Lily was written to celebrate the generous and wildly inventive soul of Dunedin dance teacher Lily Stevens, and the show does its job well.
Producers and dancers Lyne Pringle, of Wellington, and Kilda Northcott, of Port Chalmers, have created an affectionate portrayal of Stevens and her enormous influence on her students’ lives.
The show moves through her life, taking in travel and teaching in short scenes interspersed with dancing.
A fierce Northcott takes the role of the diminutive dance maven, and Pringle picks up different characters alongside her.
It was great to see some – dare I say it – mature dancers in the leading roles. Supporting them were Stevens’ “students” – 18 girls from Nelson dance teacher Peta Spooner’s two academies.
Born in 1902, Stevens chose to live the life of a “spinster artist” and her trade became her obsession.
The show captures well what must have been the frenetic energy of a woman who was still teaching into her 90s. It also portrays her struggle to live up to her own driving perfectionism.
It is based on the recorded memories of her students, who recall quirks such as her carrying around a broom handle and whacking them on the backs of the legs with it.
Early on, the students are under Lily’s control, but later they swirl around her in an overwhelming crowd.
Indeed, she was known to have put so much into a major show that she suffered nervous breakdowns and spent time in Dunedin’s Ashburn Hall.
Though the grand Theatre Royal was the perfect venue for the show, the recorded music was too loud at times, which drowned out Pringle’s and Northcott’s voices.
On the other hand, perhaps that was intentional. Stevens was sometimes swamped by the world of dance, after all.
Lily was a wonderful hour of imagination, spirit and fun.