenates — no knives, no pills, just a simple roll of cloth. It also sexes you up. Witness Sharon Stone who wore a sleeveless Gap pullover to the Oscars in 1996. Out of the funnel came a goddess.

 

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But it wasn’t always a shortcut to vanity. The turtleneck’s origins are on the contrary, prosaic. Historians identify 1860 as the year of the turtleneck’s quiet birth on the brackish fields of England. It was exclusively a man’s garment. Members of the shooting class wore turtlenecks to hunt. Sitting close to the body, with a tubular collar that kept the chill from the bone, the turtleneck was a discreet undergarment, stylish only by association with the gentry, who wore it strictly under wraps.

Noel Coward, the jaunty, ironic playwright and composer, himself of the manor-born, was the first to lend the turtleneck its cachet as a fashion item. Coward subversively pulled the turtle from out of its shell in the 1920s. He wore it defiantly on its own, under a jacket. No top shirt to lend it respectability. Hollywood actors Clark Gable and Robert Coleman soon adopted this roguish look, and turned the turtleneck into the epitome of glam.

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Never one to let boys have all the fun, designer Coco Chanel was determined to give her women clients the sense of freedom in clothes enjoyed by men. She threw out the bustle, streamlined the silhouette and gradually, over six decades in fashion, appropriated several items from the male wardrobe for her haute couture. Among them was the turtleneck, the new badge of androgynous chic. Chanel paired it with natty suits and decorated it with her trademark ropes of pearls. She made the turtleneck proper. But screen siren Marlene Dietrich, who adopted the turtleneck as part of her femme-fatale uniform in the 1930s, made it dangerous by pairing it with a black beret and dangling cigarette.

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With women of high style now wearing it, the turtleneck became a fashion icon. You could almost measure morality by it. What had begun as something practical had morphed into an emblem of iconoclasm. When you wore it, you exuded attitude: You were a loner, a freethinker, one who walked on the wild side.

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No wonder the existentialists of post-war Paris adopted the turtleneck as their uniform. And the colour, of course, was black. Aspiring Jean-Paul Sartres everywhere took note.

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The beats in New York took the look and made it ubiquitous in the smokey cafes and jazz bars of bohemian Greenwich Village. William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and father figure to several chemically dependant generations since his authorial debut in the 1950s, wore the black turtleneck through to the end of his days in the 1990s. It was a symbol of rebellion.

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Beatniks, or weekend hippies who wanted to flirt with the danger-beat poets like Burroughs represented, appropriated the turtleneck. And like all outre trends absorbed by the masses, they made it safe. Worse, they made it cute.

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The new darling status was personified by an ingenue named Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face. She paired the black turtleneck with black capris and ballet slippers. By softening the existentialist edge, she made the black turtleneck look effortlessly elegant. Coco Chanel must have been proud. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar paired it with cocktail skirts and pencil-thin trousers. Manufacturers, responding to the demand, made them fast and cheap, while high-minded designers lent them an air of luxury with costly fabrics like cashmere and silk. Rich or poor, no closet was without one. Marilyn Monroe wore hers with jeans and heels. The Beatles, meanwhile, paired theirs with long hair for their North American debut record, Meet The Beatles. The black turtleneck was sexy, cool, glamourous, proletarian — a sweater for all seasons, and reasons.

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Its standing as a democratic item of clothing continues. On the catwalks of Europe, in the shopping malls of the globalized world, the black turtleneck rules. It is poised for winter but just as ready for spring, where designers like Miuccia Prada are forecasting its return paired with smart pretty skirts and strappy sandals. This is doubtless good news for boomers. If you’ve got to girdle your neck anyway, how comforting to know that it is in service of high style.

Rock of Rocks: Canadian Author Mines The Big One

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Having written a book on the Hope diamond, Toronto author Marian Fowler can assure you that the rock is not cursed.

The stone of stones has brought her the promise of a Hollywood screenplay and, at $350,000, the biggest advance of her seven-book career — “So, no, I’m not big on the curse.”

The malevolent side of the gem unearthed in India some time between 40,000 BC and 1660 AD is as famous as its beauty, Fowler says in her book,  Hope, Adventures of a Diamond (Random House Canada): “Some of its owners suffered astonishingly bad luck: one died a very slow, horribly painful death; another, quite literally, lost his head; a third lost a young son to a car accident, a daughter to suicide and a husband to an insane asylum.”

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Known as “the Blue Diamond of the French Crown,” the diamond was whisked to England after a farcical jewel heist during the Revolution. Resurfacing in 1812, it was coveted by British aristocrat Henry Philip Hope, who gave it its name.

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Washington hostess Evalyn Walsh McLean later wore it, as did her dog. But it was jeweller Harry Winston, who purchased the diamond from her estate in 1949, who propelled it to celebrity status.

A master of public relations, Winston urged his press agents to create an air of mystique around the Star of the East. He thought the tales of death and destruction complete bunk, but he loved the buzz.

Fowler, who graduated from the University of Toronto’s PhD program in 1952, did her dissertation on courtship conventions in Jane Austen. Her 1989 book, Blenheim: Biography of a Palace, was a precursor to this one: “It was a biography in which the house was the main character and so I felt having cut on my teeth on a house, I could take a new challenge and take on a cold and tiny inanimate object.”

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In a Gilded Cage, a book published in 1993 about American heiresses who married English lords, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award.
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The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style, published in 1996, profiled Marlene Dietrich, Jacqueline Kennedy, Empress Eugenie of France, actress Elinor Glyn and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, to illustrate her observation that apparel, “however old or dowdy or nondescript, always, to borrow fashion jargon, makes a statement.” Clothes, she concluded, “give a visual aspect to consciousness itself.”

In Hope, Fowler broadens the thematic focus of that last book to include jewellery, which she believes also mirrors the character and social role of the wearer. “The bigger the rock, the bigger the bank account,” she observes.

