Sunday, October 16, 2011

Remembering June Fryer - Ireland's First Modern Dancer

Alas we lost the lovely June Fryer, Ireland's first Modern Dancer recently - above is her obituary which I contributed to the Irish Times, outlining her achievements, and the fantastic forgotten world that she was part of.

"June Kuhn (nee Fryer), Ireland’s first Modern Dancer, who was described in a 1940’s review as “lyrical June Fryer, a lovely-eyed, willowy girl”, has died at the age of 85.

Originally from Mount Merrion, Dublin, June was introduced to Modern Dance by German-born Erina Brady, who was mistakenly suspected of being a spy. June’s headmistress at Park House School on Morehampton Road put 16 year-old June in touch with Brady, who came to Dublin in 1939 to sow the seed of Mary Wigman-inspired Modern Dance at her “Irish School of Dance Art” on Harcourt Street.

June soon became a star pupil at the school where she trained until 1946, alongside wartime bohemian refugee Jacqueline Robinson. Informed by what she learned in Dublin, Robinson went on to set up l’Atelier de la Danse, the first professional school of modern dance in Paris. In her memoir “Modern Dance in 1940’s Dublin” Robinson remembers June as “obviously gifted for dance”.

At Brady’s Harcourt Street studio, June mingled among a fascinating Bohemian milieu, comprising Basil (“Benny”), Racoszi and Kenneth Hall of the White Stag Art Group; film-maker Liam O’Laoghaire; composer Brian Boydell; stain glass artists Patrick Pye, Adolphus Grauer, Mainie Jellett and Hugh Barden; painter Barbara Warren; gallerist David Hendrick; art collector Gordon Lambert; architect Noel Moffett; and the wartime diplomatic set, including British Embassy press attach√© and poet John Betjeman and Dr. and Mrs. Hempel of the German Legation to Ireland. This “Emergency” Bohemian set enjoyed soirees of poetry recital, music, and dance in Brady’s studio, - referred to as “bottle and pyjama parties” by the detectives who were monitoring them.

Unusually for women of their day, June and Jacqueline attended fortnightly bohemian meetings in a pub on Dawson Street, where they would discuss “ideas and art”. As part of their training they also attended Francoise Henry’s History of Art Lectures at Trinity College, and taught dance classes in Brigidine Convents in Kildare, Carlow, and Kilkenny.

Eamon De Valera opened Brady’s choreography “The TB Ballet – a propaganda ballet against Tuberculosis”, starring June, in the Mansion House in 1945. At the Peacock theatre in 1946, June performed in plays choreographed by Brady, including “The Magic Glasses” by George Fitzmaurice, “The Viscount of Blarney” by Austin Clarke, and Brady’s adaptation of Tennyson’s poem “The Voyage of Maeldune”.

After obtaining her Diploma, June continued her training with Sigurd Leeder in Oxford, where she took up a position teaching dance at the Oxford Theatre School for two years in the late 1940’s. She also performed in London’s Rudolf Steiner Hall, and in Archives de la Danse, Paris.

June joined Stella Campbell’s Dublin dance school when it expanded to include Modern Ballet and Ballroom in the 1950’s. One day Campbell sent June to Dunlaoghaire, to collect a Swiss dancer coming to procure his ballroom dancing certificate. Walter Kuhn had been to Ireland in 1953, with the Ballet Jooss, dancing the iconic role of the young soldier in Jooss’s epic anti-war ballet “The Green Table” at the Olympia Theatre. His photograph was among those adorning the walls of Brady’s Harcourt Street Dance Studio when June was training there. ‘A match made in heaven’, June and Walter soon married, started a family, and began teaching ballroom dancing classes in their Blackrock living room, overlooking Dublin Bay.

Raising their family “you kept very quiet about being a dancer”, recalled June. “Barefoot – can you imagine? It was considered almost indecent.” June helped Carolyn Swift and Alan Simpson in their shortlived Pike Theatre, and continued teaching in schools like Killiney’s Holy Child Convent. Walter took up a job in Fryer’s Electrical Contractors in Ballsbridge, owned by June’s parents. June became an avid painter.

Born on March 3rd, 1926, June Fryer died on September 22nd, 2011. She is survived by her husband, Walter, her daughters Kathrin, Monika and Sonja, her grandchildren Niall, Darragh, Sinéad and Finn, and her sister, Ann."

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