HEATHER VICTORSON: Fouettes and Feathers
By Hal de Becker
When Heather Victorson began her classical ballet training her daily routine included plenty of fouette turns but no feathers – those came later.
Heather seemed destined to dance and to travel. She was born in Trinidad but spent her early childhood in East Africa until, when she was age nine, her family settled in England.Later, as a professional dancer, her journeys continued with performances in England, Russia and France, including Paris, ‘City of Lights,’ and finally Las Vegas, the city of neon lights.
Heather’s primary interests have always been artistic. In addition to her dance career and access to London’s renowned theatre scene, she’s visited museums and art galleries around the world and is a keen observer of life in general and the ballet and opera worlds in particular. When I commented on her erudition she replied, “I was never without a book on history, art or theatre.At home, at rehearsals, on the bus to ballet class, between performances I’d read constantly and I still do.I only wish more of today’s dancers would do the same, at least about our own art if nothing else.”
When she was 18 she became a member of the Royal Opera Ballet where, rather thanresting between dances, she’d often stand in the wings listening to the voices of some of the 20th century’s greatest singers.This was something she’d repeat later in ballet companies watching and studying masters like Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.
Like many ballet dancers then and now she longed to join England’s Royal Ballet.Eventually she auditioned for that venerable institution, and was accepted.Thus began the most memorable years of her classical career. She worked with famed choreographers including Fredrick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan and danced not only at London’s Covent Garden but at Russia’s Kirov and Bolshoi theatres.
I asked if she’d ever felt apprehensive working with such celebrated artists and at such prestigious venues.She said, “Only once.When Rudi (Nureyev) took his first company class with the Royal and stood next to me at the barre.I was terribly nervous and he leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Dawn’t vorry baybee, eet’s okay.”’
Inevitably, her talent and striking good looks came to the attention of show producers and it wasn’t long before Heather was traveling again, this time to America and Las Vegas to dance for legendary producers Frederic Apcar and Donn Arden. Mr. Apcar featured her in his “Vive Les Girls” and “Casino de Paris” shows at the dearly departed Dunes Hotel.For Mr. Arden, she appeared in “Lido de Paris” at the late Stardust Hotel.
Did she mind dancing topless after all her years wearing tu tu’s?“I did have some reservations at first,” she admits.“But Mr. Apcar presented me in such a tasteful and elegant way and the costumes, with all the silks, feathers and jewelry, were so dazzling that I realized there was nothing vulgar involved.”“Plus,” she added, “Ron Lewis’s challenging, innovative choreography, was a joy to do. He was another genius.”
Heather’s teaching schedule keeps her in good form: witness the casual elegance with which she places her leg on the barre as she demonstrates for her students -- youngsters to professionals -- at famed Backstage Dance Studios where she has taught for 16 years.
A word about that “Casino de Paris ‘76” menu:Dinner, consisting of New York steak or prime rib, with all the trimmings, plus a bottle of Moet Chandon champagne, together with the spectacular show, cost less than $60 – for two!