Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Robin Grove

I learned yesterday afternoon of the death of Robin Grove, a much loved teacher and scholar. He was also a dancer, in his day, and something of a composer. Years before I met the man and his equally generous and warm family, I followed his reviews of dance -- mostly ballet -- in the Australian. At a time (in the mid 1980s) when dance reviews were either apologetic and sycophantic (ballet) or just plain vicious (anything vaguely experimental), Robin’s reviews were a revelation. He looked at ballet with cool, analytical appreciation. He saw this established art form through structuralist eyes. He never actually came out and said “pointe work is footbinding” but the idea hovered.


Robin Marshall Grove (2/2/1941-25/12/2012)


Whether he knew it or not, Robin’s writing prompted me to give reviewing a crack. (I looked at the dance reviews in my local paper and thought: I can do better! The editor, apparently, agreed.)

I believe it was 1991 when I met Robin and Lee Christofis, another great voice in dance criticism. ‘Criticism’ in its most creative and positive sense. But I didn’t really get to know the depths of Robin’s CV until I had to introduce him at a Green Mill forum at the Melbourne Town Hall in January 1994. (The other panelists were the equally eminent Michelle Potter, Jill Sykes and Graeme Murphy.)

In later years, I came to know Robin and his wife Elisabeth socially, and spent many evenings in their Williamstown home when the Melbourne Dance Critics Circle (as we half-jokingly styled ourselves) gathered for regular debriefs. Shirley McKechnie, Vicki Fairfax and Blazenka Brysha were also regulars.

Many know Robin as an academic (a “lovely man” writes Cameron Woodhead; Cam “clung to his Shakespeare courses like a limpet” to get him “through Dark Times at the Melbourne University English department in the 90s”) and supervisor (Jordan Beth Vincent’s PhD, for one).

Robin was the most gentle, tactful and thoughtful man I have encountered in my adult life. No doubt his family -- Lis and the children -- are feeling his loss keenly. Robin died on Christmas day. He was 71.

His funeral is at 2pm Thursday January 3 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Nelson Place Williamstown.

16 Comments:

Blogger Chris Boyd said...

This brief biography comes from Ausdance:

An English lecturer at the University of Melbourne from 1964 – 2006, Robin has published widely on both dance and English literature. He was dance critic for The Australian 1986 – 92, The Age 1992 – 98 and editorial adviser to Brolga from 1994 – 2006, after which he became co-editor. He was also co-editor of The Critical Review. With Shirley McKechnie and Kate Stevens, he was one of three scholars whose research projects, funded by the Australian Research Council, resulted in the publication of Thinking in Four Dimensions: Creativity and Cognition in Contemporary Dance (Melbourne University Press, 2005). First trained as a musician, Robin worked with Laurel Martyn and Ballet Victoria for many years and both choreographed for that company and served on its board of directors.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

My recollection is that Robin was poached by the Age at the end of 1994, not 1992.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Here's another angle on the man, from the Victorian Theatres Trust, of which he was President:

Robin won the ABC orchestral composition prize in 1957, and his two-act ballet score was presented at Her Majesty's, Ballarat in 1958. From 1962 to 2005 he taught literature at the University of Melbourne, during which time he chaired the University's Theatre Board for 14 years. He was one of Ballet Victoria's Board of Directors for 12 years, and choreographed 5 dance works for that company. During the 'Seventies and 'Eighties he was dance critic for The Australian and then the Age. His most recent book is "Thinking in Four Dimensions", an investigation of choreographic processes in contemporary dance.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Genevieve Tucker said...

And in later years, was a founding member of Willy Litfest, if I'm not mistaken.
I had Robin for fourth year poetry and remember the incredible smell of fresh coffee down the Medley building stairwell (this in 1982, when the carts of today were not even a twinkle in a barista's eye), and hospitable end of term soirees at the Groves' home.

Years later I have looked back at the essays he marked and noted how he always managed to end with something positive, despite my murky thinking aged 22.
I still quote something I first heard from him, "The gods had had their sport with Tess, and so had Thomas Hardy!"

A very kind and welcoming teacher who wore his great learning easily and lightly. Best wishes to Lis and family, and thanks for this lovely post, Chris.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Jodi Gallagher said...

Very sad to hear this. Robin was the first supervisor on my Masters at Melbourne. Yes, he was a lovely man indeed.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Thanks GT, Jodi. I love hearing these details.

2:30 AM  
Blogger Philip Harvey said...

Christmas Day is a good day to die. Holy Trinity Williamstown was Robin Grove's parish church for many years, before that St Peter's Eastern Hill, when he lived in Carlton. It was his dance reviews that came as a surprise to those of us who knew Robin primarily as a civilised voice in the Melbourne English Department. His mid-1970s tutorials on the Augustans are my strongest teaching memory, also his lectures on Eliot and Blake. He remained one of the main people there to address the moral imperatives that drive literature and test it.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Robin was one of the most civilised people I ever dealt with as Media Director of The Australian Ballet. I looked forward to talking to him and Liz at dance gatherings. A true gentleman, wise and humble, too.
I am deeply saddened by his loss - as will be all who knew him.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Though very sad to hear that this great mind had been afflicted with dementia in his last months, "struck by lightning" in Robin's own words, it was wonderful to hear from Lis that Robin was a "domestic paragon" and a gentleman -- a gentle man -- to the very end.

My favourite moment of the service, during a reading from St Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, was a blast of a tug horn just as Jenny Gribble read "for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

Change us he did.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have wonderful memories of Robin having been Theatre Board administrator during Robin's Chairmanship. And later was lucky enough to attend his performances with Helen Dell at the Williamstown Church - his piano playing was so lovely - he had such a wonderfully light touch.

I am so pleased to have known him.

Kaye Goldenberg

8:04 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Thanks Kaye. I never heard Robin play, envious!

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin was a very sweet natured lecturer. He was the lecturer who have me my first distinction for literature at The University of Melbourne. I enjoyed his classes so much. Reading about this today, made my eyes well up with tears. I remember his office room which was lined with bookcases filled with lots of books. He was very kind to me. I once remember while we were having a class, a student knocked on the door. Robin got up and went forward to open the door. The girl had dyed her hair completely blue. When Robin finished speaking to her and shut the door, he had such a cute look of amusement. "Her hair was so blue", he said with delight. The whole class burst out in giggles. He had that fun side to him. He was a very nice person. I am so glad to have been his student.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin was a very sweet natured lecturer. He was the lecturer who have me my first distinction for literature at The University of Melbourne. I enjoyed his classes so much. Reading about this today, made my eyes well up with tears. I remember his office room which was lined with bookcases filled with lots of books. He was very kind to me. I once remember while we were having a class, a student knocked on the door. Robin got up and went forward to open the door. The girl had dyed her hair completely blue. When Robin finished speaking to her and shut the door, he had such a cute look of amusement. "Her hair was so blue", he said with delight. The whole class burst out in giggles. He had that fun side to him. He was a very nice person. I am so glad to have been his student.

5:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not lived in Australia since 1971 but this year I had a nostalgic journey back to Victoria and wondered what had happened to the many people I had met there. One was Robin Grove when he started classical ballet classes conducted by a Latvian dancer, in the Fire Station on Sturt Street.To my naive young mind he was a puzzle with his gifts for dance and piano.I called him a genius then.It was a wonderful and sad moment when I found this web site.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Ballet studio fair fax said...

Its soo sad to hear the sad demise of great man Robin we will all miss you.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Ballet studio fair fax said...

Its soo upset to hear the sad demise of Robin he was really such a great man we will miss you.

12:45 AM  

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