Remembering Marianne Balchin
The dancer who forged strong cultural links
By Adrian Hindle-Briscall
Today Britain is a multicultural country. But many unsung heroes and heroines have been forgotten. One such was the London born Marianne Balchin who was an expert in classical ballet and modern choreography. During the second World War she joined ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) which provided the British Army’s troops with live shows of music, dance and drama. Famous names such as Laurence Olivier, Vera Lynn and John Gielgud worked for ENSA.
Marianne went to Cairo and Italy and was in Naples in 1944 when Vesuvius erupted. She was in a company led by Elsa Brunelleschi which featured ballet and flamenco. Entertaining Indian troops in North Africa and Italy were a company of Indian dancers many of whom were students of Uday Shankar. Marianne saw the Indian dancers and there, I suspect, she was enchanted with Indian dance. After the war she joined Ram Gopal’s dance company. It was Ram Gopal who named her ‘Mrinalini’ and she had leading roles in his London productions.
She was trained by famous Indian Gurus such as Krishna Kutty and Radhelal Misra. Later she learnt from the Krishna Raos, Balasundari and Sunita Golvala. She was also trained in the Benesh method of dance notation now used worldwide by dance companies. She did her best to apply Benesh dance notation to the body movements of Indian classical dance. However, this was no mean challenge since all the major Indian classical styles have elaborate hand movements, facial expressions and subtle eye expressions which do not exist in the Western canon of dance culture.
She, with her keen eye and innate perceptions, was possibly the first European who noticed the similarity between Flamenco and the North Indian Kathak. Later research by, among others, Reginald Massey has proved that there is a long connection. The ‘Romanys’ or ‘Gypsies’ were originally from India. They brought their language and their music and dance westwards towards Europe. Their ‘secret language’ is, in fact, a version of the’Banjara’ or ‘Khanabadoshi’ dialects still spoken in parts of South Asia.
Marianne (Mrinalini) was married twice. Her first husband was Fernau Hall, a leading London based Canadian born dance critic. Her second husband was P.J. Hindle-Briscall. She regarded both men with respect. Though she was born a Christian she respected all Faiths. She died recently aged 92 in Chichester.