Hilary Crampton

Hilary CramptonPhoto - Mark Gordon

Hilary Crampton
, one of Melbourne’s most prominent arts industry academics, and for some 12 years senior dance critic for the Age, died at 5.00 pm on Sunday, September 6, after a long encounter with a lethal brain tumour. She was surrounded by two of her former students and their young children. That she was attended to so diligently in her last months says much for Hilary’s ability to inspire loyalty amongst students who, while often awed by her fierce commitment to dance and the arts in general, recognised the kind woman behind the formal teacher’s mask.

A peripatetic early life and some later years at boarding school due to her father’s work, would prepare Hilary for a life of relocation and reinvention. She was in turn a dancer and studio teacher, an educator and researcher, arts advocate and policy analyst. At work and in private, she was both confidante and provocateur to her peers and a loyal mentor to younger artists, and a good friend to many.

Taught from infancy by inspiring Loreto nuns, Hilary discovered ballet when her mother took her to see the Borovansky Ballet perform. Soon after, at age nine, she took her first classes at Mavis Sykes’s school in Mosman and much later at Phyllis Danaher’s in Brisbane. At age 21, again in Sydney, she took up ballet full time at the Scully-Borovansky centre. After the Royal Academy of Dance exams process, she found a new, liberating dance in Margaret Walker’s modern classes and subsequently her folkloric ensemble, Dance Concert, as a performer. The crucible in which her future was defined - the famous Armidale Summer Schools created by leading dance minds, Peggy van Praagh, Peter Brinson and Shirley McKechnie - opened Hilary’s eyes to the unlimited directions open to dance. She was hungry for more experience, but more pertinently, more knowledge and deep understanding of the dance world still unknown to her.

To this end, Hilary closed the ballet school she’d established in order to study at the Laban Centre, London, and the East West Center in Hawaii. Her dance teaching stretched to Rusden College, Deakin University and examining at the Australian Ballet School and VCA. Further study and coordinating the Arts Management program occupied her fully at Melbourne University from 1998 to 2003 when illness forced her to reduce her hours and, in 2006, to retire. Her specialisation and subject of her doctoral research, sadly unfinished, was arts policy, and her engagement with this field was something she was most proud of in the academy and her dealings with the bureaucracy.

No stranger to life-threatening illness - her family had more than its fair share - Hilary dealt with her last diagnosis with the same approach she took for a new class, a new government edict, a dance to review - look squarely at it, ask the right questions, analyse the lot and choose how to act. As in life, so in the face of death, as one of her graduate students wrote to me last week, Hilary was a smart, inspiring and feisty dame.

Lee Christofis

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