From Pat Whittock
My association with Noreen and Victor was a high point in my life. What they created must be remembered in the lives and careers of all those who worked with them and were influenced by the excellence of their vision.
I was actually only resident at Charters for one year, 1968-69 but, almost every year until the school closed, I came down to choreograph for the summer shows. I had been in the U.S. and Canada for a number of years in the 60s and managed to keep abreast of goings-on in the UK. I had always admired the work that BDS was doing and wrote to Noreen asking if there was any work. She wrote a very encouraging letter and was particularly interested in the Contemporary work I'd been doing in North America . I visited Charters in the summer of '68; we talked dance and she asked me to start right away – this was very convenient for me, and I lived in the Barn.
My test was immediate! Noreen had been asked to do some choreography for a midnight benefit in London and she asked me to take it on: I re-worked a piece I'd done in Montreal. I was able to work it in the theatre and Noreen left me entirely alone until it was complete. Over the years I got to know when she liked something – her eyes lit up and she would smile – as she did that day, and said forcefully, ‘I like it!' That was the initiation. I did teach technique but Noreen was much more interested in my choreography – I was happy to oblige.
At the end of the days we would sit in the Folly and talk dance and music. She could be fierce and the staff were mostly afraid of her but, I never found her so. She once said to me, ‘You are the only one I can talk to'- she meant dance and choreography of course. She herself was a lovely choreographer and had a marvellous eye in what she saw. When she was ill I sometimes took over a work she was doing – Vocalise, was one. She came to the first performance, I held my breath, and she said, ‘You should have kept it en pointe'. And, she was quite right.
Sometimes when she was doing her ‘big' numbers she would often get stuck with bodies in different positions on the stage – she hated doing these transitions. A runner would be sent for me immediately, whatever I was doing, drop it! ‘Just move everyone for me dear', she would say, telling me where she wanted them. ‘How many bars of music do I have', I would ask – very often, virtually none. But I loved these problems and so did she.
It was the creative freedom that Noreen and Victor gave me which was so wonderful working at Bush. One late afternoon I took 3 dancers into the theatre and created ‘Windmills – Dusty Springfield', in and hour, with Victor watching. He rushed to get Noreen to see it and half the school came with her. They enjoyed it enormously.I do remember though, the white-knuckle rides to London in the back of the Bentley. Noreen sitting with me in the back – I would get very car-sick!
Noreen liked to show off her promising girls in the advanced class. She would not tell me which ones and I had to spot them before the end of the first plie exercise. I felt my reputation rested on that test!
(Ed. Pat will also be known to many as Principal of London College of Dance, Bedford (ISTD) until she retired in 1994.)
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