John Raven








John Raven
Editor: John was a precious asset to Bush Davies for 25 years. Surely, if someone had been able to make the calculations, he would have earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the amount of human bodyweight he lifted, carried and tossed around! Strong, safe, assured and earnest, John provided invaluable practical experience for his countless students in this often precarious but most exhilarating aspect of ballet, pas de deux (or more). I recall he piled his plate high at lunch and tea – goodness, did he need it!
His choreographic flair was always keenly appreciated in the students' demonstrations and competition events, ‘At Home', as well as his many contributions to the annual summer shows. The Genée Ballet Company invited John to choreograph a pas de deux to Songs of the Auvergne by Canteloube. It was a success but, the company being so cash-strapped, he was forced to accept a performing rights fee of a paltry £1.00 per performance! Naturally generous, John was only too pleased, as a choreographer, to see his work performed.
After a number of years dancing professionally in musicals and Opera-Ballet, I was invited to teach pas de deux and ballet at Bush Davies, Romford, in 1964. During those early years I continued to mix my teaching with professional work until one day Miss Davies called me in, "Mr. Raven, you will have to decide whether you continue with these television shows or teach pas de deux!" Miss Davies had a profound effect on my future career.
However, I did continue to do the odd show which included choreographing and dancing in a pas de deux in a Dick Emery Christmas Show of 1969 for Thames Television. Two of my ex-students were in the same show, Gemma Craven who sang and George May who choreographed a piece which included four of the dancers from Romford. I was always privileged to be able to teach in the large garden studio at Romford.
At the end of the 60s I was asked by Miss Bush to teach at Charters on a Friday (it continued to be Friday for the next 20 years) and I was able to arrange to take boys from Romford to partner the girls. On one of these occasions I remember Andrew Guyat was waylaid by the girls and thrown into the pool! Soon after the opening of the Genée Theatre, in January 1967, I was asked to choreograph a pas de deux for a school show, David Shelmerdine from Romford and Lynette van Wyk, a South African at Charters, performed. Mary Clarke wrote a nice review in the Dancing Times and I was asked to repeat it for a Charity Gala the following year with Melanie Parr and Andrew Guyat performing. The show, arranged by Mary Parr, was compèred by Arthur English and included Roy Castle, Eunice Gayson, Nicholas Parsons, Olive Gilbert and others.
When Romford closed I had to do all the partnering myself. I was relieved when the new studios were ready in the early 70s because I could lift the girls in the high arms-length movements without making a pliè or going outside onto the grass! Sometime later Charters began to take male students. One time I remember the school was preparing a show which required the use of a gong tam-tam (Ed. could it have been the gong used to announce meals hanging in Main Hall?). After my morning class an assembly had been called in my studio and as people started to arrive – and me being a frustrated gong-player, I asked Junior, a Brazilian student, to hold the gong whilst I created a crescendo of sound which caused stunned silence and even consternation from the office. Faces appeared at the window – they were not amused!
I continued to teach pas de deux, character dance and the occasional ballet classes and choreographed regularly for demonstrations and shows in the Genée Theatre. I even appeared as Dr Coppelius in a production directed by Christopher Gable for the school. Two male students of note later on, I recall, were Michael Nunn (now of the Ballet Boyz) and Alain Bottaini (to become principal with the Bavarian State Ballet).
When the school closed in 1989 I had completed 25 continuous years teaching for Bush Davies. It was a sad time for all but personally I have a quarter of a century of happy memories.
John Raven. December 2009
51 Through Duncans, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 4EA. (01394 382825)

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