The 1960s and 1970s were extremely popular in classical dance, especially outside of Russia. A period of legends, creativity, and popularity, largely due to the presence of Rudolf Nureyev and later, Mikhail Baryshnikov, on and off stage. Among the women who danced with them, there was one in particular who was “different”, the Canadian Lynn Seymour. I wrote about it before, here on Miscelana. On March 7, 2023, 24 hours before her 84th birthday, she left us. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
As an artist, Lynn’s trajectory is an example of overcoming obstacles. With “floating weight”, that is, not always thin, she was an actress, she was incredibly flexible and above all, fearless. Muse of a genius like Kenneth McMillan, who created his most legendary works on the skills of Lynn Seymour, she was passed over for the grand premiere of what is considered one of the Royal Ballet’s most iconic works, MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet because the company preferred to have Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in the lead roles. A shadow on the trajectory of the legendary duo that had no interference (but neither denied the opportunity).
Why is this rejection always cited? For the personal sacrifice of the dancer, who was newly married and pregnant when the chance to work in the ballet arose and decided to have an abortion to be available. To have her debut taken away from her, forced to teach the role to “understudies”, and complete with the fact that Lynn only managed to dance the ballet made for her after all the other dancers, is one of the most cited sadness in her history, but Juliet would not have been her most important role. There were others.
Lynn Seymour‘s legacy in classical dance is impressive. As the Telegraph puts it well, “she released an unbridled emotional daring and a sense of modernity in an English ballet style that Fonteyn had marked with graceful decorum”, being considered by the founder of the Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois, “the greatest dramatic dancer in half a century”. Through the movements created by McMillan, Lynn created three-dimensional roles in classical ballet, dense, complex, sensual, and challenging. As some mention: realistic and humane. Sex – repressed or encouraged – are in the duo’s works and even today they are incredible.
Bertha Lynn Springett (later adopting the name Seymour) joined the Royal Ballet at age 15, after auditioning in Vancouver, Canada, where she studied ballet with Jean Jepson, whom she credits with developing her famous musicianship through tap lessons.
Although she felt like an “outsider” at the Royal Ballet, Lynn quickly rose to prominence. At just 17 years old, MacMillan cast her, also starting out as a choreographer, for the lead role in The Burrow. By 20, she was one of the company’s top stars, starring in the daring and devastating child abuse drama The Invitation. Frederick Ashton created The Two Pigeons for her and her most frequent partner, Christopher Gable, and the dancer’s versatility was in evidence. In classics such as Swan Lake, she struggled to finish the black swan’s 32 fouettés (she would have managed just eight, with her partner Donald MacLeary improvising the rest of the song with various leaps), but in McMillan’s ballets, she was unrivaled. She danced with Gable and Nureyev (with whom she became close friends), Images of Love, and then came to the drama of Romeo and Juliet.
After the psychological abuse and artistic slight, Lynn and McMillan left the Royal Ballet, only returning four years later. During this hiatus, they were in Berlin, where he created the first version of Anastasia (the ballet about the mental patient who claimed to be the last Romanov princess), among others, and Lynn became a mother. Her first husband was photographer Collin Jones, but they separated and the twins were the children of dancer Eike Walcz, with whom she lived for many years. Outside the Royal, he appeared alongside Nureyev in La Sylphide, bringing humor and lightness to the early 19th-century classic and influencing the development of dance in Canada.
In 1970, with MacMillan as the new director of the Royal Ballet, she returned to London and there she created roles that were not taken from her, such as Anastasia and Mayerling and Month in a Country and Isadora. Her musicality was also immortalized in classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but it was contemporary works by Jerome Robbins and Kenneth MacMillan that made her passage through ballet legendary.
Moody on and off stage, Lynn Seymour‘s fashion style included oversized hats, earrings, and oversized sunglasses. She surprised many when she adopted a short, curly haircut instead of the conventional bun. Struggling with depression and often being “overweight”, being clear when she did not agree artistically with the choreographers (in McMillan’s The Seven Deadly Sins, she would have turned her back to the audience at the curtain call), she left the Royal Ballet for the second time in 1980, going to work as a guest – as an actress or dancer – on TV and cinema, also choreographing.
With three children and in her late 50s, she has danced with the London Festival Ballet, Royal Ballet, and other companies, having played the Queen in Matthew Bourne‘s version of Swan Lake. As artistic director of the Bavarian Opera Ballet in Munich, she revealed the talent of choreographer William Forsythe. Her Giselle next to Nureyev, filmed in 1980, had her older and outside the aesthetic standards of dance, but it is THE best crazy scene I’ve ever seen in ballet.
Outspoken, Lynn Seymour published her biography in 1984 (Lynn) and went on to say that ballet was “the most boring and decadent art form there is. It’s essentially a dead form with a dead hierarchy.” Yet, it was her passion for life. She was an advocate for preserving the memory of British dance works, was appointed a CBE and in 2000, the Lynn Seymour Award for Expressive Dance was created at the Royal Ballet School in her honor.
In addition to her marriage to Colin Jones, her relationship, and children with Eike Walcz, Lynn was married to photographer Philip Pace, father of her third child, and to Vanya Hackel. For many years there were rumors about the nature of her relationship with McMillan, but the ballerina denied any romanticism between them.
At the Royal Ballet school, where she is described as an “adventurous and independent artist”, the news of her death was met with enormous regret. “She was very, very special,” said artistic director Christopher Powney. “She was known for her astonishing dramatic gifts and her unrivaled ability to convey a role and invite audiences to experience a performance at the deepest level. Her astonishing artistry is a shining example for the young dancers at the School, and I know that countless generations will continue to look to her as a true inspiration.”
May dance always follow her example of individuality.