“A diamond’s allure is that it costs so much, and because of that it is a significant symbol of how much money a person has. People who buy big jewels want them to be outward signs their wealth. It’s vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.”

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Fowler collects vintage costume jewellery herself. At home, she has piles of rhinestones and big Forties pins: “It’s all fake.”

Right now, she is wearing a faux Hope diamond brooch she found in the gift shop of the Smithsonian Institution, where the real diamond sparkles on display.

“I had written half the book before I went to see it,” she confesses. “I was afraid that I’d be disappointed. I had built a picture of it in my imagination after having been with it for so long. I was afraid I would see only a small piece of coloured glass.”

But instead she was mesmerized. “It truly was magical. It hypnotized me. I am a big nature buff. I have a special relationship with trees and birds, and maybe to me such an incredible piece of the natural world represents the raw energy of creation.”

Despite having fallen in love with the subject of her book, Fowler has no plans to buy a real diamond. “I like to spend my extra money on travelling.”

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But once she did have one. Married for 23 years to a medical doctor, she got rid of the piece of marital glitter after the divorce.

“It was a diamond ring from Birks and I went back for a full refund.”

So what does that say about her?

“I needed the cash.”

The Gould Rush: Glenn Gould Still Draws a Crowd

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Alessandro Columbo is serenely confident behind the wheel of his rented Chrysler Neon, coursing smoothly through the streets of Toronto like a local. He even handles the squeegee kids expertly, not bridling at what to him is a strange and uniquely North American phenomenon, but giving them just the right amount of eye contact and an inoffensive wave of the hand before driving off.

An architect from Milan, he has been in the city for less than a week, but already he is more familiar with the cultural landscape than most residents. True, he didn’t visit the Royal Ontario Museum, only looked at the CN Tower and refused to go into the SkyDome because of its monstrously ugly design (remember, he’s an Italian). But he has seen almost every landmark in town with a connection to Glenn Gould.

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The late great Canadian pianist, who would have turned 84 today, September 25, is the sole reason Columbo has come to Toronto. And he’s not the only one to make the journey for Gould. John Miller, administrator of the Glenn Gould Foundation in Toronto, estimates that hundreds tourists each year come specifically to seek out “Glenn Gould” places, from the house in the Beaches, where he grew up,  to Massey Hall at the corner of Victoria and Shuter streets, where at age 13, Gould made his orchestra debut to an astonished audience. His grave in Mount Pleasant cemetery, Miller says, is the most visited in Canada.

But don’t call them Glenn Gould tourists: For them, honouring the life and music of the pianist is not a busman’s holiday but a pilgrimage on sacred ground. “To listen to Glenn Gould’s music is a very rich experience,” said Columbo, driving with quiet purpose to Gould’s grave. “He gives us music and ideas and emotions. He is not only important as a musician but as an intellect.”

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At the main gates of the cemetery there was no map to guide him to the site. But as if on cue, a passing groundskeeper stopped to give directions. Clive Haigh has worked at Mount Pleasant for 18 years and he is used to guiding people, mostly foreigners, to Gould’s piano-shaped marker.

Columbo asked if there are other famous Canadians in the cemetery. “Oh yeah,” said Haigh, “Foster Hewitt and Punch Imlach.” Columbo looked confused until he was told they were hockey personalities. “Oh yes, now I understand,” he said with a shrug. “A hockey player has to be more important than a pianist.”

Maybe so. But 34 years after his untimely death at age 50 on Oct. 4, 1982, Gould’s popularity has never been greater. Sony has just released a new multi-CD compilation, Glenn Gould Edition;a new biography has been published, Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius, by psychiatrist and long-time Gould friend Peter Ostwald;the Royal Conservatory of Music has recently renamed its professional training school the Glenn Gould Professional School; and author Tim Wynne-Jones has published The Maestro,a children’s book with a Gould-like figure at its heart.

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So far, there is no organized Glenn Gould tour in Toronto, no Glenn Gould boutique. Those who want to make the pilgrimage need to do their research beforehand, consulting the plethora of Gould Web sites, for instance, or reading Ostwald’s biography, published in time for what would have been the artist’s birthday on Sept. 25.

One who frequently makes the journey to Toronto in honour of that birthday is Rebecca Rutkowski, a musician from California. Rutkowski wanders the Inn on the Park, the hotel where Gould occupied rooms from the sixties until his death. She eats where he ate and, although she can’t sleep in what used to be his bed (shortly after he died his rooms were converted into storage), she spends much of her time cloistered in the hotel playing her violin like a song of love.

Reached at her home near Los Angeles, Rutkowski spoke passionately of her devotion: “You almost feel like you’d like to say prayers to God so that there’s always light and golden colours around him.”

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Gould is the phantom lover to many a devotee, male and female alike. His sexual ambiguity (no one is really sure what his sexual orientation, if any, was), his brooding good looks, his flamboyant eccentricity (the hotel concierge recalls him lounging by the pool, in the middle of July, dressed in mittens, coat, hat, scarf and galoshes) and his unmistakable genius for playing the piano have created a mystique that is as erotic as it is intellectually engrossing.

Canadian director Francois Girard added to the mystique with his 1993 film, Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Ditto for Switzerland’s Du magazine, which devoted its entire April, 1990 issue to the artist, calling it Mythos Glenn Gould. But it was the late Austrian author Thomas Bernhard who was the first to scale the mythological heights of Gould’s posthumous reputation and to point out the mania for the man looming on the horizon.

His 1983 novel, Der Untergeher (translated in 1991 as The Loser) has Gould as a main character. His superiority at the piano leads two other fictional characters to give up their own playing in despair. They become obsessed with Gould — one even kills himself when he hears about his death — and their lives are dwarfed by his legacy. Critic Robert Fulford, who knew Gould and who wrote about the book in Saturday Night, summed it neatly: “In Bernhard’s account Gould’s talent is so large that it’s dangerous as well as sublime — perfect material for a cult.”

