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Tatiana Is Dancing - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 13 August , 2012

CAROLINE JONES, PRESENTER: Hello, I'm Caroline Jones. Tonight, a woman who's influenced the lives
and careers of hundreds of aspiring dancers, including principals in the Australian Ballet and in
major companies around the world. At 75, Tanya Pearson continues to teach classical ballet
full-time. But what few people have known until now is that her personal story is worthy of its own
moving ballet production. So, to celebrate what's now half a century of teaching, her family,
colleagues and former students have come together in a gala tribute to the woman they know
affectionately as "Mrs P". This is Tanya Pearson's story.

(Excerpt from backstage at performance)

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Hello, how are you? Now Mum's not here yet, is she?


NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Keep Mum in a corner somewhere occupied with people and all the dancers can
run by back to their dressing rooms. (laughs)

DANCER: It's going to be a shock for her to see me as her mother.

(End of excerpt)

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: I've been planning for quite some time now, since last year, to do this
major celebration event for Mum. It's something I'm very passionate about to honour her lifetime
dedicated to teaching. And what I have done is invited many guest artists that are former graduates
or students of Mum's over the years, from companies all over the world. And I was overwhelmed by
the response actually. We have over 30 international guest artists performing, all giving up their
time. So I guess it makes me very proud to finally be bringing all of these dancers back to honour
her and just to say in a way, thank you.

LUCINDA DUNN, PRINCIPAL BALLERINA, AUSTRALIAN BALLET: I think the special gala is something I have
to be at for her. She shaped my career. And I feel like I'm paying tribute and thanks to her. And
I'll be doing two solos, so it's a little, a little extra work, but I think the night that's
planned just sounds so magical already that I'm really excited and thrilled to be a part of it.

TANYA PEARSON: I'm excited but also nervous because it's the first time in my life I've never been
in charge of everything. You know, it's been totally taken out of my hands.

KEITH PEARSON, HUSBAND: She's still petrified, she doesn't know what's going to happen.

TANYA PEARSON: I don't know what's going to happen. Ballet's everything. Music means a lot to me
and the music of ballet and just everything involved with the movement and music is what turns me
on. It's the music that tells me how I feel, and I think movement, moving to music gives me
tremendous pleasure, tremendous satisfaction to use my body to express the music.n I'm 75 years old
but in the mind and in the soul I don't feel 75, and I'm happiest when I'm at work. I teach classes
every day of the week plus take at least three private lessons every day. Almost 50 years I've been
teaching ballet. I love passion and I love to be involved and to help others achieve their dreams,
that's what I feel mostly committed to in this life Oh yes, I can be a tough master. I work for
perfection and unless I get it I can nag, and nag, and nag until I bring someone to tears but not
because I want to bring them to tears, but because I expect them to produce that perfection.

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Ballet is her life. It gives her the reason for living, I think. Mum uses
ballet or finds through ballet, without a doubt, an escape from her past. From perhaps some of the
more sad moments or tough moments that she's had in her childhood. I've noticed when she has taken
time out and if she's ever had holidays, which is a rare thing, she doesn't like too much time to
think about the past. As a young child I knew very little about Mum's background and there was
certainly a wall there, I think a protective wall. She didn't give out very much. I've actually
spent probably the last few years in particular trying to dig out as much of Mum's past as I can.
It's been a process of speaking with what few remaining relatives we have alive. Dad also gave me
some boxes of old photographs and documents. But the main source has been actually trying to find
time with Mum to sit down with her quietly and actually talk with her. This whole process has
helped me understand Mum a great deal more and if it's at all possible, even increased my level of
respect for her.

TANYA PEARSON: I was born in Russia, near Moscow in 1937, and my name was Tatiana. I never really
knew my father because when I was two years old he left us for another woman. My mother, because
she was so proud, she didn't want to tell her parents that he left her and she became very ill with
diphtheria and subsequently when she was hospitalised, my younger sister Nellie and I were put in
an orphanage. And sadly enough, Nellie who was only six months, died of malnutrition and I was very
upset but I don't remember very much more because I was only two years old.

