Peggy Dixon (1921-2005)
Recognition and Rememberance
A Record of Words Spoken and Memories Shared at Recognition & Remembrance in Dance and Words, Morley College, London, Sunday 14th May 2006
Darren Royston (Artistic Director, Nonsuch History & Dance)
"FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS"
I had seen the small, humble notice on the notice board at the Laban Centre. Its black ink had invited one to "Step Back in Time with NONSUCH" offering an opportunity to "Try out a Galliard as danced by Henry VIII… Get carried away in La Volta like Elizabeth I… Find out why Charles II enjoyed Cuckolds All Awry…" and did I know if Jane Austen's Emma would have danced Teasing Made Easy? I did not know the answer, but I knew that I wanted to know about these "styles of movement" and learn the "secret codes of courtly behaviour." Actually, I suppose what really appealed to me was the drama of the whole thing! As a student of English Literature, I had read about the situations where dance could be interwoven in the story, and I had even considered the part dance played in the history of theatre and in Shakespeare's plays, but no one had ever shown me these dances. Until then, I'd been using my training in musical theatre dance as a way to choreograph actors in plays, but I thought: "maybe it would be worth knowing the historical reasons behind my choice of dance steps?" I telephoned the name at the bottom of the page: Peggy Dixon.
I can't remember the phone conversation, but I still have a letter in my files sent to me from Peggy. She dated it the 5th November 1996 - but it was October 6th when it arrived. The letter gave me all the details of where these classes would be held, but also she invited me to watch the company rehearse after the class, to come to the Early Dance Circle Festival on the Saturday and to even consider enrolling for a full week at the Summer School. Whatever I had said during our first phone conversation must have told her I was keen to learn (or maybe she was always as hopeful with every enquiry she received?)
I did as the letter had asked and rang the bell of the hall door of the community centre on Frederick Crescent. Someone must have let me in and told me I had arrived at the right place, but I don't remember who exactly. I sat on one of the wooden Sunday school chairs at the side, and waited. What did one wear for historical dance? Should I be warming up, rolling on the floor as we used to do while waiting for class at the Laban Centre? I did have tights in my bag, but where would I go to put on my jockstrap?
She came from the kitchen, carrying a cup of tea, heading straight for the music system. She didn't really say anything, but she turned her head towards me, where I sat in the corner of the room and her eyes smiled. Yes, her eyes smiled. I am sure that her face always had a demeanour of radiance, but it was her eyes that gave an extra energetic surge as she saw that I had arrived according to her instruction.
Should I stand and step towards her? What were the other students doing? Oh, they were just carrying on with their little chats, chirping and chortling as they tied their shoelaces. Ah - jazz shoes! I had those in my bag. On they went. All set. What next?
Music started to come from the music system of entangled cables and extension cords. The music had a pulse and a melody, but the pattern wasn't obvious. I needed to concentrate to work out how it was structured. I looked up from my shoe tying. Peggy was walking towards me. In fact, her movement had a gliding quality about it. Again, she smiled. And then she stretched out her hand. She signalled for me to give her my left hand: as a mother would take a child across the road. A sort of hello, I suppose. But this was no greeting, this was the dance, and as my hand held hers she brought me to the floor of the hall and I could feel the pulse with the music. We walked, or rather stepped, and as I tried to understand what was happening, the others joined the line, taking my right hand, and forming a long line of individuals all moving to the same music, and enjoying ourselves. I had been initiated into historical social dance!
When I saw Peggy for the last time, she wasn't able to dance then. But she took my hand once more. I reminded her of the first time that we had held hands. I spoke about how much power was contained in those hands: to communicate the dance, to lead and to follow, to change the quality of the dance, to guide the flow. I praised her ability to lead a complete beginner, as well as the way that experienced dancers on the dance floor could adapt to the situation and use signals through the hands to combat the dreaded curse of momentary memory loss on the dance floor. I had discovered all these things during the many times I was privileged to dance, holding hands, with Peggy.
I believe she taught us so that we could pass on what we had learnt. Quite simply, by dancing of course. So, as we continue to step into the future, I hope that our hands will stay linked to the past, and to the history that created us.
14 May 2006
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A record of those present on the Day of Remembrance
A Day to Honour Peggy Sunday May 14th 2006 at Morley College "It was a really lovely day on Sunday, though hard to confront the loss of Peggy that each person felt so individually. A very special warmth bound everyone together". Sandria Reese Gathered together were about eighty people; some the original members of Nonsuch others people who had met Peggy only briefly but who had felt drawn, through the strength of her personality, to honour her on this special day. And, most importantly, seven members of Peggy's immediate family, along with several of her dear friends joined us. The Emma Conns Hall is spacious, allowing for meeting and greeting. It is rectangular and at the back along the long side there is ample raked seating. This is opposite the platform which for the occasion housed a large TV monitor showing Peggy dancing in an incredibly able fashion on five separate occasions in her later years, and repeated on a loop.
