State's first 'modern dance' performer

 

June Kuhn:IRELAND’S first “modern dancer”, has died at the age of 85.

Pioneered in the early 20th century by Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller, Modern Dance is a style that centres on a performer’s own interpretations instead of structured steps, as in traditional ballet dancing.

Modern dancers reject the limitations and the pointe shoes of classical ballet in favour of bare feet and movements derived from expression of their inner feelings.

Originally from Mount Merrion in Dublin, June Fryer, as she was then, was introduced to Modern Dance by German-born Erina Brady, who was mistakenly suspected of being a spy.

Fryer’s headmistress at Park House School on Morehampton Road, Dublin, put the 16-year-old in touch with Brady, who had come to Dublin in 1939 to sow the seed of Mary Wigman-inspired Modern Dance at her Irish School of Dance Art on Harcourt Street.

Fryer soon became a star pupil at the school where she trained until 1946, alongside wartime refugee Jacqueline Robinson.

Informed by what she learned in Dublin, Robinson went on to set up l’Atelier de la Danse, the first professional school of Modern Dance in Paris.

In her memoir, Modern Dance in 1940s Dublin, Robinson remembered Fryer as “obviously gifted for dance”.

At Brady’s Harcourt Street studio, Fryer mingled among a striking bohemian milieu, comprising Basil (“Benny”) Racoszi and Kenneth Hall of the White Stag Art Group, film-maker Liam O’Laoghaire, composer Brian Boydell, stain glass artists Patrick Pye, Adolphus Grauer, Mainie Jellett and Hugh Barden, painter Barbara Warren, gallerist David Hendrick, art collector Gordon Lambert, architect Noel Moffett and the wartime diplomatic set, including British embassy press attache and poet John Betjeman and Dr and Mrs Hempel of the German legation.

This “Emergency” set enjoyed soirees of poetry recital, music, and dance in Brady’s studio – referred to as “bottle and pyjama parties” by the detectives who were monitoring them.

Unusually for women of their day, Fryer and Robinson attended fortnightly meetings in a pub on Dawson Street where they would discuss “ideas and art”.

As part of their training they also attended Francoise Henry’s history of art lectures at Trinity College, and taught dance classes in Brigidine convents in Kildare, Carlow, and Kilkenny.

Éamon de Valera opened Brady’s choreography The TB Ballet, a propaganda ballet against tuberculosis, starring Fryer in the Mansion House, Dublin, in 1945. At the Peacock Theatre in 1946, she performed in plays choreographed by Brady, including The Magic Glassesby George Fitzmaurice, The Viscount of Blarneyby Austin Clarke, and Brady’s adaptation of Tennyson’s poem The Voyage of Maeldune.

After obtaining a diploma, Fryer continued her training with Sigurd Leeder in Oxford, where she took up a position teaching dance at the Oxford Theatre School for two years in the late 1940s. She also performed in London’s Rudolf Steiner Hall, and in Archives de la Danse, Paris.

She joined Stella Campbell’s Dublin dance school when it expanded to include modern ballet and ballroom dancing in the 1950s.

One day Campbell sent her to Dún Laoghaire, to collect a Swiss dancer coming to procure his ballroom dancing certificate.

Walter Kuhn had been to Ireland in 1953, with the Ballets Jooss, dancing the iconic role of the young soldier in Jooss’s epic anti-war ballet The Green Tableat the Olympia Theatre.

His photograph was among those adorning the walls of Brady’s Harcourt Street studio when Fryer was training there.

Fryer and Kuhn soon married, started a family, and began teaching ballroom dancing classes in their Blackrock living room, overlooking Dublin Bay.

Raising their family “you kept very quiet about being a dancer”, she recalled later. “Barefoot – can you imagine? It was considered almost indecent.”

She helped Carolyn Swift and Alan Simpson in their short-lived Pike Theatre, and continued teaching in schools, including Killiney’s Holy Child.

Walter took up a job in Fryer’s Electrical Contractors in Ballsbridge, owned by his wife’s parents. June later became an avid painter.

She is survived by her husband, Walter, her daughters Kathrin, Monika and Sonja, her grandchildren Niall, Darragh, Sinéad and Finn, and her sister, Ann.


June Kuhn: born March 3rd, 1926; died September 22nd, 2011