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Mum's grandparents actually had no idea that Mum and her younger sister
Nellie were placed in an orphanage. They were only notified after Nellie's death and at that point
the grandparents came and collected Mum and Mum's mother from the sanatorium and took them back to
the Ukraine to recover. She took on the name Jacubenko, which was her grandfather's surname. She
doesn't know her father's surname even to this day.

TANYA PEARSON: My father was very rarely spoken of because my mother ran away and eloped with him
against her parents' wishes, but I know that he was a musician and his sister was a ballerina. And
it wasn't the done thing for someone to marry a musician. Not only was he a musician, but he was of
Jewish descent and my grandparents were absolutely horrified because they were very much Russian
Orthodox people.

PAUL BOYD, CHOREOGRAPHER: Nicole approached me about a year ago about creating something for her
mother, a tribute evening. So we're taking all the information that Nicole has gathered over the
years and we're creating a dance story of Mrs Pearson's life. Nikki really has been the driving
force behind the whole project and I just think it's a wonderful thing for a daughter to have the
want to do this for her mother. There is an incredibly special bond there between those two. It was
such a labour of love for her and a necessity. I think it was something that she felt in her heart
that she needed to do for her mother. We have many international dancers coming in, interpreting
the different periods of her life, and then we have the current students that she has here in
Sydney filling in the earlier years.

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Mum has no idea of the scale of the event. She certainly has no idea that
it's going to be any elements of her life being shown. I think it will be quite a shock to her
(laughs). Hopefully a positive shock.

TANYA PEARSON: My grandparents had a lovely home in Nikoleyev, which is near the Black Sea in the
Ukraine. They had a three level home. And there was a piano in the living room, which I played, not
very well, but I have wonderful happy memories from that house. My mother was a tremendous
optimist. And she always sang and made me feel that the world is beautiful. Sadly enough, the happy
times were short-lived because World War II broke out and the Germans occupied the Ukraine. And as
they were retreating, because of the Russian troops taking possession, they forced us to leave our
home. And we were herded out by the Germans in these cattle trains, unfortunately never to see our
home again. And we also didn't have our grandfather with us because he was at work when we were
forced to go. We never found out what happened to him, and we never saw him again. When we were in
these cattle trains there was enormous amount of bombing. I was scared because at one stage there
was a tunnel and the train part that was out of the tunnel was completely demolished by a plane,
you know, coming down and bombing it, whereas we happened to be still in the tunnel and we were
saved this. But my mother told me beautiful fairy tales and sang to me so that I wouldn't be
frightened. It would cover the noise of the bombs falling. And always told me that we will be out
of this miserable part soon and we will be in a beautiful place. When we did arrive in Germany, we
couldn't go back because the Russians felt that we had left willingly with the Germans. And we
didn't, but we were just displaced, totally displaced people. We had no home in Germany and we had
no place to go back to Russia. But we were very lucky that a Catholic priest took pity on us and
took us into his home, where my mother did a little bit of housework for them. And he sheltered us
and advised me to change my name from Tatiana to Erna, which is a German name, and from Jacubenko
to Schaeffer, so that we would not be detected as Russians and put into a camp. After the war
concluded there was still a lot of underground activities by the Germans and constantly there were
atrocities happening. One afternoon my cousin and I were waiting for our music lesson and we went
to a restaurant to have a plate of soup. And an underground soldier walked in with a machine gun
and started to shoot everybody in the restaurant. And we dived under the table and when the
shooting stopped we came up and we saw so many people, just with their heads down either in their
soup plates or on the table. I don't know how many people survived and how many were killed from
that restaurant that day but it's a terrible memory that I have.