The dances were: Country Dance St. Martins, aged 65 at the Porchester Hall ED Festival in 1986 with Sian Jones, Elizabeth Wallbridge and June McKay The Minuet, aged 70 with the late Peter Idle at Summer School in 1991 The Slow Courante and Handel Bourée, aged 74 at the ED Festival in Ealing In l995 with Elizabeth Wallbridge Estampie Royale No. III, aged 75 at the ED Festival in Cambridge in l996 with Ulrike Klein Country Dance Confess, aged 80 at the ED Festival in Edinburgh in 2001 with Sian Jones, Alison Collins, Marion Fletcher, Andrew Holdsworth and Mike Ruff Along one side of the hall was a display of photographs taken at summer schools and performances over the years, along with a collection of old Nonsuch programmes from many venues. And despite all this there remained an excellent and large dancing space. In a convivial and warm atmosphere the meeting and greeting was such an important part of this wonderful day. And for those of us who had come to Nonsuch after its hey-day of public performances in the 60s and 70s it was a pleasure to put faces to all those names we had heard and whose pictures we had seen in photos from such venues as St. Johns Smith Square and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Michael Bukht formally welcomed everyone and introduced the Company under its new Artistic Director, Darren Royston, and it was delightful to see so many new and young dancers amongst the familiar faces.
Naturally the programme consisted of dances composed or realised by Peggy and the Mediaeval section opened with a favourite of everyone Manfredina and Rotta. Recognising that there would be no time or facilities for costume changing, the Company members looked smart in their new Burgundy tea shirts with the two Nonsuch logos printed back and front. (And it's difficult not to automatically say Burgundian tea shirts !) After the three Estampies that ended the mediaeval section Michael called upon an early Nonsuch member, Brian Collins, who spoke amusingly of the those days: Brian Collins, East Sussex "It must have been sometime in 1966 that Jack Edwards, whom I had known for some years, both of us being "up from Cornwall", asked me if I would be interested in doing some readings for an historical dance group. This immediately conjured up images of some W.I. mutation with lots of lavender water and lace.Despite this, because it was Jack who had asked, I agreed. What followed was an almost damascene experience when, Peggy in her black dress with Margaret Grange, Madeleine Inglehearne and Ann Vaughan and Jack performed a small programme of Elizabethan dances at the Chanticleer, a small theatre in London. It was whilst I was in this "enchanted" state that Peggy asked me if I would be prepared to do a couple of dances for a show that Nonsuch were doing at the South London Theatre Club, and uttered those never-to-be-forgotten words "It's only walking". The rest is, as they say, history. I learnt over the next five years or so about sixty variations on how to walk ! On looking at Jack's remembrances, No. 16 [Brook Drive] and the car, open-topped most of the time, loom large in memories. It's strange, wherever we went we always seemed to go via Purley Way with someone, often Jack, in the back smothered in costumes because, as you can see even now, I was bigger and therefore sat in the front. Also the many dances on village greens "Church hall if wet"; the weekend performances at Syon House where the dances couldn't be more than two minutes long otherwise they would have been drowned out by the aircraft coming in and out of Heathrow; the dances at Lympne Castle for the top American insurance salesmen who had won a trip with their wives and who loved history "because it was so old" but couldn't quite bring themselves to eat the sucking pig that had been so triumphantly presented to them, and the puff hose that were a bit too puffed. Then Smith Square in 1971 with Ars Nova. Amazing ! And the lasting memory of Peggy and the tambourine dance !! Smith Square, though I think none of us except perhaps Peggy and Jack realised it then, set Nonsuch on the path to where it is today.
In talking with Marian Fletcher about Peggy and Nonsuch, as the two are inextricably linked, the overriding feeling that flowed through it all was, despite all the hard work, what fun it was. The times at number sixteen when we would be falling about laughing over the silliest things, especially Marian who is the biggest giggler I have ever known, because, even though we may have been tired from a performance or practice, we were so happy. We have to look to Peggy who had the vision, as the inspiration in those days that achieved all this in us, and which has obviously carried on into the present generations of Nonsuch. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have known Peggy. /Contd. Even though it should be read by a woman, I would like to finish by reading a poem attributed to Elizabeth I which Peggy read at Smith Square in 1971 [and on many many subsequent occasions. Ed.] and which I will always associate with Peggy:" When I was young and fair, and fancy favoured me, Of many was I sought, their mistress for to be; But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore, "Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere ! Importune me no more !" How many weeping eyes I made to pine with woe, How many sighing hearts, I have no skill to show; Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore, "Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere ! Importune me no more !" Then spake fair Venus' son, that proud victorious boy, And said: "Fine Dame, since that you be-en so coy, I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more, "Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere ! Importune me no more !" When he had spake these words, such change grew in my breast That neither night nor day since that, I could take any rest. Then lo ! I did repent that I had said before, "Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere ! Importune me no more !" ----oOo--- Then followed a section of Italian dance consisting of Pellegrina, Alexandresca, Rostibolly, Prexoniera and Daphnes. Sian Jones was introduced and gave her own personal tribute to Peggy (printed below). She followed this by outlining Peggy's not inconsiderable work for the Early Dance Circle. As a founder member and Secretary and Treasurer throughout, after eighteen years she was the only member of that founding committee still active in the EDC. She was an advocate for co-operation in the world of early dance and a calming influence at committee meetings, contributing widely to the organisation's success and endurance. She worked for the good of Early Dance in the realms of research and performance, and in reminding us that Peggy loved celebrations, Sian expressed sadness that Peggy did not live to enjoy the Circle's 21st birthday this year.