Top choreographer Arlene Phillips looks back on her career
Arlene! The Glitz. The Glamour. The Gossip brings together two long-standing friends for a night at Brighton Theatre Royal on Tuesday, September 5.
Arlene Phillips has been an inimitable choreographer and director for more than four decades. Since creating the provocative dance group Hot Gossip in the 1970s, she has been a household name.
She will chat with Brighton-born Jacquie Storey – a former pupil of hers – about a lifetime in dance.
Born and brought up in Brighton, Jacquie reckons that dancing is simply something that’s in your blood.
“I started going to baby ballet classes, as they would have been called, when I was about three. I assume I was taken there by my mum and dad… and I never left! I just progressed. Actually, my father didn’t want me to go to ballet. He wanted me to go to tap or modern, but I am so lucky that I had that ballet training. Ballet was my first love – even though I went on to singing and musical theatre. Now that I teach, I always say to all dancers, whatever type of dance you are going to end up dancing, that ballet is what gives you your basic technique to fall back on. If you are a jazz pianist, you have got to have classical technique behind you, and I think it is the same with dance.”
Jacquie went on to train at the Arts Educational School in London with Dame Ninette de Valois and with Arlene Phillips among others. At the age of 16 she was the English National Ballet Champion and made her first appearance in the West End.
She even got to share the stage with the great Rudolph Nureyev: “At the time I was a student, and we were all sent along to be part of it. I was one of the corps de ballet at the back of the stage, an extra in effect. We got little bits of dance to do. I never spoke to Rudolph Nureyev. I was terrified! He was so magnificent! He was the choreographer and director and star of this particular production, and just to stand on stage with him was fantastic. I didn’t speak to him. You just stood there in awe of him. He was stronger than other male dancers at the time. His leaps were higher. His pirouettes were faster. He dazzled. He had an arrogance and an assurance and a confidence that was just in a different league. But he was difficult! He was a diva. But he was fully entitled to be a diva.”
Ballet was not, however, where Jacquie’s future lay: “I had always wanted to be a prima ballerina, but I realised at that stage that I would only ever make corps de ballet. My teachers said that I could do tap and so on and that I should expand, and I took their advice. Musical theatre became my first love, but I am just so happy that I had such a foundation in classical ballet.”
As for Arlene: “I first met her 40 years ago in the mid-70s. She was my jazz dance teacher in London, and at the time she was trying to put together a new dance group. Each time, we were trying new styles, new routines, different techniques. And she wanted me to be in this dance group. But at the time I got offered a job as the girl singer in the Tommy Trinder summer spectacular. I thought ‘This is my big break! towards going solo, so I said to Arlene ‘Thank you and goodbye.’ Literally within a few months of me leaving, that dance group became Hot Gossip, the biggest sensational British dance group of that time. I couldn’t go back. But I definitely don’t regret the career I have had!”