In Memoriam #3
Zena Rommett - 90
by Gregg Mayer
The dance world and its many Show Biz relatives, has lost a major figure of the 20th century. Zena Rommett, who died in New York recently at age 90, was a familiar and highly-respected teacher to the famous, the celebrated, the renowned and ….the rest of us. She was a former ballet dancer who went on to teach, developing her alignment technique to include the revolutionary Floor-Barre. Students from ballet, modern dance and musical theatre, as well as actors, athletes and children all benefitted from this technique.
In 1965, after a career performing in ballet companies and on Broadway (in choreography from Balanchine to de Mille), she was discovered by Robert Joffrey, who invited her to teach at his school. In 1968 she opened her own school, which was when I first heard of her. I personally was most impressed by the floor barre, being a modern dancer who also took ballet class regularly as well as teaching traditional barre work. For years, ballet was upright and modern dance was primarily floor-bound and now the two were beginning to blend. We know now how combined all the techniques have become but 50-60 years ago, this was radical and became a wonderful opportunity to explore alignment and contemporary techniques.
Since then,Rommett, who was born Angelina Buttignol in Italy, has joined the international roster of such innovators as
Alexander (Australian), Feldenkrais (Israeli), Pilates (German) as creator of techniques that have become commonplace in all our training. Rommett was actually the stage name given to her by Joffrey, even though she was married to Alexis Nicoli Romanovich and some of her family members have kept that name.
Some of our readers may have studied with Ms Rommett at Steps, where she taught until a few months ago. Her legacy continues amid the gratitude and appreciation for her contribution to our bodies' wellbeing. Many qualified instructors are available throughout the country who teach the Floor-Barre, so align your bones now and attend one of those classes, as a fond farewell to its originator..
Daphne Peterson - 84
by Gregg Mayer
Our good friend in England, Daphne Peterson, has died this past July at the age of 84. I knew Daphne and her sister Mavis, who danced in my company in the 60s and has now retired to Birmingham. The Peterson Girls, as they were known at the Bush-Davies School (where they trained and where I later taught one of the first residential courses in Contemporary Dance), were unusual for their era, and went on to become very accomplished in their respective fields. Daphne was a long-time member of zthe ISTD (Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing), specializing in the Modern stage faculty; she was co-director of the Bush-Davies School from which she graduated. Along with her colleague Joyce Percy, she succeeded Marjorie Davies as the director of the Romford branch of the schools.
Miss Daphne, as she was called, started dancing at the age of seven with Bush & Davies at their school in Sussex. After joining the staff as a teacher, and with the outbreak of war, she joined ENSA as a dancer, travelling to Iceland, W. Africa and elsewhere. But she eventually returned to Bush-Davies School and undertook much of the responsibility for the Modern Dance branch of the ISTD.
Miss Daphne won the Imperial Award in 1965, where her husband, twin daughters and son, were present to enjoy this honour. As a teacher, adjudicator and rehearsal director, Peterson was very successful in encouraging her dancers, imparting her joy in dance, willing them all to succeed. Her pupils are now performing and teaching all over the world. Many of these people joined the funeral celebration and the esteemed dance critic, Mary Clarke, also in her 80's, has written in Dancing Times that, "although I knew her only from watching her at work, the loss is nonetheless acute, the sense of a flame extinguished no less poignant."
All our sympathies go out to Mavis and the children: twins Amanda and Helen and son Andrew.
James Mitchell - 89
James Mitchell, legendary singer/dancer/actor and Dancers Over 40 member, has died in Los Angeles on Friday, January 22, 2010. Mitchell started his career as a dancer and became a Broadway star, although generations of daytime fans knew him for his role as Dr. Palmer Cortlandt on All My Children. Early in his career, Mitchell appeared in the Broadway productions of Mack and Mable, Carnival, Brigadoon, Bloomer Girl and Paint Your Wagon. He was also a skilled ballet dancer and toured with the American Ballet Theater and the Agnes DeMille Dance Theater.
Mitchell appeared in Moonlight in Havana as a member of the Lester Horton Dancers. His other film credits include That's Dancing, a retrospective of great dance numbers in movie musicals; The Turning Point, The Bandwagon with Fred Astaire; Oklahoma; and Deep in My Heart with Cyd Charisse.
Jimmy, as many of his dancer friends called him, earned seven daytime Emmy nominations and retired from All My Children last year. He did return for the 40th anniversary episode, which aired on January 5. 2010. Dancers Over 40 sends their condolences to his friends and family. Jimmy Mitchell with his dear friend DO40 Legacy Award Honoree, Gemze de Lappe.
Harry David Snow - 84
Harry David Snow, a veteran Broadway musical performer, died on September 18, 2009. He was 84.
His singing voice was discovered by the Hershey Boys' School orphanage when he was age 13. He went on to a full scholarship for classical vocal training at the exclusive Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, service as a Navy Corpsman in WWII, then to Broadway after the war.
Snow’s theatrical credits were extensive, including the original Broadway cast of Once Upon a Mattress with Carol Burnett; the role of Hero in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum directed by George Abbott; and two major roles in revivals at New York City Center in the 1960s: Charlie Dalrymple in Brigadoon and Curly in Oklahoma! His favorite role was as Ensign Pulver in the national touring company of Mr. Roberts, directed by Josh Logan.
His regional and stock credits, too numerous to list in their entirety, include Billy Bigalow in Carousel and Lun-Tha in The King & I, both of which were nationally distributed as albums by Epic Records.
Perhaps his greatest honor was a Command Performance for John F. Kennedy in 1963.
He is survived by his wife long-time DO40 member Jeanne "Jeannie" Jones Snow, who worked as a ballet and Broadway dancer for Georges Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and appeared on TV as one of the iconic "Dancing Cigarettes"; daughter Linda Snow Parkhouse of Pennsylvania; a son, Danny O. Snow; twin granddaughters, Holly and Kristen Parkhouse; and two great-grandsons, Jackson and Carter.
DO40 member Larry Billman danced into the light from his home in Brea, CA, the morning of May 3, 2017. He also was an important member of the PDS in LA (Professional Dancers Association). He is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Tomoko; his sister Nancy; daughters Sekiya and Saadia; sons-in-law Hoon and Schuyler; grandchildren Ryko, Ailish, and Liam. He was 78. Larry worked with and inspired hundreds of creative artists in every field of entertainment and maintained close friendships with all he touched. He was considered a friend, mentor, father figure, and brother by countless people in all walks of life all around the world and will be deeply missed. A memorial service will be held in the coming months. Check Larry’s facebook page for more details.