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His larger-than-life status has been helped by the fact that he was a child prodigy, the only son born to Russell Herbert (Bert) Gould, a successful Toronto furrier, and Florence Grieg, who called composer Edvard Grieg a distant relation. Gould’s mother began to give him piano lessons when he was 3. Alberto Guerrero, who taught him at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music for nine years, reportedly said, “If Glenn feels he hasn’t learned anything from me as a teacher, it’s the greatest compliment anyone could give me.”

Raw talent, so potent and unpredictable, fascinates and mesmerizes. People long to know its source, which is probably one way of explaining the number of foreigners who follow Gould’s life passage: By retracing his steps, they hope to solve at least part of the mystery of his creative power.

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One woman who knew him believes the mystery is impenetrable even 35  years after his death. Marilyn Kecskes has been the superintendent of 110 St. Clair Avenue West since 1973. She first met Gould on the elevator, when he was wearing gloves and covering his face with a handkerchief for fear of catching her germs. Kecskes said she had never before met anyone like him: a maverick and eccentric who was also a raging hypochondriac.

She knew he was special, too, because his mailbox was the only one that had been tampered with. Someone had once tried to force it open in hopes of getting a bit of his mail.

Gould was by then an international celebrity, much sought after. English critic Nicholas Spicer notes in a 1992 essay that Gould’s fame was set at the age of 22 when he played for the first time outside Canada, at a recital in Washington. Columbia Records offered him a recording deal immediately after his first performance in New York in 1955. His first recording for them, Bach’s fiendishly difficult Goldberg Variations,became the best-selling classical record of 1956. It confirmed his superstar status and remains in print to this day.

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Kecskes took the elevator to the top floor of this still stylish Art Deco building. Gould, she said, was messy (“orange juice and milk cartons everywhere”), and intensely private (he fired his cleaning lady of five years “because she liked to gossip about him”). Kecskes added that he covered his bedroom window with a bookcase, that he was a terrible driver who frequently drove his big Lincoln Continental into one of the concrete pillars in the downstairs parking lot, and that he disliked intrusions. “Once he called me on the telephone,” she said with a smile. ” ‘There’s someone knocking on my door. Could you see what they want?’ Imagine!”

When the elevator stopped, Kecskes opened the heavy doors next to what was once Gould’s apartment and mounted the stairs to the roof. She pointed below to what used to be his window. “I used to sit up here, after I had done my cleaning, and I would listen to him play all night long,” confessed Kecskes, blushing at the memory. “He never knew I was up here, or else he would have been angry with me, I suppose, but I had the moon and the stars and his music and there was nothing more beautiful.”

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Not everyone is as enamoured. His detractors say that he was a one-composer musician who played Bach passably and other piano music poorly. Even Leonard Bernstein thought so. In a 1962 performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-minor with the New York Philharmonic, Gould played the first movement so slowly that Bernstein, who was the conductor, publicly repudiated the interpretation in advance of the concert. As for Gould quitting the concert stage in 1964 to concentrate on a recording career, his critics say he finally lacked the stamina and composure to perform live. Gould was known to hum, grunt and stomp his way through his piano playing.

In his later years, he became increasingly obsessive about controlling his environment, as well as his personal relationships. Indeed, most of those were maintained over the telephone. He was also an insomniac whose irregular sleep habits — he liked to play and record during the night, then sleep, fitfully and briefly, during the day — undoubtedly contributed to the stroke that killed him.

Tim Vardy, a 22-year-old piano student from The Hague, was in Toronto recently on his Glenn Gould pilgrimage. Sitting at Gould’s historic Yamaha, on display in the foyer of Roy Thomson Hall, Vardy silenced the artist’s detractors with a bang of a hand against the keys of the very piano used to record a second version of the Goldberg Variations in 1981. “There are many great pianists in the world; he just happens to be the most interesting,” said Vardy, launching into his own performance of Bach. “For me what’s special about Glenn Gould is when you hear him play, in a way, it has little to do with piano playing but everything to do with pure music. Sometimes you are not aware that he is playing the piano, it is so direct.”

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Vardy wanders off to the Glenn Gould Studio next door in the new CBC building on Front Street. There he spies the Chickering, Gould’s childhood piano. He leans across the velvet rope meant to protect the piano from the public and lovingly strokes the keys. “I like him because he is not conservative,” he said. “What he teaches me about the piano is that there is not one way of playing it.”

BACK at Mount Pleasant cemetery, Alessandro Columbo is smiling so hard he is practically laughing. “Look at the gravestone,” he says, “it is so simple, and so right that it is simple, because it is the essence of Glenn Gould.” He takes a few photographs, then aims his lens at a large boulder. On it is a plaque that commemorates a nearby Sitka spruce, whose wood is used to make the sounding boards of some pianos. Japanese businessmen from Sony, Gould’s record label today, planted it on an earlier pilgrimage, with the help of Gould’s father, at the conclusion of the 1992 International Glenn Gould Conference.

“Canada is the right place for what he was, because it is a country with a short history and not 2,000 years of history, and so it is possible to have more freedom,” says Columbo, climbing slowly back into the car to go to the airport. “I am completely in agreement with Tolstoy, who said art is something new. And that was Glenn Gould. A man too new and very different from what was normal. He was a genius.”

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Site specifics:

Here are some key locations in the life of Glenn Gould. Except where indicated, all are in or around Toronto.

The family home: 32 Southwood Dr., in The Beach district of east Toronto. The family of Robert Fulford lived next door, at 34. Fulford’s father, Russell “Bert,” a furrier and violinist, died in 1996; his mother, Florence, in 1975. A designated historic site.

