Memories of Madam
As someone who has known Madam since early childhood, I had the unique opportunity to experience many aspects of this amazing woman.
I don’t quite remember the first time I met her… I must have been a baby... she’s been a part of my life for as long as I remember.
One of my earliest memories of us together is sitting on the couch with her scratching my back. When we had to pile into the car, it was always a scramble to get into the seat next to her or even better, sit on her lap. Visiting at her house or ours, I got to know her privately, well before she became my teacher - spending time chatting in the kitchen, the lounge-room & the garden. But even then, I just knew I was in the presence of greatness. She was awesome in the real sense of the word.
Many of you here know her professionally, from times in the theatre or studio but did you know how much she adored her family & animals? Her beloved cat Vaska was huge - so fat & well fed that he had to be put on a diet! Even in the very last years, she adored her dogs & cats.
And of course she always spoke so lovingly about her daughter & especially her grand-daughter. It wasn’t til I was in my teens that I learned her name was actually Yvonne as she was always referred to so proudly as “my Putsi”. She really was a very affectionate and loving person.
Apart from my parents, Madam was the one who made the single greatest impact on my life and I cannot imagine how different it would have been without her.
It was Madam who choreographed my 1st Character dance… which I did together with my 2 sisters – we were 7, 9 & 11 at the time. She created a small children’s group within the ensemble which would later become Kolobok ;
She gave me the opportunity to perform short solos with the professional company as a “guest artist” even while I was still in high school;
In the year before I went to Moscow, I would often wag school & go to the Australian Ballet Centre in Flemington to attend her classes with the 1st & 2nd years. She would ask me to demonstrate exercises when she couldn’t, but in reality, she was perfectly capable… it was her doing me the favour, encouraging me further and it was just another one of her many “gifts” to me. It always amused me when a student didn’t understand her instructions…there were so many “Madam-isms” that I’d grown up with, I understood them all perfectly;
It was at her recommendation to Moiseyev that I was accepted to study in Moscow – she was so highly regarded & respected as a teacher by him that he took me into his school, sight unseen, solely on her word;
And it was due to her training that I coped as well as I did there. She didn’t simply teach me to dance…she taught me to see the structure of the movement, the shape & form the body could make… to hear the accent & the dynamics in the music and to use the nuances of facial expression, hand gesture, tilt of the head, gait & stance.
It was she who gave me my 1st opportunity to teach when she asked me to show some of the work I’d learned in Moscow to the other Kolobok dancers while she was otherwise occupied;
After Kolobok closed and I began to teach at the VCA & VCASS, she coached and mentored me. She had me come to her house several times a week to learn how to construct exercises, how to plan a class, how to develop a multi-level program or syllabus & of course which music to use for what.
She then encouraged me to choreograph and taught me her unique way of mapping the music with its phrasing, rhythm, melody-line & dynamic qualities. And she taught me how to annotate & record the staging plans & dances. She invested countless hours so generously into helping me;
When I became a mother, she even taught me how to prepare meals in advance for when I was short of time or came home late from work.
There are so many memories & things I could say but there just isn’t enough time. In essence, she showed belief in me, well before I had any in myself. And I know that I’m not the only one… Time after time, I hear from her former students that she managed to get something so much greater out of them than they ever believed could be possible.
I remember the day when she, Valya and Paul sailed away to Tasmania… Sitting in the departure lounge at Station Pier, I struggled to find words when we had to say good-bye. After all, no words could express the myriad of emotions.
When I saw her several months ago, she’d had a miraculous burst of clarity. Her face was expressive, she was waving her arms around to music, and her feet were bobbing up and down just as if she were dancing. I spoke to her about all the members of my family and some of the many people who were her students over the years. With each name mentioned, there was recognition and joy quite visible in her face. I heard that unforgettable laugh of hers; she held my hand and stroked my face.
I knew then it would probably be our last visit (and I thank Valya for allowing me the opportunity to share those precious days with her). Before I left, I had a chance to thank her for the many ways in which she blessed my life.
As I hugged her one last time, I said the same 5 words to her that I had many years before at the pier…
“Safe journey, I love you”.
- Alida Segal