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: Mum to this day has been greatly affected, no doubts, by the atrocities of
war and what happened. She won't sit down and watch any movie or anything to do with wartime at
all. Or any sad movie for that fact. She just refuses to look at negative things in life. I think
that's what she loves so much about the ballet world, that it is these beautiful stories that
transports you to another place and time where everything is beautiful and safe. I think the family
was quite resourceful. My grandmother was quite a linguist and was successful in obtaining quite a
good job as a translator at Heidelberg University. But whilst they were living in Heidelberg, Mum
kept falling a lot. Her mother noticed her right leg was considerably smaller and weaker than her
left leg and so she started to send her to physiotherapy sessions to see if they could fix and
rectify the issue.

TANYA PEARSON: Unbeknownst to me, I had had polio, which was never diagnosed till much, much later.
But the physiotherapist was located in the same building as a theatre. And one day I was early and
I decided to open another door and they were rehearsing ballet. And I was totally fascinated. And
when my mother asked me what exercises I have, I went up on my tippy toes like a swan, waved my
arms, and she said, "What!" So she sent with me the next day, next appointment, and I was told that
I hadn't attended for the six previous appointments. So I got a nice big hiding. But I said to her
after that, that is what I want to do in my life.

(Archival footage of a cruise liner)

ARCHIVAL VOICEOVER: Today migrant ships are bringing new settlers to Australia, new lifeblood for
our young country.

(End of footage)

TANYA PEARSON: When I was about eleven and a half we emigrated to Australia. And I finally got my
first chance to attend ballet lessons in Sydney. No one in Australia could pronounce Tatiana so I
changed my name to Tanya and unfortunately many of the school children couldn't pronounce Tanya so
they pronounced it Tan-yah. (laugh)

PAUL BOYD, CHOREOGRAPHER: At 17 she was given a scholarship to study with the Borovansky School in
Melbourne. She was then given a contract with the Borovansky Company which was the only ballet
company in Australia at that time and was actually the forerunner to The Australian Ballet.

TANYA PEARSON: The magic of wanting very much to do ballet helped me to overcome the shortcomings
in my leg. My right leg never fully recovered. It's shorter, it's thinner and I wear different size
shoes. And I just learnt to overcome these difficulties by working all the other muscles around it.
And I often re-choreographed things to be done on my left leg, instead of my right leg. And I think
as a teacher it's helped me now very much to detect physical problems that a dancer might have,
like built up quad muscles and big thighs.

PAUL BOYD, CHOREOGRAPHER: So this program that she has developed over the years, I have seen. I
have seen dancers change their muscles and create beautiful bodies out of what they have. Mrs
Pearson was with the Borovansky Company for about a year and then sadly Edward Borovansky, the
founder of the company, passed away and the company had to disband. Mrs Pearson like so many other
dancers at that time were suddenly out of work. And there were no other ballet companies in
Australia at that time and television variety shows were just beginning. So Tanya managed to get an
audition to be a resident dancer with HSV7 and against all the competition she got the job.

TANYA PEARSON: I had never done any other style of dance but classical ballet and they said to me,
"Can you do other styles?", "Oh yes, I can," says I, lying (laugh). I worked on shows like Club
Seven, Sunnyside Up. It made me a versatile dancer and I did gain a lot of publicity. It gave me
the courage to seek employment later in London. And I was lucky enough to get some work in musicals
and pantomime and film work.

KEITH PEARSON, HUSBAND: I was a sales engineer and had just arrived in London when I met Tanya. One
night a group of us were going to a birthday party and I guess I was smitten. And we spent most of
the night talking and Tanya said, "Oh, you're tall" and she said, "Are you of Scandinavian
descent?" And I said, "Yes, I've got a Swedish grandfather". And with that she laughed and she
said, "You're the man I'm going to marry." And she went on to explain that she had recently been to
a fortune teller and this fortune teller told her that she would be married within twelve months,
she would go across the water far away, the husband would be of Scandinavian descent and she would
have four children and that has all come to pass. We got married within a year of our first
meeting. Our two sons were born in England and we returned to Australia with them in 1964. We then
had our two daughters. Much to Tanya's dismay, the boys showed no interest whatsoever in ballet,
but the two girls loved it.

