Sunday, March 2, 2014

Patrick Scott and the Dancers

What is this - a Bottle and Pyjama Party?  A gathering of cool 1940s Bohemians in Georgian Dublin, smoke, drink, chat, crouch on the floor – and behold a young woman in full flight, dancing. Some are perched on the windowsill, others lean against the mantelpiece, one plays guitar. Pause, rewind. Hm.

Bottle & Pyjama Party?  Recognise Anyone?  Is that Lennox Robinson with the glasses to stage right?

This 1940s photograph in “Golden Boy”, Se Merry Doyle's documentary about the extraordinary opus of artist Patrick Scott, sets all the Modern Dance bells off in my head.  Could that dancer be Jacqueline Robinson - Bohemian refugee, and protégée of Irish-German Modern Dance pioneer Erina Brady?  

Jacqueline Robinson in "The Hooded Lover"
Trying to piece together a lost jigsaw of Modernism in 1940s Dublin, I write to Patrick Scott, Ireland’s greatest living artist, enclosing several images of modern dancers in Emergency Dublin, lovingly preserved in a French Dance Archive.

In one, the mysterious Erina Brady, in her trademark black beret and leopard skin coat, founder of “Irish School of Dance Art” at 39 Harcourt Street, is deep in conversation with Irish-Hungarian Basil Rakoczi at a 1943 Dublin Art Exhibition. Patrick Scott had his first exhibition with Rakoczi’s White Stag Art Group – Bohemian refugee artists and pacifists who fled to neutral Ireland during World War Two.

Fast forward : my phone rings. Unbelievably the 92 year old Patrick Scott himself is on the line, saying yes, that’s who you say it is, in the photograph.  And yes, he knew all the people I mention in my letter.

I’m invited over to the enchanted world of what he calls his “tumble down stables”, a charming mews in Ballsbridge. His assistant Tom, who coincidentally is a contemporary dancer, leads me up a spiral staircase to meet the great artist, who I find smiling, on his chaise longue, wrapped in a blanket, in the fading February afternoon light.  This being Dublin, I offer a few stories of people we know in common and of a St Patrick’s weekend in his Blessington Cottage, praising especially his exquisite sunken Japanese bath.  “Did you sit there in the sun?” he wants to know, letting me in on its lovely raison d’etre.

Outside, light falls as 1940s Bohemian Dublin reflects from my laptop into Pat Scott’s eyes, widening now with reminiscence. Tardis-like, we travel 70 years back, to 1940s Dublin, arriving with an “Oh, yes”, of fond recognition for the “lots of interesting people” stranded here during the war years.  Pat’s friends.  From Margot Moffett, to Erina Brady, and most importantly, those masters of self-invention, the White Stags, he recalls them all as “a breath of fresh air”.

Patrick Scott chatting to Basil Rakoczi and Kenneth Hall.  Nick Nicholls and Maurice Craig in the background.

How did it start? Well, one day, he simply walked into the “White Stag Gallery”, and lo and behold, there was Basil Rakoczi. Though “Benny”, as he was known to his friends “had the hots for him”, it was Kenneth Hall, who died young in 1945 that Pat refers to as his “special friend”.  His eyes well up a little as he points to Hall’s painting “Apres la Guerre”, that still hangs within his eye line, seven decades on.

Basil Rakoczi and Kenneth Hall

It was Rakoczi, who also started his own “Society for Creative Psychology” in Dublin, who brought Pat to watch the “formidable” Erina Brady, teaching class in her studio.  Pat shares an indelible image of her 1941 Mansion House debut - Erina on all fours hammering jutting nails into the stage before she could start her barefoot dance. He gasps at the recent news update that her father was a priest.

Surprisingly, Brady’s Mary Wigman style dancing wasn’t Pat’s first encounter with Modern Dance. Fresh up from Cork to study architecture at UCD, Pat the 19 year old suddenly found himself among German Modern Dancers at a party in Dublin Service Apartments – where he had found temporary digs. Proving that to every cloud there is indeed a silver lining, these fine Ballets Jooss dancers were stuck here for three weeks with their anti-war epic “The Green Table” when war broke out.

The Green Table by The Ballets Jooss

Avoiding the war too, were movers and shakers Cork-born architect Noel Moffett and his Malawi-born, Scottish wife, Margot.  They ran the 1945 TB exhibition at the Mansion House, including Erina Brady’s TB ballet.  When they split, Margot became a Modern Dancer. Pat tells me Margot kept in touch even after she moved to India where her ashes were eventually sprinkled in the Ganges.

The Voyage of Maeldune, chor. by Erina Brady (1946) L-R: ?, June Fryer, Jacqueline Robinson, and Margot Moffett. 

Another good friend Liam O Laoghaire, whose Film Society he says was the only show in town for Dublin’s many artists and intellectuals, made 1943 film “Dance School”, in barter with Erina Brady.  Pat remembers..
Margaret Becker in "Dance School" (1943), directed by Liam O Laoghaire

This being the dawn of the motor car, Pat bought composer Brian Boydell’s Ford Lancia, and they were all in awe of the Hempel’s wheels, which architect Michael Scott gleefully acquired when the German Legation left Dublin after the war.
A Ford Lancia

What a milieu.

Pat was good to vouch for his dancing friends, despite his frail state. However, I only heard of his own dancing style at his sadly suddenly posthumous IMMA exhibition “Image, Space, Light” when his husband Eric described Pat’s “dancing for joy” in an “all over dancing style in which he moved every single muscle of his body”. His friends, the dancers, would like that.  
Patrick Scott & Yours Truly, in his studio, February 6th, 2013.
 The above radio essay was broadcast on RTE Sunday Miscellany today.  We were extremely lucky to have the great Patrick Scott, RIP, contribute to TG4 documentary "Damhsa na hEigeandala" last February 6th (when I insisted on getting the above photo taken, on my iphone).  I was lucky enough to enjoy a few chats with him reminiscing over his Bohemian friends and milieu from 1940s Dublin.  I'll be back in touch when I have a broadcast date for the documentary!

1 comment:

Marie said...

What an exceptional collection of photographs and anecdotes! Thank you for sharing them with us ;-)