Tuesday 20 February 2018

Dedicated follower of ballet... dance legend Patricia Crosbie

Irish dance legend Patricia Crosbie talks about her marriage to Ray Davies, frontman of The Kinks, their daughter Eva, and her memories of her late father

Love: Patricia Crosbie and Ray Davies pictured around 1988/89
Love: Patricia Crosbie and Ray Davies pictured around 1988/89
Patricia Crosbie pictured in Dublin last month. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The last time Patricia Crosbie cried was a few weeks ago when she was driving near her home in Kinsale. The song What a Swell Party from High Society came on the radio. They were bitter-sweet tears as Patricia always felt happy listening to her father singing that song.

"I do miss my dad just being around," 57-year-old ballet legend Patricia says of her father George, who died on July 31, 2009, aged 83.

A titan of the Irish newspaper industry, he was the former chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings. (His great-grandfather Thomas Crosbie acquired the newspaper group in 1872.) "My dad was a gentleman," Patricia says, before adding: "Perhaps too gentle to be a director of a family newspaper. That side of dad I never really knew. He went to work in the morning, he came home in the evening, Monday to Friday. Honestly, I don't know if he kept his work separate from us or if I just wasn't very interested in the newspaper business - perhaps a combination of the two."

Patricia - who is a middle child of eight children - says her brothers and two of her sisters were involved with the Cork Examiner, as it was then known, and that "they used to joke that the only connection I had was when I got a mention in a ballet review."

Patricia Crosbie pictured in Dublin last month. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Patricia Crosbie pictured in Dublin last month. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

"The dad I knew was the golfer, yachtsman, singer, piano and banjo player, songwriter and dancer. He was kind, generous, shy and funny, a romantic, and always wanted us all to be happy and to enjoy whatever we did in life. I think he was stricter with the older kids and by the time us younger kids came along he was more lenient. But he always stayed awake until we came in after being out, particularly if any of 'his girls' were on a date," she recalls.

Her father had an unusual - "for the 1970s anyway" - "interest and belief in acupuncture. This was quite radical at the time."

Patricia suffered an Achilles injury while dancing and was told she would be off for four weeks. This was until her father took her to his acupuncturist and she was, she says, back dancing in three days. "That was 1978," she recalls. "Dad even studied and qualified as a reflexologist when he retired."

What did Patricia inherit from her parents emotionally? "My mum was - is - a very beautiful woman who loves life and people," she says of Joan Dempsey who is 91 and from Dublin (She married George in 1950 and moved to Cork).

"She loved travelling and meeting and talking to people, while my dad was not as outgoing as she was. Apart from playing golf, he was happiest, I believe, singing and playing the piano, either with his brother, Donal, or my mum.

"My dad was gentle and creative... he and his friend Jack Brierley wrote songs," she says, adding that her father wrote the lyrics, "one of which represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973, sung by Maxi," Patricia says referring to Do I Dream?

"Mum was the life and soul of any party. I think I have inherited dad's quieter nature along with his love of performing, although not singing!

"I remember as a child watching the Sunday matinee films on television. Dad was also a cool dancer and taught me to waltz. Both my parents loved the theatre which gave me a feeling of belonging whenever I am in a theatre."

Coming from a very musical family, Patricia and all her sisters were sent to ballet class when they were old enough. Patricia was the one who fell in love with it. "And it stayed with me."

As a child growing up in Douglas in Cork, Patricia was "very shy, very quiet. So I suppose there was that cliche" of when Patricia danced on stage she lost all those inhibitions to become a new person, unbridled by ballet.

"I found what I felt comfortable doing in a weird way," she says.

When Patricia left school at 17, she was offered a place in the then-Irish Ballet Company for six years. "Absolutely loving it," she toured all around Ireland and beyond: in 1979, she performed in Playboy Of The Western World in New York. She left the company when she was 23 and moved to London where she worked with various different companies, and became a freelance dancer.

It must have been quite an insecure life, I say to her.

"And yet I felt more secure doing that than sitting down talking to someone. I was very shy."

She laughs that the life of a young ballerina was nothing like that portrayed in Darren Aronofsky's dark sexual psychodrama Black Swan. "The jealousy? I never really found that. Ambition, yes, and wanting to work hard to get a part but not at the level that Black Swan had." Patricia didn't like Black Swan. She found it "over the top. I couldn't believe it. But then again, maybe, I lived a sheltered ballet life!" she says.

Patricia remembers her great friend Carol, "a beautiful dancer", who died of leukaemia in 1990. Patricia is an emotional woman. She recalls that when her 19-year-old daughter Eva - by her ex-husband, Ray Davies of The Kinks - was five, she got Eva a dog, Jessie.

"This dog was her best friend and 10 years later Jessie ran under my moving car and she died in front of Eva and I. It is a feeling I will never forget... sadness, guilt, despair knowing I was responsible for my child's pain." (Eva got another puppy within four days.)

