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Elaine McDonald RIP

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She was a really wonderful dramatic dancer and, as muse to Peter Darrell at Scottish Ballet, created roles in many ballets. After his death she remained at Scottish Ballet for a while, in a leadership role as well as principal dancer, but eventually seemed to be eased out, I never knew why. The last I heard of her was several years ago when she was featured in a campaign against government cuts in disability support as, sadly, , she had serious mobility and financial problems.

She was yet another great dancer who came from Hull. Thanks to that, she and Scottish Ballet regularly performed in Hull at a time (like now!) when Scottish Ballet scarcely performed in England, apart from Newcastle.

I was disappointed that when the 50 year celebration of Scottish Ballet was announced for next year none of Darrell's ballets were announced (Tales of Hoffman would still sell), even though Christopher Hampson has told me, and said on a TV documentary, how much he admired Darrell's work.

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I am saddened to hear of Elaine MacDonald's death there was a time when her name and that of Scottish Ballet were all but synonymous, That was a time when the company made regular visits to Sadler's Wells bringing an interesting Darrell based repertory with them. Not all of Darrell's ballets were masterpieces but many of them were well worth seeing particularly if MacDonald was dancing in them. I can suggest a reason for the neglect of Darrell's ballets and that is simply that his works displayed a level of ingenuity, inventiveness and sheer theatrical effectiveness that seem to be lacking in so much of the new work that is staged here and abroad.


Neglect in whole or part is a fate suffered by several other British choreographers of note including Ashton, Tudor and Gore and several choreographers who worked here long enough to be part of the story of ballet in this country such as the two South Africans Staff and Cranko. Of course such neglect is usually explained away by describing the neglected works as old and emphasising their antiquity and finally by making the broad assertion that they would not appeal to modern audiences. As no one is going to stage them we shall, in all probability, never find out whether such statements are true or not.  I often suspect that it is the fear that these "antique" works would show up the faults of works by younger choreographers like Wheeldon and Pita and those with choreographic pretentions such as Marriott which keeps them safely away from the stage rather than their age.


It would be nice to think that Scottish Ballet might be prompted to stage a ballet like The Tales of Hoffman and some of the other Darrell works in which MacDonald appeared as a tribute to her. If the company were to stage a Darrell work as a tribute there is always the hope that it might prompt interest in some of the other works which he created.There are several of his works which I should like to see just out of interest beginning with his ballet  "The House Party".

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Sad to hear this, but her last years were difficult because of illness which severely affected her. I , too, remember her with Scottish, as SheilaC and FLOSS have both noted. She was understated on stage but gave clear direction and leadership to the company both on and off stage. Like SheilaC I was aware that she seemed to have been "eased out" of the company but am unaware of any reason. After that she drifted away from my awareness until the sad situation when she bravely agreed to be the public example of a legal case brought against the local authority (which might have been Kensington and Chelsea) for the cuts they sought to make in her "care package" resulting in quite degrading results for Ms MacDonald. Fortunately she won that fight but I'm unaware of how much the situation improved. I hope her final years were peaceful. She deserved that. I hope Scottish Ballet remember her properly in their 50th anniversary celebrations. They owe much to her (and, of course, to Peter Darrell).

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