I’m saddened to read of Betty Oliphant dancing towards the Winter of her Four Seasons. I know she has been quite ill for some time now. The last time I saw her at the Ballet she was obviously in discomfort suffering from various ailments of old age and the wear and tear of devoting her life to creating ballet and the future of the National Ballet of Canada.
She was kind enough to share her thoughts over Kimberly Glasco’s battle with the NBoC with me many moons ago:
Over the course of a dozen curtain calls, the Muscovites showered them with flowers galore! Glasco danced home with the silver medal in the senior woman’s division along with 2,000 rubles ($3,000 Canadian). One of the judges was none other than the NBoC’s very own Magdalena Popa (Principal Ballet Mistress since /82). Judge Betty Oliphant (founder of the National Ballet School and former Associate Artistic Director of the NBoC) was dancing on cloud 99: “When we went to the bus to go home they surrounded the bus calling their names. They thought Pugh and Glasco should have won. (Pugh won silver.) They’re so nice the Russians. They want the best to win.” Ballet Master David Scott (no longer with the National) was particularly red-faced over Glasco’s silver. Before the competition, he actually told Glasco to her face she was nothing more than window dressing for Pugh! Interviewed by Paula Citron for Dance in Canada, Pugh didn’t hold anything back: “I’m happier about her silver medal than I am about mine because she’s a strong girl, a fighter, and she pulled it off!”
A 20 year old Glasco was just beginning to blossom as an actress on stage. Everybody could see the foundation was there to develop a very special relationship with her audience. Today, the 38 year old Glasco is a ballerina dinosaur by the National’s youthful standards. “I don’t feel she’s declining. I started training Kim Glasco when she was ten. I taught her in my class for 4 years. She’s a totally natural, very instinctive dancer.” When 80 year old Betty Oliphant talks ballet you shut up and listen if you know what’s good for you! “It’s all there. It’s not a very cerebral thing. It’s an instinct. You have to have a good dramatic sense. It’s playing a part, taking a role. And I think Kim expresses it through herself well.” The National would be wise to heed the advice of this Stone Age ballerina.
The stay in Russia aged Miss O five years! Many things contributed to this aging: time change; emerging from her beauty sleep before 6 a.m.; a 95°F heat wave; rehearsal as well as judging duties; plus the loss of a diamond ring stolen from her hotel room. Of course, we all know none of the above could possibly age this ballerina dynamo! The number one contributing factor to the mysterious aging came from the pen of Paula Citron: “Betty Oliphant, now 67 years old, is unlikely to judge another Moscow competition but she has several happy memories to carry with her.” Miss O responded by writing the following in her Report of the Artistic Director and Ballet Principal: “...the attached articles by Paula Citron...are well written and correct, except for one small but important detail—I am not 67 years old!”
Though 85, Betty Oliphant is no ballet dinosaur. The former benevolent dictator of the National Ballet School knows how to handle nosy ink stained scribes like myself. There were two mentions of consuming vodka in her Moscow report. (1) “As for the rest of us, we lived on smoked fish, cucumber and sour cream, black bread and vodka.” (2) “...I would make a bee-line for the hotel restaurant, where...we would eat our smoked fish and cucumber salad and revive ourselves with vodka.” When asked about all this reviving through vodka, Miss ‘O’ replied: “ABSOLUTELY NO COMMENT.”
I’m sorry but I just couldn’t help myself! What dance writer could resist placing themselves in the company of Paula Citron? No ballet fan can resist her sweet muse. Poetic wax so good you can almost taste it! Her words literally jeté across the page. There are only two pleasures in life that hold a candelabra to Paula Citron’s prose: making love to music and ballet à la Kimberly Glasco! Miss O, only 80, will be celebrating her 81st birthday on August 5th.
Many critics are no doubt preparing a final good-bye of a life sacrificed to ballet. I don’t think anybody can write enough accolades or thank Betty Oliphant enough for the sacrifices she made to make the National Ballet School and National Ballet of Canada. It’s too bad there were some disagreements in how ballet should be created that created ill feelings between her and management of the two organizations. I hope the NBoC will dedicate the performances of the Contract to the memory of Betty Oliphant should she leave us. No doubt she will be watching from the National Ballet of Heaven-no doubt in a very prominent role! God bless.
<small>[ 07 July 2004, 08:56 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>