With seven decades spent performing, directing and choreographing dance, Dame Gillian Lynne is an expert in her trade. It is no wonder then, that the 87-year-old became a Dame in the 2014 New Year’s Honours list. Here, she reflects on an impressive career – including dancing during the Second World War…
What was it like entertaining the troops during the war, was it scary or just one big adventure?
“We were dancing with the bombs falling around us! Everybody who was in the Sadler’s Wells ballet was the same. It was fabulous! When you’re young you’re certainly not afraid; you tackle anything. It was thrilling being in khaki. We all looked like officers and we were spoilt by the troops.”
Wow, travelling abroad and performing for troops who were at war! Sounds like alot of responsibility for someone so young…
“We went to places where the war was heavy and when the soldiers and airmen got leave they couldn’t wait to take ballet girls out. I was a bit young for all that but the older girls had a smashing time!”
You have had such an amazing career, what is your proudest achievement?
“Both Cats and the Phantom of the Opera are the leading shows in the world and I happened to have the luck to do both. And then I made a ballet theatre about the painter L S Lowry which won the BAFTA award.”
With a career like yours, you must have some fabulous stories to tell…
“There have been so many, but it was extraordinary when I was a dancing star at the London Palladium. I then found myself acting opposite Errol Flynn in a movie – now that was very bizarre. He taught me to act, actually. I had acted all the big roles at Covent Garden, that was my forte, dancing dramatic roles, but I hadn’t actually spoken or played a normal dramatic role before. Starting to direct television was also thrilling for me, because I had staged so many things for other people to direct and was getting a bit fed up with that, beginning to doubt why they did this or that. Then suddenly, two wonderful writers wrote a thriller in the form of a musical and told channel 4 that they wanted me to direct it. Out of the blue I had a TV show to direct. I had no experience but sort of just knew how to do it, I suppose as I’d staged so many other things for people to direct. I took to that like duck to water.”
“It’s very exciting, there are all sort of talks from a great many people. There’s the wonderful Ealing Studios where I staged The Phantom Gala – and I made films for the Ealing studios, so it’s wonderful to go back to that studio. There are wonderful musicians, exhibitions, people talking about film, jazz, and all sorts of strange things you wouldn’t normally get.”
Government cuts in the art world must make things hard for artists…
“I think to keep these festivals going is essential, to remind people of what’s being injured if they don’t always speak up and support the theatres, the orchestras. We are very rich in talent here and it’s vital for this country to keep it. We haven’t got a lot of stuff, but art we have. We’ve clever dancers, filmmakers, actors: that’s our heritage, our riches, always being knocked, and cut down.”
You are without doubt an amazing dancer, director, choreographer….the list goes on and on! Do you have any plans to retire completely and give up all of your many activities?
“That’s one little ace I hold. There are wonderful choreographers, directors, dancers in this country but I don’t think there is anyone who has done the whole range.”