Margaret Mercer is a writer and critic for Dance Australia … but did you know that she danced with West Australian Ballet for many years? Or that she was assistant to the director of the Australian Ballet School* between 1985-1991. We decided it was time to let our readers know more about this quiet achiever.
Tell us about your dance training.
I started ballet classes the year I turned eight after seeing the Borovansky company at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, and being totally spellbound by everything about it. Evelyn Hodgkinson was my first teacher. I had no idea what a ballet class was like; I expected to start the class in the centre of the room and leap and twirl about like the dancers I had seen on stage. However I successfully passed my RAD grade exams. My next teacher was Madame Kira Bousloff. As founder/artistic director of the WA Ballet Company (in 1952) her studio was a mecca for musicians, artists and of course dancers; there was always something interesting happening and it was a lively, stimulating, creative environment.
What was Kira Bousloff like as a teacher?
She was a force of nature but also pragmatic and practical. A demanding but encouraging teacher, she generously shared her knowledge and experience and imbued in her students her own love of dance. I was awarded a scholarship in 1962 and upped the number of classes I was doing to six days a week. We had guest teachers from all over the world and pas de deux classes with Borovansky dancers and Australian Ballet dancers (from 1962) when they were in Perth, often for six-week seasons. She took us to see all the brilliant Russian companies that Edgleys toured to Perth, and always found opportunities for us to perform, choreograph and to teach.
You joined the Australian Ballet School in its inaugural year, 1964. What was the ABS like in those early days?
It was a thrill to be accepted into the ABS and to be there at the beginning. It was a big deal in those days to go from Perth to Melbourne to continue training and we felt privileged to be sharing the studios (and change rooms) with the Australian Ballet dancers and to be able to see all of the performances. It would never have occurred to me to even imagine then that I would return to the ABS as assistant to founder Dame Margaret Scott, who became “Maggie” to me, and be there as the School’s 21st Anniversary, Silver Jubilee and the Dame Margaret Scott Gala...
This is an exercpt from an article in the August/September 2019 issue of Dance Australia... out now! Subscribe to Dance Australia here or buy Dance Australia at your favourite retail outlet, or online here.
* The print edition of the magazine incorrectly states that Margaret Mercer was assistant to the director of the Australian Ballet! We apologise to Margaret and readers for this error.
Pictured top is Margaret Mercer dancing with West Australian Ballet in 1965.