The music lessons: The Royal Conservatory of Music, 135 College St., (then called the Toronto Conservatory of Music; now the site of Ontario Hydro; RCM moved to McMaster Hall, 180 Bloor St. W., in 1963). Gould began his studies there at age 7, in 1940, and received instruction there through 1946.

The high school: Malvern Collegiate Institute, 55 Malvern. Glenn Gould attended classes here from 1945 through 1951. As a special studies student, he never matriculated. Other Malvern students: Robert Fulford, Don Getty, Teresa Stratas.

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The debuts: Eaton Auditorium, College Avenue at Yonge Street, Dec. 12, 1945: first public performance, on organ, not piano (destroyed by fire, 1963); Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., May 8, 1946: first public orchestral performance, with Toronto Conservatory Symphony, on piano; Massey Hall, Jan. 14, 1947: first performance with the Toronto Symphony.

The apartment: 110 St. Clair Ave. W., Apt. 902 (penthouse). A plaque at the entrance commemorates the 15-20 years Gould stayed there. No admission to general public.

The park: Glenn Gould Park, at the intersection of Avenue Road and St. Clair, northwest corner. Former home of Toronto Music Library.

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The pianos: The 1945 Steinway which Gould began playing in 1960 is at the National Library of Canada, Ottawa; the Yamaha concert grand, which Gould used for his final recordings, is at Roy Thomson Hall; the 1895 Chickering, which he played as a youth and kept at his penthouse apartment, is at CBC Toronto, 250 Front St. W.

The churches: Uxbridge United Church, northeast of Toronto, where a five-year-old Gould played his first recital, for the Uxbridge Business Men’s Bible Class; All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church, 2850 Bloor St. W., where Gould, on organ, recorded The Art of the Fugue, Vol. 1 in 1962; St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 227 Bloor St. E., where Gould’s memorial service was attended by more than 3,000 on Oct. 15, 1982.

The gravesite: #1050, section 38, Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Gould suffered a massive stroke on Sept. 27, 1982, just two days after his 50th birthday, and died Oct. 5 at Toronto General Hospital. –Deirdre Kelly

Sources: National Library of Canada; The Globe and Mail; Glenn Gould Foundation; Bruce Cross; Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

(Originally published in 1997, this article has been edited and updated for this personal blog. I am the author.)

En Avant Dance Conference A North American First

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Toronto will host the Royal Academy of Dance Canada’s special first gathering of dance entrepreneurs and teachers from around the world this weekend, starting tonight.

The En Avant Dance Teacher Conference will include an array of specialist guest speakers highlighting international insights on dance pedagogy, as well as guidance on running a successful dance business.

The much anticipated event occurs comes after the RAD warned of the global dangers of unqualified dance teachers, as RAD research showed that over half of us automatically assume teachers are qualified in their subject area.

As concerns have been raised in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom about the worldwide lack of legal requirement to be qualified to teach dance, this Canadian conference will unite leading dance educators in a forum designed to set professional standards in the world of dance.

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In addition to leading industrial insights, the conference will feature luminaries of the dance world and VIPs. Special guest speakers will include Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain; Emmy-Nominated, Canadian-born choreographer, Stacey Tookey; Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Dance, Lynn Wallis OBE, and Toronto local, DJ Danny D. The conference will also feature a keynote address from Li Cunxin, RAD Vice-President and Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, as well as author of the award-winning Mao’s Last Dancer. Toronto dance critic and Globe and Mail reporter Deirdre Kelly, author of Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, is a panelist at the Sunday morning session examining perfectionism in dance.

 

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The four-day conference, at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre through Monday, will combine industry sessions such as movement workshops and business seminars with special events such as a cocktail reception, fashion show and gala dinner. Full details can be found here and on the RAD website.

Website: www.radcanada.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RoyalAcademyofDance
Twitter: www.twitter.com/RADheadquarters
Instagram: www.instagram.com/RoyalAcademyofDance
Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/radheadquarters

 

Remembering Bill Cunningham (1929-2016)

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The news has just broken in New York that the legendary street style photographer, Bill Cunningham, has died, following a stroke. He was 87. He had worked at the New York Times for the past 40 years, regularly contributing to his column, On The Street, in which he shared his observations  of what he saw while riding around on one of his many bicycles, clicking away at life. The Times’s report of his passing, published  on June 25, the day of his death, describes him “both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.” I can corroborate that.

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Mr. Cunningham shot me once, in Paris, where I was covering the shows for my newspaper in Toronto. We didn’t speak, and yet we had a conversation. He may have already clicked before I noticed him, down on one knee, near the Trockedero. I knew who he was, of course I did!, and was quite startled and then flattered that he had wanted to photograph me. I looked into his camera. I smiled. He smiled. That was me saying thank-you, him saying you’re welcome. And then he was off. I don’t know if he ever published the image. But I remember the moment vividly, and know what I had that likely caught his eye– a zebra print purse. That must have been it.

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Animal inspired prints were everywhere that season and he had caught me, slavishly following the trend. That was his special gift: pinpointing moments in the fashion parade and preserving them in both image and memory. How fortunate I am to have had such a rare individual cross my path. He made the ephemeral seem eternal. May his legacy be as lasting.

Riverdance at 20 and the Gael Force That First Struck Lightening Around the World

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As the Globe and Mail’s fulltime dance critic, I witnessed first-hand the global phenomenon that was Riverdance. I also spent time in a Detroit-area hotel room (more on that later) with its original star, Michael Flately, a dancer with an ego as big as his Guiness World Record for  more clicks per second than ever before achieved by a pair of jigging  feet. After Riverdance the American hoofer went on to form Lord of the Dance, and, yes, lording it over legions who had overnight gone gaga for ethnic folk dance performed in sport stadiums. The memory lives on. A 20th anniversary Riverdance revival arrives in Toronto on May 17 for a limited run at Mirvish Theatre. In anticipation, we went back into the archives to revisit the fury that first made step dance sexy.

