Geraldine Stephenson (192X - 2017)
Geraldine was a skilful and highly respected dancer and choreographer. She attributes her many skills to Rudolf Laban from whom she learnt and under whom she worked. She made a significant contribution to dance on stage, screen and television.
Geraldine was born in Hull Yorkshire in the mid 1920’s . Her father was musical but there was no history of dance expertise in the family. She was taken to private classical ballet classes as a child to overcome shyness.
It would be true to say that as a young girl Geraldine did not expect to find herself following a long and distinguished career as a choreographer. Her progress towards this achievement was steered by three teachers. Their influence became ever more significant. Geraldine's physical training teacher - an ex- Bedford student, recommended that she come to Bedford to train to teach PT - as it was then. Whilst at Bedford from 1943 - 1946, Geraldine was taught by Joan Goodrich, a dance lecturer who was introducing a new type of dance into the curriculum. Inspired by Joan's work in Laban dance, Geraldine went straight from Bedford to study under Rudolf Laban himself at The Studio in Manchester.
Geraldine recalls the huge impact Laban made on her perception of dance. It was Laban who gave Geraldine the skills and confidence that laid the groundwork for the future. In fact when Laban was suddenly taken ill he asked Geraldine to take over some of his classes. This teaching mushroomed and around 1949 she felt she was totally drained and went to see Laban. To her surprise his solution was to advise that she ‘make for herself a solo dance recital’. This she did, performing first at the Studio and subsequently touring the country. Her performances were dramatic and expressive, and fed from all her knowledge and understanding of Laban’s work.
Geraldine's progress from leaving college to becoming a respected figure in the world of TV, stage and film is breathtaking. Having left Bedford in 1946 it took her only 4 years to be invited to advise on movement and dance in television - black and white at that time. And in 1951 Laban asked Geraldine to produce the movement for the Medieval Mystery Plays performed in the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, York. This was a significant turning point – she had found her calling and her exceptional ability to choreograph dance for individuals and for very large groups.
On television Geraldine has given advice on movement and choreographed dances in such plays and programmes as Martin Chuzzlewit, I Claudius, Persuasion, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, War and Peace, Eastenders and The Two Ronnies - to name but a few.
In the theatre she worked with many highly acclaimed producers such as Tom Stoppard in Indian Ink; Trevor Nunn and Peter Hall with the Royal Shakespeare Company in many productions including Romeo and Juliet, and All's well that end's well; with Michael Bogdanoz in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. She also turned her hand to movement and dance in Toad of Toad Hall and The Rose and the Ring.
Geraldine's film assignments include working with Stanley Kubrick in Barry Lyndon, with Trevor Nunn in Lady Jane and with Stephen Poliakoff in Great moments in Aviation. In the world of opera has advised on productions of, for example, Falstaff and the Soldier's Tale.
The above is only a small selection of Geraldine's work over the last 50 years.
It says something of the quality of her work and the versatility of her skills that she was recognised as THE expert to advise many, in the worlds of TV, theatre, film and opera, for half a century. She has only recently stopped her annual choreography assignment for the Johan Strauss Gala, which is mounted annually, at the Festival Hall.
Throughout all this time and against the background of her demanding schedule Geraldine has also given numerous dance recitals in this country, lectured and taught in UK and abroad. In addition she has given time to be an expert witness for British Actors' Equity in legal cases involving dancers, actors and singers. Her other voluntary work is impressive and includes the presidencies of two charitable organisations.
What has made Geraldine such an outstandingly successful choreographer?
Geraldine herself would say that it all sprang from what Laban taught her not only about the nature of movement and movement observation but also through his example of interpersonal sensitivity and ability to empower others.
Perhaps the best way to describe Geraldine's unique skills is to quote from tributes written by some of her colleagues.
For example one writes of her 'respect for and understanding of the people she is working with. She has the ability to reach out and meet people. She enables them to be themselves more fully through the medium of movement and dance. An experience of working with Geraldine is not forgotten. You are never quite the same again.’
Another says 'She has that infectious enthusiasm and deep knowledge and command of the art which elicits the most convincing results from non-professional and professional dancers alike'.
Other tributes talk of her expertise, energy and enthusiasm. Her brilliantly crafted choreography and the highly respected and unique position she holds in the world of stage, television and film.
Bedford is honoured to have such an outstanding and unique Old Student. We were delighted to award her an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from De Montfort University in 2003.