In terms of the pain her father went through, Patricia recalls that "he had a stroke that literally knocked the life out of him. He got angry and frustrated that he couldn't play his beloved golf the way he used to. It was only really after he passed away in 2009 that I realised just how much the newspaper industry respected him... his funeral was overflowing with people from every walk of his life, not least from the newspaper world."

That said, Patricia's "abiding feeling about dad is of how much he loved my mum. They were human and had their ups and downs but I know they truly loved each other. He always did say that love was the most important thing in the world."

You don't have to ask whether Patricia Crosbie shares that belief with her late father. She talks passionately about all things l'amour for over an hour when we meet.

She says without hesitation that the love of her life was Ray Davies. She wasn't the only woman to fall for his undisputed and incalculable charms... Davies's marriage to Patricia was his third.

He married Rasa Dicpetris in 1964 and they had two daughters, Louisa and Yvonne.

In November, 1974, he married Yvonne Gunner. The couple broke up when Ray embarked on an affair in 1981 with The Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, who gave him a third daughter, Natalie Rae.

In any event, destiny brought Ray and Patricia together in London in 1984.

"I met him in London in a gym. He was just there and we got chatting and that was it. I loved The Kinks but I didn't recognise him. Like I said, we were a very musical family. Christmas parties it was all guitars and singing. It was all Beatles and Kinks."

"He asked me to marry him when they were on a visit to Ireland in 1985." Their marriage - which saw a daughter, Eva, born on December 20, 1996 - was to last 13 years.

Their shared interests were "music, theatre, cinema, and, actually, the quiet life. Ray loves a quiet life, as do I. When I say a quiet life you have your own structure, then you go out and do your job and you come home and you have your privacy. He loved living in the country. So did I".

They lived near Guildford in Surrey. "I have to say it was very different to the life I'd be living but also really, really interesting," says Patricia, "because Ray opened up so much to me that I knew nothing about.

"At the time he was directing films, documentaries. He made a documentary about Charlie Mingus. I remember helping him edit that and a lot of The Kinks videos. He asked me to choreograph a piece for the live shows in 1978 touring America. I danced onstage.

"We were a couple like any other," Patricia says, "good times and bad. We fell out of love and we have a beautiful daughter.

"As I explained I danced in and choreographed for The Kinks shows, travelling with them worldwide. It was exciting and creative and I learned so much and met so many wonderful people ... saw places I never thought I would see."

I ask her to take me back to the break-up. "Breaking up with Ray was, of course, sad and I still feel that sadness sometimes ... not because we are not together but because my marriage failed and when I married I believed in it. I am very happy in my life now. I'm not in a relationship."

Why does she think Ray and her broke up? "As I said, we fell out of love," Patricia says. "It happens. All the other 'stuff' that goes with a marriage break-up is, in my opinion, between two people, for better or for worse!"

Did it just reach the end?

"It did, really. There wasn't any major drama." She moved back to Ireland. "Eva was small at the time. I actually moved back to Kinsale. We used to go there when we were kids on our summer holidays. I love the sea. That's the thing about London that I found hard - not being close to the sea."

She says she didn't have a clue what she wanted to do with her life when she moved back to Ireland 19 years ago.

"I tried to have a plan but sometimes emotions and life put you in a different place. I never thought I would move back to Ireland. I felt it was best for Eva, as well, to be around her cousins.

"Then [artistic director] Alan Foley from Cork City Ballet literally came knocking on my door and said, 'Would you like to come work with us?'

"Which is exactly what I did. I choreographed a solo for myself and performed it, then I just started helping with teaching and now I'm what they call the ballet mistress. I get them into shape."

Cork City Ballet open on Thursday at the Opera House in Cork for four performances of Giselle.

"My all-time favourite," smiles Patricia, a dedicated follower of ballet.

"It is one of the first romantics. It was performed first in 1841 in Paris. It was the first time that they moved away from the real pretty-pretty, party-piece ballet.

"There is a proper story based on one of Theophile Gautier's stories. It was about a young girl, a peasant girl, living in Germany with her single mum," says Patricia who plays the mum in this production ("So it is all coming around!" she laughs).

"The young girl is living in a village, meets this guy who is pretending to be a villager but in actual fact he's a prince.

"She dies of a broken heart when she finds out that she has been duped or lied to and that he was actually engaged to some princess. So then the second act opens and she is now dead and it is in a forest with these women ghosts called willies - which, I think, is where the expression 'gave me the willies' comes from.

"They are all women who have been betrayed. There is a queen who is pure evil. They lure men into the forest and make them dance until they die. That's their revenge ...

"There's all sorts of things going on - the paganism, because at the time in the 1840s people were turning away from religion a little bit and they wanted more spiritualism.

"What happens in the end is that she saves him," Patricia says of the roles played by Russian ballet stars Ekaterina Bortyakova and Akzhol Mussakhanov, "because he is caught in the forest and he has to dance until he dies but she saves him by dancing for him.

"Dawn comes and the spirit is broken and he is left alive but alone with the memory."

It makes Black Swan sound like panto.

Cork City Ballet presents Giselle at The Opera House in Cork from Thursday to Saturday at 8pm (2.30pm matinee on Saturday); corkoperahouse.ie

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