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A bare-chested sex god with a penchant for tight pants, diamond earrings and cologne liberally applied, Michael Flatley is Lord of the Dance, the highest paid dancer in the world.

When the 38-year-old, Chicago-born star of the internationally acclaimed Irish dance show slinks onstage, wearing a headband and a bottle tan, the air-thumping crowd shrieks and throws roses.

“Do you want more?” he screams. He asks the question again and again until the deafening roar of more than 10,000 yeeeeahs finally satisfies.

With a sexy pout of the lips, Flatley peels off his sparkling matador jacket, emblazoned (in sequins) with the green, white and orange of the Irish flag, and dances a blazing riff across the floor.

The house rocks when two smoke bombs explode at the finale. This time the audience really goes berserk.

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Glassy-eyed fans wearing long, hooded robes that make them look like Druids on drugs rush the stage and chant his name. Mi-chael. Mi-chael. Flatley flashes a charismatic smile. Knowing that people love him gives him the ultimate high.

“It’s energy,” he says, gasping for air backstage. “You’re out there pumping out that great energy, night after night after night. And the audience gives it all back. Do you know what that feeling is like? It’s bliss.”

Since its dazzling debut in Dublin last summer, Flatley’s unique brand of arena dance has consistently sold out stadiums normally reserved for sporting events and rock concerts. Featuring a stage design by Jonathan and Cheryl Park, the people who dressed up the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour, and a throbbing lighting show by Patrick Woodroffe, the person who lights Elton John, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, Lord of the Dance has grossed in excess of $28-million on its current 20-city North American tour and another $140-million on CD and video sales.

The Gael force blows into Montreal’s Molson Centre Theatre tomorrow and Saturday, and Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on Sunday and Monday. It descends on Vancouver in June. The shows have long been sold out.

Indeed, in Toronto, Flatley’s rejigged jig sold 18,000 tickets in less than 48 hours. The box office opened on March 22, a full two days before the Lord himself flashed his act in front of an international audience of nearly a billion people at the Oscars.

Critics tend to loathe him. His show is usually panned by reviewers who object to his unbridled stage bravado. One British review was headlined The Ego Has Landed.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again,” Flatley says. “People mistake ego for self-confidence. I would say that you need to have an enormous amount of self-confidence to face 10,000 people on your own every night. That’s not an easy thing to do. And if you’re not confident at your job, you could never do that. You could just never do that. The more confidence you have, the more willing you are to walk on the edge and be out there in front of them.”

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Though an innovator, Flatley was unceremoniously dropped from Riverdance — another touring Gaelic dance show that he helped create and once starred in — in 1995 when he had a very public falling-out with producer Moya Doherty over creative control. Flatley is now suing Riverdance for 2 per cent of the show’s profits (about $7-million). The matter has yet to go to trial. But Flatley is already airing his side of the story.

“They wanted 100-per-cent creative control over my work,” he says, his voice registering hurt. “You know, they wanted control and they weren’t even dancers. And considering I had brought over the dance style and taught it to the Irish people, I thought it was terribly unfair. I’m from America, and everything here is freedom of expression. But they tried to make me a caged animal and I couldn’t live with that.”

Despite Flatley’s critics, other dancers don’t begrudge him his success. “The only thing I can say about Michael Flatley is I think it’s wonderful if anyone can bring dance to the masses,” says National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Rex Harrington. “And he’s very smart because he’s making a lot of money doing it and I wish I had his pay cheque. I think it’s a good thing and I think that he’s obviously quite talented.”

Flatley’s Lord of the Dance is not just another in a series of Celtic revival shows spreading their lucky charm around the globe. By taking a centuries-old dance form and turning it into an international pop sensation, Flatley has created what some are calling the show of the decade.

Flately has what every performer wants — great word of mouth.

Though Riverdance and Lord of the Dance are different — the firstis a folkloric dance variety show while the secondis a Viva Las Vegas-styleextravaganza in which dance serves to tell a tale of good and evil in mythic Ireland — each has contributed to a radical redefining of Irish dancing as a popular art.

(Riverdance, which jumpstarted Flatley’s mammoth popularity, comes to Toronto next month, with a week of performances at the Hummingbird Centre. It too is already sold out.)

Irish dancing is traditionally a poker-back affair, with the arms held stiffly at the sides and the gaze decidedly mournful, as if thought was perpetually cast on the misery of British rule. The footwork, however, has always been lightning fast and the jumps buoyant, as if the fairies themselves were dancing a reel.

Flatley has freed the arms in Irish dancing and added a dollop of flash to the overall performing style. He also accentuates rhythm in the footwork, using counterpoint to bring out different tones in the tap to complement the music. His dances looks like a marriage of flamenco and step dancing, part sex and part romance.

“The truth is, you can’t really define what we do,” he says with a touch of the brogue. “The best definition I’ve ever heard anyone use to describe it is pop dance.”

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A concert-level flutist whose feet (insured by Lloyd’s of London for more than $70-million) can tap out 28 clicks a second, Flatley often describes himself in animal terms. “I was kind of like a wild horse,” he says, recalling his boyhood lessons in a Chicago-area Irish dance school. “I wanted to do kicks over my head and I wanted to do everything. But I didn’t want to wear a kilt. It’s not that I was being disrespectful. I just never understood that.”

Flatley’s first dancing teacher, Marge Dennehy, “knew from his first lesson that he was going to be great,” she says from her Oak Lawn, Ill., home. He was 11 when he started, she recalls. “He went from beginners to competition level almost overnight. He skipped all the categories, which is very unusual.”

Flatley went on to become the first American to win the All World Championships in Irish dancing. For a while he was the world’s only professional Irish dancer, touring occasionally with the Chieftains. But the number of gigs that call for a jig were few and far between. For many years, Flatley sustained himself by working on construction.

For a while he laboured under his father, who until recent triple-bypass surgery was a tradesman with his own business who taught his five children (Flatley has three sisters and a younger brother) the value of hard work.

