Lynn Seymour died on 7 March 2023 at the age of 83.
Kenneth MacMillan created several works on her and said, “Lynn Seymour has a wonderfully expressive body, great musicality and independence.” The Guardian's obituary stated, “Seymour was a dancer of individuality with fine musicality and in all the roles she created left a high benchmark for successors to try to emulate. She was noted for a fluidity that MacMillan in 1980 said made her ‘movements melt one into the next'. He added that ‘Lynn is as real as anyone can be on stage when wearing pointe shoes.'” Alastair Macaulay, writing her obituary for the New York Times, said that she was “one of the greatest of all dance actors” and “the most radically original dancer in British ballet history”. The Times wrote of her “flowing lyricism and flawless sensibility”.
The Canadian-born ballerina's career was mainly linked to The Royal Ballet and London became her home. On hearing of her death, Kevin O'Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, wrote, “Lynn was an extraordinary force of the ballet world, possessed of the most startling and spontaneous dramatic gifts that infused her every performance.”
Her funeral was a private affair with only about forty people in attendance, including her three sons. The funeral reception was held at London's Playground Theatre where Lynn Seymour was a patron. It was formerly known as The Playground Studio, a name that Seymour came up with seeing that it began life as a research and development studio – a place for artists of all disciplines to ‘play' with their ideas. Her connection with the theatre was through her best friend Naomi Sorkin, former American dancer and actress whose husband created and is co-artistic director of the Playground Theatre.
We reproduce Sorkin's eulogy below.
I first met Lynn when I was invited to dance her ballet Rashomon in 1981 in Miami. She had been an idol of mine after I had seen her dance Juliet in Chicago, and so of course I was thrilled to be working with her, but I never expected that it was to be the beginning of a long and close friendship.
We bonded in many ways. It wasn't just the work, which I found to be exceptional, challenging, and exciting, and I naturally relished her stories about her own artistic journey, but on days off we went shopping together for sun hats and flowers with which to decorate them – we discovered a mutual passion for hats!
Meeting Lynn literally changed the course of my life and living in London is a direct result of her recommending me to Lindsay Kemp. He had asked her to create the role of the ballerina Karsavina in his new work about Nijinsky and as she had recently retired from the stage, she suggested me. That colourful tour of Italy ended in my settling in London.
She was a loving, generous, and supportive friend. We spoke most days. With her I could share joys, desires, and aspirations as well as woes and fears – we supported each other.
We shared a deep love of beauty, in all its forms; of art – we shared trips to Paris to see exhibitions; of music and literature – she was a voracious reader until her eyes gave out, and she said in another life she would have loved to be a writer; of nature, flowers, tulips and the way they danced – her garden gave her much joy and her house was always filled with flowers; and we never tired of antique fairs, vintage clothing, jewellery, and textiles.
She was always eager to create. When I brought her to hear a soprano friend of mine sing Les Tonadillas by Granados, she asked, “Would you like me to choreograph it for you?” Of course, I jumped at the idea. She created a beautiful work for soprano, male dancer, and me, but sadly it was never brought to the stage. Through my actor husband Peter, she choreographed movement for three plays, and we workshopped more after the creation of The Playground Theatre, whose name was her idea.
In the last several years, she came on holiday with us to Italy, where she loved nothing more than to lie by the pool, next to a large rosemary hedge that filled her with joy, while watching what she called the “procession of clouds” as they marched across the hills and over the 12th-century fortress opposite.
I've never seen anyone swim so beautifully than on the rare occasions when she ventured into the pool. Her breaststroke was like a ballet in itself. She loved the water – it reminded her of her childhood in Alberta, where she told me she had been a keen swimmer. She loved the Italian markets, she inhaled the pure, sweet, perfumed air, enjoyed the fresh food and, most of all, the profound peace. She was happy there. I have an image of her early every morning on the terrace overlooking the valley, straddling a chair, opening herself up to the morning sun, and basking in its rays.
I cherished her friendship, she was wise in so many ways, yet vulnerable and profoundly human.
But the image I would like to leave you with was from something we discussed only a couple of months ago. There was a big beautiful full moon, and she said that the moonlight streamed into her window and that she… sometimes… danced in the moonlight. Oh, how I would have loved to have seen her in those moments.
Naomi Sorkin was one of America's leading classical and dramatic ballerinas. She began her career at 14, dancing with the Chicago Lyric Opera, and joined the American Ballet Theatre at 17 where she rose quickly through the ranks to become the youngest soloist dancing many principal roles before leaving to become a principal dancer with both the San Franciso and Eliot Feld Ballets. She became known for her varied repertoire which spanned dramatic, classical, lyrical and contemporary dance. Her dramatic power and lyricism combined with a strong classical technique made her a favourite with choreographers worldwide and a leading guest artist.
Sorkin became a freelance artist to pursue an even broader repertoire, guesting with many of the major dance companies (both ballet and contemporary) and shortly thereafter starred in the PBS film Swan Lake Minnesota, a critically acclaimed avant-garde version of Swan Lake. She came to Europe as a guest artist with the Lindsay Kemp company, where she created the Ballerina role in his Nijinsky Il Matto, touring Italy, before settling in London. As a guest artist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt, she performed the central speaking role in his full-length masterpiece Artifact in Stockholm, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Yokohama and Lisbon. In London, she played principal roles in two West End shows, Grand Hotel and Brigadoon. It was in London that she began working as an actress, and her theatre work includes The Creditors at the Gate Theatre, The Dancing Master at the BAC, Blue Eyes Red at The White Bear, amongst others.
Henryk Baranowski, twice winner of Russia's Golden Mask award adapted The Idiot for Sorkin to play Nastyasia Filippovna in London at the Riverside Studios, as well as creating the role of The Black Angel for her in his Macbeth in Poland. She inspired and starred in Madame Ida which was shown at the V&A, London Short Film Festival as well as in Paris, Capri, Brescia, and St Petersburg, where it resides permanently in the collection of the Theatre Museum of St Petersburg. She also starred in Roman Fever, based on the Edith Wharton short story of the same name which screened at Riverside Studios and the Aesthetica Film Festival.
Sorkin played the leading role of Anna in The Devil's Choice by Russian writer Irina Ionnyasen and with her collaborator Christian Holder, Naomi created Isolation Waltz, a short film in response to the lockdown.
Most recently she played the title role in Ida Rubinstein, The Final Act, which was created for her by Christian Holder who wrote, choreographed, and directed this multimedia evocation of The Untold Story of Dance's Forgotten Diva at The Playground Theatre.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.