TANYA PEARSON: I did a lot of television choreography and also started to teach, in my own home
initially. From that very meagre start in my house, my academy has now developed into a very large
full-time school with at least thirty full-time students as well as part-time and junior school.

DAVID MCALLISTER, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, AUSTRALIAN BALLET: She's led the way in a lot of her teaching
methods and I think a lot of other people have adopted those ideas. Probably the longevity of her
work has meant that successive artistic directors have really valued what she does. And so over
many, many years now she's produced extraordinary students who have danced in our company and all
around the world.

TANYA PEARSON: I've trained many dancers who are now principals or soloists in Australia or
overseas. And one that particularly I'm very proud of is Lucinda Dunn who is principal of the
Australian Ballet because when she came to me at twelve years of age she wanted to be a musical
comedy star and I said to her, "Over my dead body, you're going to be a classical ballet dancer!"

LUCINDA DUNN, PRINCIPAL BALLERINA, AUSTRALIAN BALLET: (laughs) I do remember being quite youthful
and energetic and because I was doing jazz, tap, character, modern, I wasn't honed into a classical
style. She took me under her wing very much like a daughter and we've kept in touch ever since.
I've now been with The Australian Ballet 21 years, the longest serving ballerina. One of the main
things I learnt from Mrs P was the love of the dance, was to enjoy it, express it, be sincere, and
also you have to have emotion. It's not about the steps or how long or big you can do something.
It's a lot more that comes into it through your heart, your body and your soul, I think is what
I've got from her. When I can help out at her ballet school and pass on some of my knowledge and
give some inspiration, if that's possible, I do. One of the most influential things Mrs P did for
me in my life and my career was take me to an international ballet competition when I was fifteen,
called the Prix de Lausanne. And from that I was awarded one of the big scholarships. And I chose
to go to the Royal Ballet School in London before joining the Australian Ballet company. So if I
hadn't have been with her and done that competition, maybe I would be in musicals! (laughs)

PAUL BOYD, CHOREOGRAPHER: For more than 25 years now she's been taking her promising students on
annual overseas tours. I mean I know people really open up their doors in Europe when, when she's
in town. She really is such a well respected and iconic ambassador if you like for the Australian
dance scene and that's why so many dancers I think felt the need to come back and be a part of this
great tribute to her.

STEPHANIE HANCOX, SOLOIST, BAVARIAN STATE BALLET: I hope everybody enjoys this evening celebrating
all of her achievements. She's had so many and touched everyone's life.

EVAN LOUDON, SCHOLARSHIP STUDENT, ROYAL BALLET LONDON: She's kind of more like a family member. I
feel like I'm part of the Miss P family now and it's just something to say thank you.

NICOLE SHARP, DAUGHTER: There certainly have been times in my life where I think, you know I may
have been a little bit resentful of the fact that Mum's focus was on all of the ballet students
rather than just me and I'm sure that probably for my brothers and even my sister, it was the same.
Luckily it was short lived. I think instead I realised, wow, what she has given to me in my life
and that I'm so lucky to have all these siblings and this extended family that has made me who I am

TANYA PEARSON: Looking back, I feel very happy to have fulfilled so many ambitions. I do have some
war wounds from my dancing career, mainly because of the state of my right leg. I ignore pain and
when I'm teaching I forget about pain. I will keep teaching till I drop or until my health lasts.
My husband's version of that is that I'll drop in the studio one day and the students will carry me
out in a wooden box with my feet sticking up in the air and pointe shoes under my toes. That's my
exit. (laugh)


As well as teaching, Tanya Pearson presents annual full length youth ballets with international
guest artists performing alongside students.

Previously, she also founded the Sydney City Ballet with Sir Robert Helpmann as patron.