Flatley’s meteoric rise has ushered many changes into his life. His 11-year marriage to Polish make-up artist named Beata Dziaba broke up last year as a result of a ruthless touring schedule. He no longer has a home — “I live in hotels,” he sighs — and his body hates him for it.

Before and after every show he gets a special rub-down (female hands only) to loosen any knots in his muscles. Every night he soaks his feet in ice to make sure he can walk the next day. He says he can lose eight to 10 pounds dancing each show. And at a lean 5’9″, weighing in at 147 pounds, Flately doesn’t have fat to spare. But the pain is worth it. Lord of the Dance has made him a very rich man. In conversation he admits to making a weekly salary that is in excess of $630,000. When he was with Riverdance he made $105,000 a week.

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Flatley says he gets his confidence from self-help books. He says he doesn’t watch television, doesn’t listen to the radio and doesn’t read fiction. Everything for him is focus, focus, focus. “Those are things for passing time,” he says.

Next on his agenda is a movie. It will be a dance film, he says, with a love story. He will star (of course). Production will begin next March.

“I think it’s really important in life, whatever you do, to do it your own way,” says Flatley. “I can’t tell you how many times in the tough years I would try to get work as a dancer and everyone wanted me to dance like a tap dancer. But I persevered. I didn’t want to do it that way. I’m not a tap dancer. I’m a Celt. And I do it a different way.”

The Places That Mattered To Jane Jacobs

 

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Celebrated urbanologist Jane Jacobs passed away 10 years ago in her adopted city of Toronto and to celebrate her. And keep her spirit alive, I spoke with people close to her to ask them about the places in the city she held dear to her heart:

 

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Kensington Market

When Ms. Jacobs and her family first moved to the city from New York in 1968, it was the market’s humming chaos — live chickens in cages, a multitude of languages, and thick knots of pedestrian traffic — that made for love at first sight. Before renting their first apartment on Spadina Road, the family looked for flats along Baldwin Street. When they began house hunting, they revisited the neighbourhood before settling into the Annex. “There was no question that it felt like home to us,” Jim Jacobs, her son, remembers of Kensington. “It was the variety, and all the things going on in the street and all the different people. It was the most intense mixture.”

 

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69 Albany Ave.

A former rooming house renovated by her late architect husband, Bob Jacobs, Ms. Jacobs’s home of 37 years had a telephone booth preserved from the building’s previous incarnation, and, at least during the visit of one guest a decade ago, white plastic patio chairs in the living room. Conversations with guests would often be interrupted by phone calls. After closing the door for privacy, Toronto city councillor Nadine Nowlan remembers, “she would emerge declaring, ‘Oh that was so-and-so from New York, or that was so-and-so from Brazil.’ ” Once a year, Ms. Jacobs feted the past and present recipients of the Jane Jacobs Prize — founded in 1997 to honour citizens that have contributed to the city’s vitality — at a legendary potluck dinner in her home. Rollo Myers, who won the 2000 prize, says the get-togethers were gruelling. “There’d be a swarm of ideas, and you’d have to be on your toes and be prepared to defend your point of view. After the first one I was shell-shocked, and [her friend] Mary Rowe said, cheerfully, ‘You got off light.’ ”

 

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Spadina Road

The site of her first public Toronto victory — against the proposal to extend the Spadina Expressway (now Allen Road) through the centre of the city. The 1971 achievement was the cumulative effort of Annex residents, but Ms. Jacobs, a newcomer fresh from a neighbourhood urban-renewal fight in New York, inspired and galvanized the Stop Spadina Save Our City group. She never lost her distaste for expressways that divided a city. “She always hated the Gardiner,” recalls Councillor Nowlan, a group member. “She just hated elevated expressways. They were ugly, and they were a barrier to people enjoying the waterfront, and they funnel cars into the central part of the city and create bottlenecks. She never tired of complaining about them.”

 

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The suburbs

In 2001, when her doctor prescribed regular walks for exercise, Ms. Jacobs began heading outside the city core for “discovery” strolls. Some of what she discovered — monolithic subdivisions with no pedestrian life — dismayed her. Elsewhere, such as in Brampton and Mississauga, she saw potential. But she never referred to them as the burbs, says journalist Sid Adilman, a long-time neighbour who accompanied her on her walks — “she always named them, because they weren’t faceless to her.” On one trip, she paid a visit to Mississauga’s town hall to pore over urban-development plans — amid the buzz of an excited planning-department staff. “I thought Mississauga was a hellhole,” says Mr. Adilman. “But she didn’t. She actually liked what she saw. She liked their plan to expand and improve the downtown core. She was more the optimist.”

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401 Richmond St. W.

It’s no surprise that Ms. Jacobs enjoyed visiting the converted warehouse near the corner of Spadina. With its mix of tenants — galleries, studios, a café, a daycare — “it embodies all of her ideas about mixed uses and of people interacting with each other to be creative and innovative under one roof,” says former mayor John Sewell. Community-friendly property developer Margie Zeidler, who completed the building’s conversion in 1994, chalks up its inspiration, in part, to a chapter of Ms. Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “She wrote, ‘Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.’ When I read that, at age 18, it was such a flash. I thought, “Yes! Warehouses — they have a purpose.”

