Memories: Harry Haythorne

Sadler's Wells Opera Ballet; Western Theatre Ballet; Scottish Theatre Ballet; The Scottish Ballet 1965-1974 (as Ballet Master; Production Manager; Assistant Artistic Director); Artistic Director Queensland Ballet 1975-78; Artistic Director Emeritus The Royal New Zealand Ballet 1981-1992

Peter Darrell created many of his ballets on contemporary themes, and restored the idea of the librettist as an important contributor to this composite art. Some of Britain's leading young playwright's provided themes for him (Sun into Darkness, Home, A Wedding Present, etc).

However he avoided the trap inherent in narrative dance of his ballets becoming mime-plays. In the creation of dances Peter rarely (if ever) indulged in technical display for its own sake. He aimed always to make the choreography express the ballet's purpose. His excellent taste in music and sound design sense ensured that his ballets were usually a delight to look at and built on solid musical foundations.

I believe that he deliberately kept his emotions "raw", consequently many of his ballets were in a sense autobiographical ... metaphors of his inner turmoil. Although the libretti of some of these pieces may have been written by someone else, he found situations in them to which he could relate... to his feeling of isolation. Usually on completing a ballet he was exhausted, not only by the effort of devising a choreographic expression of his emotional state but by consciously having evoked that state... He was a sound craftsman and self-critical; as a result his ballets were frequently greatly improved on revival. Some of his ballets, such as Sun into Darkness, were singular achievements; however he was very sensitive to adverse criticism especially if it was based on what he had considered a misunderstanding of his purpose... After such criticism he might disappear for days; his absence causing all sorts of havoc within the company when specific decisions might be required.

Unusually for an Artistic Director, who was also a choreographer, Peter was generous and discerning in the works he commissioned...early ballets by young choreographers who later became famous, new works and re-stagings by established choreographers, and pieces by dancers from within the Company. Peter Darrell liked dancers with character and personality and was willing to put up with a great deal of abrasiveness if what came out on stage was arresting and dramatically truthful; although he appreciated technical ability, that on its own was never enough. When adding a new ballet to the repertoire whether his own or by another choreographer he always had in mind its suitability to the members of his company. Although he engaged guest teachers of contemporary dance, he believed that the company was best served by a basis of strong classical teaching; nonetheless he was mindful that his company was "different" so decided not to rely on Russian academic dance alone but instead to look to the Bournonville School as a major source of training.

Peter Darrell was a major contributor to the development of ballet, not only in Scotland, but to the wider British tradition.