Gillian Lynne remembered: stars on their presiding memories of the iconic choreographer
Ahead of a concert to celebrate her life and work, stars of the stage offer their presiding memories of working with Gillian Lynne
Choreographer Gillian Lynne was legendary in the world of musical theatre and beyond as the person who devised the moves made on shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Lynne passed away at the age of 92 last year and a year and a day after – on 2 July 2019 – a concert will be held in honour of her memory and the work she did. All proceeds from the night will go towards the Lynne and Land Foundation and the night will feature stars including Beverley Knight, Sergei Polunin, Tamara Rojo, Richard O'Brien, Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo.
Gillie and I worked on multiple productions of Phantom together: London, New York, Las Vegas, Paris…and Gillie is in every fibre of my Christine Daaé. She was my friend, mentor, inspiration and my confidante. I consider Gillie to be the heartbeat of every show she did.
I first met Gillie in 1999 when I played Alice Fitzwarren in Dick Whittington at Sadler's Wells. We worked together again in 2005 in a workshop celebrating the songs of Leslie Bricusse called Brick by Brick by Bricusse. I have never met anyone so resolutely generous and am so pleased we kept in touch over the years. Early on in my career Gillie was incredibly supportive and had lots of succinct advice about my diet and exercise regime and how it would improve my figure and career chances. Actually that's not what she said. She poked me in the tummy and said "You should lose this" and advised me that "Lots of sex would help". I loved her.
In 1986 we were both in a Royal Opera House gala and Gillie was showing me the new dressing rooms, when towards us came an imposing, straight-backed lady: Dame Ninette de Valois. I was introduced and although in awe, I dared to ask the question, "What was Gillie like as a young member of the company?" The great lady smiled, "Disciplined. Focussed. Hard working." She paused and with a twinkle added, "Naughty too: always kicking her leg higher than anyone else!" Gillie twinkled too and was delighted!
Stuart Matthew Price
To me, Gillie was more than your everyday choreographer. She would dig deep into your very core (no pun intended) and pull the inner dancer out of you. When rehearsing Dear World, we would rehearse the end of show dance epic daily (after a one hour 'Gillian Lynne Warm Up' which destroyed us before we even started) and I was pushed to my limit in every sense. I've always considered myself to be a solid mover and shaker, but this was another level. By the end of the rehearsal process Gillie had turned me into a dancer worthy enough to present her work. Something I never thought I would say. Me...dancing Gillian Lynne choreography! At the end of our first full run through of the epic, Gillie came over to me and said "Well done, Stuart, that was very good". I said "Thank you, Gillie. Does this mean I can be in Cats now?" Whereupon she turned and replied in jest "Oh, darling, no of course not. It wasn't THAT good!" and we both laughed. From that day I knew we would laugh together for years to come, which we did. Gillie wasn't just a choreographer; she was an inspiration and, above all, my friend.
I am honoured to say Dame Gillian was one of my very best friends... we met through work but quickly became close because we loved to sit, chat, and most importantly laugh. We talked about everything. There was the time she came and watched a rehearsal of one of my London cabarets and then brilliantly waved her magic Gillie wand over it. We went out to lunch after, something we tried to do often. We started with a champagne cocktail, then Gillie noticed there was a Negroni tasting special on the menu...five different types... she loved Negronis, she made the best. We had four apiece! Wine then accompanied a light lunch. Four hours later we were still there, laughing and chatting. Sadly eventually we had to leave... relaxed, happy, ready to face the world...
I was 60 years old when I worked with Gillie and she was fifteen years my senior and I still couldn't keep up with her. She had us doing a two hour warm-up each morning for six weeks and after each session I would go home and have a lie down while she spent the rest of the day putting the other players through their paces. She led by example and charm.
I will always be grateful to Gillie. She was the first person to employ me when I came to England to pursue my dream of working in the West End. I think from our first meeting she could see I had Royal Ballet training. We did three projects together. The first, as a dancer in a movie called National Lampoon's European Vacation. Next was Cabaret with Wayne Sleep at the Strand Theatre. And finally a TV Special called The Look of Love - the music of Burt Bacharach. During the run of Cabaret, I was understudying Sally Bowles and was thrilled to go on many times playing opposite Peter Land (Gillie's husband) who played Clifford Bradshaw. Gillie loved to rehearse. We always ran over time. She never wanted to leave the rehearsal room. She worked the company hard and I absolutely loved it. Repetition. Perfecting a particular moment. Constantly changing to discover a better version. Running again and again to build the stamina. Delving into the characters. She was very strict but there was also plenty of genuine joy and fun in the room as well. I can still see her throwing her head back laughing. And a cuddle if you needed it.
I remember very clearly rehearsing Dick Whittington The London Musical. Gillie was teaching me a bit of choreography and Chrissie Cartwright the director of this memorial tribute evening was in attendance too, so she is my witness! I'm not a good dancer and Gillie was trying to get me to use my arms in an aggressive way as a way of expressing the character's anger. I was playing Bologna a rival clown to Nickolas Grace's Grimaldi. As I was flailing my arms about in my cack-handed way, I managed to punch Gillie right on the bridge of her nose and almost broke it! I think I drew blood. I was absolutely mortified and screamed in horror but Gillie bless her heart, took it in her stride and after a couple of packs of tissue paper, continued the rehearsal. I don't think she ever held it against me, as I eventually ended up doing four shows with this wonderful woman.
I first met Gillie way back in the mists of time when I was but a young thing of 24, auditioning for the part of Eliza Doolittle. She was so encouraging, I was immediately put at ease and thus got the part. Rehearsals with Gillie were an absolute joy. The cast would commence at 10am but we started at 9am and were the last to leave at the end of the day. She enabled me to deliver my best performance through her loving guidance and support. I miss her wisdom, wit and those firing nipples!
Gillie was one of the first choreographers to offer me guest appearances on television specials and in London's West End while I was still a Principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. Thank you Gillie!