 

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The Toronto Islands

Ms. Jacobs’s fondness for the islands was demonstrable: When the city proposed demolishing the houses on Ward’s and Algonquin islands to increase parkland — as it had done to Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point — Ms. Jacobs was invited to attend a Canada Day rally in support of the community. Writer and archivist Sally Gibson remembers Ms. Jacobs’s call-to-arms that day in 1980: “She said, ‘This community shouldn’t be destroyed, because it’s loveable. It’s unique. It’s a lovely thing. It’s wicked to destroy loveable, unique and lovely things. When people defend a place the way you islanders are defending this, that’s the greatest argument of all. It says it’s worth saving.’ ”

 

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Dundas and Sherbourne

It’s a pivotal moment that many remember well: a morning in 1973, at a protest to preserve the neighbourhood at Dundas and Sherbourne — part of a planned razing of Sherbourne Street’s east side. As the bulldozers reared into action, Ms. Jacobs called on picketers to rip down the hoardings, without which, according to a city bylaw, the developers could not proceed. The tear-down was averted. The standoff led to high-density infill housing in the laneways behind the historic homes — downtown’s first non-profit housing project. “It was a brilliant example of her being active within the rest of the community, and of her ingenuity,” says Mr. Sewell, an alderman at the time. The partially demolished porch still stands at 241 Sherbourne.

 

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The island airport

First, there was the Harbour City project, a plan to turn the site of the island airport into a 60,000-strong residential development. She was integral, architect Ed Zeidler remembers, to his vision of houses, retail, hotels, recreational spaces in a mostly car-free environment. She was particularly adamant that it be not just for the wealthy. The plan was scuttled in 1974, but her interest in the development of the island never abated. In opposing the expansion of the airport in 2003, she threw her support behind then-long-shot mayoral candidate David Miller. “Jane felt very passionately that to build a bridge and expand the airport was inimical to building a great neighbourhood,” says Mayor Miller. “She understood that there could be great neighbourhoods on the waterfront if only they weren’t under the flight path of a busy Toronto airport.”

 

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Royal St. George’s College

Ms. Jacobs’s last battle was, fittingly, in her own backyard: the proposed three-storey addition to a boys’ private school less than a block from her house. “She didn’t want the expansion to stop — she wanted the school to move altogether,” says Lynn Spink of the Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park group that has spearheaded the fight. “And on that point she was a lot more radical than the other neighbours.” City council and community council voted to halt the expansion in November, but the school appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. On Wednesday, her son attended the hearing to speak on her behalf. “She wasn’t the retiring type,” Jim Jacobs says. “I think that it’s inevitable that she died fighting.”

***

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It was a brilliant example of her being active within the rest of the community, and of her ingenuity.

Former mayor John Sewell, recalling how Jacobs’s quick thinking averted the demolition of the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne. A partially demolished porch at 241 Sherbourne still stands.

***

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She wrote, ‘Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.’ When I read that, at age 18, it was such a flash. I thought, ‘Yes! Warehouses — they have a purpose.’

Community developer Margie Zeidler on Jacobs’s influence on 401 Richmond. Her favourite spot: the rooftop garden.

***

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She always hated the Gardiner. She just hated elevated expressways. They were ugly, and they were a barrier to people enjoying the waterfront, and they funnel cars into the central part of the city and create bottlenecks. She never tired of complaining about them.

Stop Spadina Save Our City co-organizer Nadine Nowlan, on Jacobs’s continued distaste for expressways. The proposed Spadina Expressway extension would have run through the Annex neighbourhood they shared.

***

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There’d be a swarm of ideas, and you’d have to be on your toes and be prepared to defend your point of view. After the first one I was shell-shocked, and [her friend] Mary Rowe said, cheerfully, ‘You got off light.’

Rollo Myers of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, on the get-togethers at Ms. Jacobs’s Albany Avenue home. Every year, she hosted past and present recipients of the Jane Jacobs Award for a potluck dinner.

Carved In Whale Bone: The Art of Manasie Akpaliapik

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In a lush part of Southern Ontario, Baptist churches grow as thick as corn stalks and Manasie Akpaliapik is far from his birth place at a hunting camp north of Baffin Island.

Yet the Inuit sculptor is reminded of his polar roots each time he takes a hammer and chisel to the huge chunk of whale bone that his hunter-father recently sent him.

He would like to have the sculpture ready for an exhibition of his work opening soon at the Indigena Gallery in Stratford, Ont. But the internationally acclaimed artist (he has work in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) is beginning to see the whale bone as the elusive Moby Dick.

“I have been having a hard time with this piece,” he says softly in slow, clipped English. “Maybe the size is scaring me. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

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Manasie Akpaliapik

He puts the chisel down and picks up a pack of cigarettes. Small and muscular with high, flat cheekbones and hair as dark as a crow, Akpaliapik remains silent a long time as he contemplates the gnarled and porous hunk of skull before him.

“Sometimes you can look at a piece and it says nothing, and the next day suddenly it’s all there.”

Inspiration, he adds, swatting a mosquito, is being able to see something before it actually exists.

As it turns out, the whale bone will not be ready for the Stratford show. But Indigena Gallery owner Erla Arbuckle has about 20 other sculptures by Akpaliapik to showcase.

“I don’t want to call it a spirit show,” she says, “but I have looked for pieces that show transformation, and that bring elements of the spirit world in contrast with elements of the natural world.”

It’s something of a long story as to why an Inuit lives on an Indian reserve, but the short of it is that, because Akpaliapik’s wife is half Ojibwa and half Irish, he is permitted to set up house on land usually reserved for Six Nations people. Living there has convinced Akpaliapik that Inuit and Indians are similar:

“A lot of our beliefs and how we see nature and the land and the weather is pretty much the same.”

He looks forward to the Indigena exhibition because, in its own small way, it will show the two peoples as united.

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Akpaliapik’s style, meanwhile, is not easy to define. He is interested in nature, but his work is never the naive realism of, say, airport Inuit art. Rather, his work bristles with ideas, most having to do with relationships between humans and nature, humans and the spiritual world.

Akpaliapik leaves the whale bone for a moment and walks across his back yard to a recently finished carving that sits on a cement brick in the full light of the afternoon sun.

Made out of antler, alabaster and animal bone, the three-dimensional sculpture shows from the front an Inuit face and from the back a full-bodied seal. Tenderly holding it in his hands, Akpaliapik, who was born in 1955, says his inspiration for this piece came from the seal hunters he knew in his youth.

