As for Muriel’s dancing career … to evaluate her talent now is almost impossible, but among her students certain opinions coincide, drawn from experiencing her teaching and from watching her demonstrating in class.
There seems to be agreement that she was extremely musical, which showed particularly when she set adages; she had a lovely line and beautiful port de bras[i]. The current Murilova Ballet School principal remembers being struck by her expressive eyes, and believes her to have been an emotional dancer, who even used her eyebrows to good effect! In addition, those who knew her could hardly doubt that she had a strong personality onstage.
Although several of us recall Muriel’s nicely formed instep, her feet don’t often appear especially arched in photographs and occasionally even have the ‘sickle’ look. It might be unfair to judge from photos, as one’s pose can often be strained, but nor does she seem to have been very turned out, though this feature was common to many dancers at the time, including Pavlova.
Certainly épaulement was an important element in Muriel’s classes, and she taught by example. Similarly, she would surely have practised what she preached, that in arabesque the feeling must extend on and on, way beyond one’s fingertips. This is a feature of Cecchetti teaching as well as of the Russian school.
Sue Palmer[ii] remembers Muriel’s ‘Cecchetti arms’ in fifth en haut, held just forward of the head, with the two sets of fingers a little apart to give the soft line Cecchetti always demanded. Cecchetti was strongly influential in the Diaghilev company, and Pavlova had spent three years under his personal tuition, so even if Muriel never had a class with the Maestro himself, his ideas would have come down to her at only one remove, affecting her own style [iii] .[iv]
Another student recalls her pirouettes – several at a time, even in her middle age. I suspect in her youth she had a good elevation; we were taught to stop in the air in grand jeté – ‘up; tea and cakes; come down when you want to.’ [v] Sadly, it was far too late for her to give us a demonstration.
An impartial – though possibly uninformed – critic says in the Anglo-Belgian Times in 1932 that Murilova ‘exhibits a splendid talent as a toe dancer. She dances with a verve and lightness, reminiscent of Pavlova.’ Flattering this may be, but the phrase ‘toe dancer’ somewhat diminishes the compliment. Perhaps more convincingly but just as pleasingly, a reviewer in the Egyptian Gazette in 1931 comments that ‘Nalda Murilova showed the unusual combination of a dancer with a perfect ballet technique, allied to the suppleness and daring of an acrobat and the spirited abandon of modern American jazz.’
I think that can’t be bettered.
Although the subject of this account is Muriel’s performing career, rather than her teaching, it’s as a teacher, both in Holland and then at greater length in England, that she is remembered by people alive today, and this is where the story ends.
During and after the war, Muriel found various teaching opportunities, mostly in schools around Bournemouth, before being able to open a school of her own in a prime location in that town, in The Square. The Murilova Ballet School flourished with her at its head for thirty-five years, its reputation rightly one of the best. When Muriel retired, her assistant, the excellent Grace Greenway, took over the running of the school, and in 1985, five years before ‘Madame’s’ death, ex-dancer, choreologist, and former pupil Sandra Curtis (now McAuliffe), became its principal, and still holds that position in 2014. She is carrying on the traditions of the school, as Madame had consolidated them over the years.
[i] Sandra McAuliffe
[ii] Sue Palmer trained with Murilova and at the Royal Ballet School, before dancing with the Opera Ballet at Covent Garden and then teaching in her own school for many years. Her Masters Degree on The Birth of English Ballet covers a wide period of influence, including that of the Diaghilev Ballet at the time relevant to Muriel.
[iv] See Page 1: The 1947 Bournemouth prospectus offers ‘Cecchetti and Russian methods’. However, I believe by the mid-fifties the Cecchetti name was not emphasised at Murilova’s school