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Rudolf Benesh (F. C. A., F. F. I. Chor 1916 – 1975) was born in London of a Czech father and an Anglo-Italian mother. He was a qualified accountant who had always been fascinated by sciences and the arts. Driven by his passions, he enrolled at Wimbledon College of Art to read fine art, and at Morley College to read music. It was thorough his painting that he met Joan, the catalyst and inspiration for his invention: Benesh Movement Notation.
Joan Benesh (née Rothwell, F. F. I. Chor) was born in Liverpool in 1920. Her vocational education included a period at the Studio School of Dance and Drama. She later studied ballet with Lydia Sokolova. During the war she danced in the commercial theatre. In 1950 she joined the Royal Opera Company and the following year the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now the Birmingham Royal Ballet). In 1957 she joined the staff of the Royal Ballet School (White Lodge) before founding the Institute’s training course in 1963. She retired as Principal in July 1976.
Beginning in 1947, Rudolf and Joan started eight years of collaborative development, during which they also married (1949). Their work resulted into the first public presentation of the notation at the Royal Opera House in September 1955, the publication of An Introduction to Benesh Dance Notation and its inclusion amongst the British government pavilion exhibits of Technological and Scientific Discovery at the Brussels’ Expo in 1958. Shortly after that, followed the launch of a correspondence course, the development of the teaching syllabi and, in 1960, another important milestone: the employment of Faith Worth by the Royal Ballet as their first professional notator.
The Benesh Institute of Choreology was founded in 1962 with Sir Frederick Ashton as president, Arnold Haskell as vice-president, Nicholas Dromgoole as chairman of the board of governors and Rudolf Benesh as director.
In 1965, with funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the Pilgrim Trust, the Institute acquired premises in London in order to house its growing library of scores and its first full-time training course.
Some of the first graduates joined Joan (principal of the training course) building a team of teachers and researchers that explored the use of the notation in a variety of applications: modern dance (Janet Wilks), East Asian classical dance (Marianne Balchin), folk and national dance (Robert Harold), character dance (Melvina Bura), historical dance (Wendy Hilton, Belinda Quirey), choreographic analysis (Kathleen Russell) and work study and medicine (Francis Green and later Julia McGuiness Scott).
"His thinking was always original. It was as if instead of standing in front of an idea looking at it as everyone did, he walked around it and approached it from a different angle."
Kathleen Russell, Benesh News 2000, The Benesh Institute, London
Highdown Tower, the residential training centre of the Institute, situated in the Sussex countryside, was opened in 1973. Conceived along the lines of a three-year university degree programme, the education offered was well ahead of its time, incorporating a wide range of dance and movement study options in tandem with, and enhanced by, the study of Benesh Movement Notation.
"In 1975 Rudolf Benesh was tragically struck down with cancer and his death robbed the dance world of one of its greatest innovators. In his quiet, diffident way he had a gift for stimulating the thinking of those around him, and arousing their loyalty and affection.…..Positive, determined, and tenacious in what she (Joan) believed to be right, …..Together they made a formidable team,….. Of them it can truly be said, that they left the dance world a changed place. Not only did they change it, they changed it for the better."
Nicholas Dromgoole: Chairman of the Benesh Institute 1968 - 1986. Citation given on the occasion of the 1986 QEII Award to Rudolf and Joan Benesh in recognition of their services to dance.
Monica Parker (F. I. Chor.) studied the notation under Joan and Rudolf Benesh whilst a student at the Royal Ballet School. She was amongst the first to be awarded A.I. Chor (Associate of the Institute of Choreology) which was the recognised qualification for a Benesh notator. After a few years teaching for the Beneshes she accepted Kenneth MacMillan’s invitation to join the staff of Deutsche Oper Berlin as company choreologist. Two years later she followed him to the Royal Ballet when he was appointed director.
In 1976, following the death of Rudolf Benesh, Monica was appointed director of the Benesh Institute. Combining this with her role as Principal Notator with the Royal Ballet and numerous invitations to stage works around the world, Monica persuaded many other companies to employ notators. She engaged Adrian Grater as technical director to carry on Rudolf Beneshes work developing and refining the notation system. Her published works include ‘Dance Notation for Beginners’, ‘BMN Elementary Solo Syllabus – Ballet Application’ and ‘Benesh: the Notation of Dance’ in Images and Understanding.
Monica is internationally renowned for her close working relationship with MacMillan which lasted beyond his death. She continues to stage his works worldwide.
Andrew Ward was appointed director if the Benesh Institute in 1990. Formerly a soloist with the Royal Ballet, Andrew had studied the notation at the Royal Ballet School. Under his leadership the Institute was incorporated within the Royal Academy of Dance giving it a secure home and access to a wider market. Andrew secured funding from the Arts Council England and the Sports and Arts Foundation to develop the Benesh Notation Editor software in collaboration with Surrey University.
Liz Cunliffe (F. I. Chor ARAD) Born in South Africa, Liz began her career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet Touring Company. When injury forced her to retire she took up director John Field's suggestion and enrolled on the Benesh Institute's Professional Notator’s Diploma Course. Her career in notation has included working with the Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and Rambert Dance companies, teaching in vocational schools, universities and at the Benesh Institute, and mounting dance works in Europe, the Americas, Canada and The Far East.
In 1997, following its incorporation within the Royal Academy of Dance, Liz became Technical Director of the Benesh Institute and in 2000 she was appointed director. Since joining the Academy much of her energy has focused on the development of the Benesh Notation Editor computer software and on writing a comprehensive reference work on the Benesh system.
RAD Conference: Dance and Lifelong Wellbeing, 26-28 April 2013
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