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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Dancing Queen: 100 Years of Margaret Morris Movement

Clockwise from top left, Margaret Morris, 1920s. Photo by Fred Daniels, The Red Bowl by Margaret Morris, oil on board, c.1915-1920

Dancers demonstrating at the official handover of the Margaret Morris Archive at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

The article which follows below appeared in today's Herald, in its newly revamped Arts section. I write this every alternative week.

Margaret Morris, the lifelong partner of the Scottish Colourist, JD Fergusson, was a pioneer of modern dance and a gifted artist, as this exhibition reveals. Why she isn't better known, I have no idea. Truly an unsung heroine.

As a postcript to the article which appeared in today's paper, I went to the official opening and 'acceptance' of the Margaret Morris Archive this afternoon in Perth, with my dance loving mother-in-law, daughter and her best friend.

The exhibition is on for a year and it is well worth a visit. There's so much to see, from intimate glimpses into both JD Fergusson and Morris' sketch books, to costumes, old photos and paintings. Morris was a fine artist, as this exhibition reveals, though she was clearly overshadowed in this department by her lover of 40+ years.

In true Bohemian spirit, the pair never married. Apparently, she was once quoted as saying there was only room in their relationship for one artist.

There are some wonderful photographs of Morris as a young performing protege in Edwardian London, where she was the toast of 'Smoking Parties' around the capital.

The archive was donated by Margaret Morris' friend and long-time champion, Jim Hastie. Hastie, now 73, is the artistic director of the Margaret Morris Movement, was once the ballet master at Scottish Opera. He trained with Margaret Morris in her own unique dance style in Glasgow in the 1950s, and gave a fantastically idiosyncratic speech, after which he introduced four Margaret Morris dancers and talked us through their display.

Jim hailed from a mining village in Lanarkshire and the steely resolve which he must have possessed to become a dancer from a working-class background such as his, has stood him in good stead as a champion of his friend's legacy.

It was genuinely moving to see him surrounded by Morris' artwork, letters, costumes and assorted memorabilia of a life fully lived. Moving too that Morris is in a way, reunited with her long-term lover, 'Fergus' Fergusson, in the museum which bears his name and tends his own personal archive.

After a short speech by the Provost of Perth, John Hulbert, four dancers trained in the Margaret Morris style of dancing, gave a demonstration.

Wonderful stuff.

PROFILE: Dancing as an Art, 100 years of Margaret Morris Movement

The Fergusson Gallery
Marshall Place, Perth
01738 783425
Mon-Sat 10am-5pm
Opens today and lasts until February 12, 2011
(A companion exhibition, Fergus & Meg, opened last weekend and runs until October 3)

Margaret Morris was never going to lead a normal life. In 1894, at the age of just three, she was on stage, reciting in French and later in English, at parties, ‘smoking’ concerts and court drawing rooms.
In 1910, by then a precocious 19-year-old, she was dancing at London’s Savoy Theatre in Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. Not only did she take centre stage, she had trained the dancers in her own newly developed dance technique for a month before rehearsals. She was also responsible for all costume and set design.
“The triumph of the production is Miss Morris’s Dance of the Furies,” gushed the critic from The Daily Express. “Nothing like it has ever been seen on the London stage”.
Later that year, Morris started her own School of Dancing in St. Martin’s Lane with the help of the writer, John Galsworthy (with whom she allegedly had an affair) and his wife, Ada.
Before long, she was touring with her own company, initially called Margaret Morris and her Dancing Children. Later, it would become The Margaret Morris Movement.
In 1913, during a visit to Paris with her dance company, she met her lifelong partner, the painter and Scottish Colourist, JD Fergusson.
The resulting creative explosion of these two major talents sparked a meeting of minds and souls which still reverberates today.
Today, a century after this pioneer of modern dance first started to formulate her unique holistic approach to dance and movement, and 20 years after her death in Glasgow at the age of 86, her life and work is being celebrated in a series of exhibitions in at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth.
Also an accomplished artist, Morris’ passion for form, line and colour, encouraged and reinforced by Fergusson, had a profound influence in all her work.
This afternoon, the gallery which bears her husband’s name will officially take ownership of a unique collection of art work and archival material relating to Morris, which has been gifted to Perth & Kinross Council by the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement.
Fittingly, the collection will be reunited with the existing collection of work by her JD Fergusson (or ’Fergus’ as he was known to her) already owned by Perth & Kinross.
The archive of Margaret Morris artwork - a small portion of which is on display in these two new exhibitions in Perth - paints a vivid picture of a woman, who by all accounts was a force of nature. Although devoted to her arguably more famous husband, she was never defined by him at any stage of their 47-year-long partnership.
The couple moved to Glasgow in 1939 on the eve of World War 2 and made a lasting impact on the Scottish arts scene.
Fergusson’s death in 1961 did not dampen her enthusiasm for promoting the restorative, health-giving power of her own particular brand of dance. She never gave up working and, in 1972, at the age of 81, was training dancers in the hit musical Hair at the Metropole Theatre, Glasgow.
Among this unique collection are many of the dance costumes designed by Morris, as well as thousands of examples of her artwork, photographs, letters, programmes and diaries. There is even a copy of the first cheque she received for being on stage, dated 1986.
In the intimate Fergus & Meg exhibition, which opened last weekend, artwork by both Fergusson and Morris is on show, and includes their portraits of each other. The highlight is a magnificent cloak designed and hand painted by Fergusson for his young lover to wear in her Spring ballet of 1914.
A series of workshops and related events are also being held to mark the centenary celebrations. To mark the event, Morris’ biography of Fergusson, The Art of JD Fergusson, is being reissued.

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