Posted on 21st October 2019

Remembering Maria Fay

by Amanda Maxwell, former Character dance teacher at The Royal Ballet School

The Hungarian teacher Maria Fay, who had a significant association with The Royal Ballet School, died on 17 October aged 91.

To many dancers and ballet companies around the world, since her flight from the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, Maria Fay was a superlative classical coach with a deep understanding of the shape of movement and the underlying qualities that can be drawn from the subtle use of technical prowess.

Madame Fay also devised a floor barre that continues to be used by many dancers to aid recovery from injury or simply to help strengthen core technique.

Over and above her work as a classical dancer and then teacher she developed a distinctive method of teaching character work to classical dancers. This followed many existing precepts but also drew on her own experience of Russian training, her personal stage career, and her time spent studying with Igor Moiseyev.

Maria Fay believed that deep understanding of the individual techniques, music, and stylistic quirks involved helps in the theatricalisation of what were originally national dances, as they morph into divertissements in the great 19th century classical ballets. She was also concerned that classical dancers should feel able to give these dances real energy and vigour when demanded, without fearing that bulging muscles or injury would ensue.

Her charismatic style and knowledge of the character dance genre resonated with Ninette de Valois and Ursula Moreton and she had a long and fruitful association with The Royal Ballet School from the 1950s to the present day. This was also due to Valerie Adams, who championed Maria’s work through the Craftsman’s Course, which was re-styled The Royal Ballet School Teacher Training Course of which Valerie was director from its inception.

It is hard to encapsulate in words Maria Fay’s glamour and force of personality. She taught with love, a ferocious eye and great energy, and yet by contrast could captivate the imagination and characterise a movement, be it classical or in any other genre, with the smallest gesture of wrist or angle of head. Her knowledge of music was encyclopaedic, as was her understanding of, and interest in, many forms of culture and artistic enterprise, politics and all that makes life so fascinating.

Maria Fay was an inspirational mentor and coach and a beloved friend. Latterly she talked often of her gratitude to this country, and to the dance and academic establishments here who gave her, and her beloved husband Peter, the opportunity to put their refugee status behind them and rebuild their lives and respective careers.

Amanda Maxwell

12 thoughts on “Remembering Maria Fay

  1. Thank you Amanda for a very well written and beautiful tribute to Maria Fay.

    I loved Maria.
    Coming from Hungary I joined the Royal Ballet School in 1962 under the directorship of Ursula Moreton. Barbara Fewster and Pamela May became my teachers and while I was advancing well under their excellent teaching Maria Fay was my emotional stability. She was teaching gipsy dance at the time, which was no ordinary caracter dance. Full of odd sincopations, fun and mischivious mimiking movements, bursting forth with explosive life force. I just loved it and understood every nuance of it. She was capable with one word and with just one movement of her hand to put you exactly where she has wanted you to be. She has fired one’s imagination and through her richness of spirit it was endless pleasure to dance. I almost never had that feeling repeited in my carrier-nobody could inspire me as much.
    She was generous in her praise and she knew how to tell you the things that were missing from your work. Always an eye to the constructive and positive, diplomatic where there was not much chance to achive more. Sometimes her face was inscrutable, and having shared a language I was often longing to hear her real opinion, yet I knew that she would just smile. The right word she surely had on the tip of her toung, (she had marvellous command of Hungarian) yet she would not think it right to say it. It would not be helpful.
    Later, almost fifty seven years on, I experinced the same wonder at her bedside. I visited her in the last year of her life and these occasions were just such tonic. We talking about old things and I sampled again her unfailing clear sightedness and sense of humor, even though she tired easily.
    Having been abroad I missed the last two month of her earthly life but it is my conviction that she lives on.

    I loved her very much.

  2. So sorry to hear the sad news about Madame Fay. I always looked forward to her character classes whilst a student at the RAD. She brought her deep sense of performance and artistry into the studio, her classes were inspiring. I always remember her teaching and encouragement and her wise words stayed with me throughout my teaching career.

  3. A beautifully written and extremely eloquent article paying tribute to dear Maria Fay. I was very fortunate to have Mme Fay throughout the final three years (1992-95) of the Teachers’ Training Course at the School and to this day feel that I have never found a greater character teacher. Her great knowledge and understanding of each country’s particular culture, tradition and style, together with her unique ability to somehow know her students as individuals in such a short amount time, meant that Mme Fay could convey and extract the very maximum out of each student. I learned many things about myself as a dancer from training with Mme Fay and I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that she gave to me.

    All of us who trained with Mme Fay and her wonderful generation of teacher colleagues have been most fortunate and greatly enriched by their selfless and tireless commitment to Dance. With Deepest Appreciation, Philip

  4. What a wonderful and eloquent article. It sums up Maria’s personality and skills beautifully . Maria was my beloved teacher at Central school of ballet and I am eternally grateful to her for her wisdom and inspiration
    I would be very grateful to hear if a funeral date is confirmed. Thank you .

  5. So sad to hear the news of Maria Fay. To me she was so very passionate and inspiring as a dancer/teacher and. I would look forward to her classes (teaching course-1966/1968). Maria Fay when teaching would float across the studio floor demonstrating the Georgian style and technique what a great talent and with this gift I have been inspired to carry her passion and style throughout my dancing and teaching career all over the world these many years and now teaching and living in Australia.
    A delight of memories come flooding back. Thank you so much Madam Fay.
    So sorry my computer misbehaving!

  6. It might be good to mention her writing. She wrote books on her teaching methods and 2 regular magazine columns, Dancing News was one, I don’t know the other one.

  7. Maria my most beloved aunt encouraged me to develop my talent as a singer/
    Thank to her I became a Cantor in Canada and in Israel for many years.
    I remember fondly my many visits to her home with my wife Techiya and our children.
    Maria and Peter my beloved uncle were and still are my inspiration how to achieve goals inspite of many challenges. I miss her immensely. With tears Gabor-Gabi{Avraham}

  8. I had the privilege of learning character dance with Maria Fay in the mid 1960s at RBS. She was a truly exciting and inspirational teacher and we all adored her and looked forward to our character classes with her. She instilled in us a passion and a love for character dance, which I made good use of in both my dancing and teaching careers. A few of us were also given permission to take classical ballet classes with her in her own private studio and here again she was a remarkable teacher. I have never forgotten my time as her student and am deeply sorry at her passing. It is a great loss to the dance world.

  9. A wonderful piece about Maria, thank you Amanda! I hope that the Dancing Times will also acknowledge the great contribution Maria made with her books and articles. Love, Jo

  10. This is a beautiful eulogy Amanda. You have capture quite rightly, the depth of her classical background and the love with which she taught us all. On finishing three years at the school, Valerie advised me to train with Maria, who introduced me to the depth of the Vaganova style. A style of work that suited me well and has influenced the rest of my working life.

  11. Thank you Amanda, what a wonderful tribute to a truly remarkable lady. I consider myself beyond fortunate to have been introduced to Maria at the age of 17, in my first year with ENB. She became my private coach, my mentor and , at times, my saviour. I owe her so very much.
    It was through the learning of her floor barre and consequently teaching it to others, that I saw a life after dancing. I will endeavour to pass this incredibly beneficial and essential work on to the next generation of dancers.
    Thank you my dearest Maria for believing in me and giving me so much. Your work must never be forgotten as I will never forget you.

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