“In my area, as I was growing up the main food source was the seal. We used it for rope, for clothing. For us it was a life source. And for me, if that seal were not there, that person would not be there.”

In addition to whale bone, Akpaliapik’s materials include caribou antler, narwhal tusk and polar bear bone.

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Although he has often come into conflict with U.S. export restrictions governing whale bone and other ivories, Akpaliapik stresses that the natural materials he uses come from animals that died in the wild.

He also sculpts in limestone, alabaster and Italian marble. But he prefers animal materials because they have shapes that inspire ideas and because they strengthen ties linking his art to his roots. “It keeps me in touch with Mother Nature too,” he says.

Carving is part of his family background — his grandparents, Elisapee Kanangnaq and Peter Ahlooloo, are well-known carvers from Arctic Bay, and his great-aunt, Paniluk Qamanirq, is celebrated for her abstract sculpture.

But Akpaliapik, who lived a nomadic life before being forced to attend school at the age of 12 — “I moved three times a year according to the seasons” — did not start sculpting full-time until a tragedy forced his hand.

He was 24 and working, as many Inuit do, on an oil rig hundreds of kilometres away from his community. One night, while he was at work, his first wife, Noodloo, and their two small children, a boy and a girl, died in a house fire. “It just happened when they were sleeping,” he says, his head bent low over his carving.

After the accident, Akpaliapik moved to Montreal where he lived with a group of sculptors. That’s when he transformed himself into an artist. “It was a way of healing myself.”

He lived in Montreal for five years, then moved to Toronto with his second wife, Geralyn Wraith, a makeup artist. They bought a house in the east end and had a son, now eight years old, named Kiviuq. Their house at Six Nations is used mainly by Akpaliapik as a studio retreat.

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Akpaliapik named his son after an Odysseus-like figure in Inuit folklore who travels the universe on a series of life-affirming journeys.

His story, says Akpaliapik, “gives up a different window on different situations and different problems. A lot of people, when you get stuck in life, think of this legend to get some ideas as to how to get free. Also, I’m so far down here and I guess I just felt that it was an appropriate name for my son because it tells him who he is and where he comes from.”

He has carved the Kiviuq figure in the past and says he has often looked to the legend to help him in his own times of trouble.

“All these years I have been struggling with alcoholism, like a lot of my people have been. When you go through drastic changes you kind of turn to alcohol or something else to get away from reality,” he says.

One of his pieces in the National Gallery is a sculpted portrait of a man gripping his head, eyes rolled back in their sockets, the mouth an open grimace of pain. Out of the top of the head rises a meticulously carved wine bottle. Akpaliapik says it’s a self-portrait: “And maybe I was hoping that if it comes out in the art it will make people realize that it [alcoholism] is their problem too.

“A lot of time my art helps me cope with things,” Akpaliapik says. “Sometimes there are things that I can’t talk about, but it will come out in my art.”

(Originally published in The Globe and Mail on July 13, 1996)

Annoying Miranda Richardson

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Miranda Richardson is having a bad day. Her big round baby-blues are red and scratchy, her fine strawberry blond hair is ruffled, and her pink eye shadow looks as if it were smeared on in a hurry. Whatever could be the matter? We are thinking of how to politely inquire when Richardson, a Camels Light in pale thin hand, gives us a basilisk stare.

Oh, god. We are the matter.

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It is well known that Richardson hates us, the press that is. Even though she (apparently) has come willingly to Toronto to promote Swann,she has so far cancelled every scheduled interview but five.

She answers questions with terse one-word answers that begin and end with very long pauses.

She lights another cigarette and curls cat-like into an arm chair. Wearing slightly flared black pants, a fuzzy tangerine sweater and a pale-green ring, she wiggles the toes on her bare feet with the absent-minded look of a school girl.

Her delicate doll-like features belie a woman with a certain edge.

You don’t just have to meet her in the flesh to figure it out. Check out the wide range of projects in her film career: big budget (Steven Speilberg’s Empire of the Sun), low budget (Stephen Poliakoff’s Century)and just about everything in between (Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game and Brian Gilbert’s Tom & Viv).

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Nothing she has done has been predictable. Nothing easy or pat. And don’t think her penchant for off-beat films and quirky roles hasn’t been deliberate.

In Swann,a film in which she flattens her British accent in order to play a Yank (as she has before, in Robert Altman’s Kansas City, and will do in The Apostle,a film that started shooting in Louisiana this month), Richardson plays an uptight academic-careerist who is struggling to complete a book on a Canadian poet.

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She says she chose to do the film because: (a) “I know David Young [Swann’sscreenwriter, a Canadian based in Toronto] and like him very much and like his work”; and (b) “I liked the journey of this character, this character who is coming to terms with where her life is, where her career is, what she thinks she needs and what she really does need to feel whole.”

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Richardson made her film debut with Mike Newell’s Dance with a Stranger (1985). Cast as Ruth Ellis, the bottle-blond murderess who was the last woman to be hanged in Britain, Richardson, who was 27 at the time, caused such a stir that writers in the English-speaking world fell over each other to see who could out-superlative whom.

Born in Lancashire, England, on March 3, 1958, Richardson was trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She still does theatre in between film projects and refers to the stage as a clean drink of water. This past summer at the Edinburgh Arts Festival she performed a one-woman play based on the Virginia Wolfe novel, Orlando.

Right to the end of this interview, Richardson is elusive, refusing to talk about her personal life (“that’s why they call it personal”), except to say she is not married and several times has been unlucky in love. Which is why she prefers the company of cats with whom she lives in her flat in London.

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When a photographer asks to take her picture she shows her claws. She doesn’t want to be clicked while talking.

“I don’t want to be munched up like that,” she declares. “I don’t want to be set up for the end of anyone’s suppositions or frustrated ambitions or whatever. That just doesn’t sit well with me.”