Former dancer donates 1950s dance programmes

Former ballerina Helen Lyou with her personal collection of music and dance programmes (above) dating back to the 1950s, and the programme from Maudrene’s School of Dancing. -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH
Former ballerina Helen Lyou with her personal collection of music and dance programmes (above) dating back to the 1950s, and the programme from Maudrene’s School of Dancing. -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH
Former ballerina Helen Lyou with her personal collection of music and dance programmes dating back to the 1950s, and the programme from Maudrene’s School of Dancing (above). -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH
Former ballerina Helen Lyou with her personal collection of music and dance programmes dating back to the 1950s, and the programme from Maudrene’s School of Dancing (above). -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

A burgeoning arts scene might not be what comes to mind when one mentions Singapore in the 1950s, but former ballerina Helen Lyou has fond memories of just that.

"People often think there wasn't much happening in the arts scene in the 1950s and 1960s, but that's not true. There were drama, dance, music, stage club performances and pantomimes," the 70-year-old says.

She should know. The Raffles Girls' School alumnus first put on her pointe shoes at age five and spent most of her youth performing as part of the Singapore Ballet Company at Victoria Theatre.

Her solemn countenance melts into a smile as she recalls the local productions of classics such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake that she performed in, alongside local dance doyennes such as Goh Soo Khim and Goh Lay Kuan.

"In those days, the dance community was very tight. I enjoyed very much the love, friendship and bond with the company. We didn't just perform alone. There was a whole support network of friends, family and the company behind us," she says.

The avid arts lover is donating part of the hundreds of music and dance programme booklets she has amassed over the years to the National Heritage Board. Among these are dance programmes from Maudrene's School of Dancing and the Singapore Ballet Company, dating back to 1950.

The booklets will be displayed at Victoria Concert Hall's upcoming heritage gallery.

Ms Lyou has also kept programmes of performances she caught overseas.

For instance, she recalls queuing overnight once in the biting cold in London to catch celebrated dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in the flesh at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

She was studying law then at the Inner Temple, a professional association. "I could afford only the £1 ticket, but I went anyway," she says.

Most of her collection are kept in files or stacked up in cartons and shoeboxes in the basement of her bungalow in Barker Road.

"I've been collecting most of these since young to remember the performances that I went to and those I was in. Some are already yellowed from age," she says.

"I want them to have a good home. It's fitting that Victoria Concert Hall should have them in its archives so that people can know about the productions that were held there. It would make the historical records more meaningful," says Ms Lyou, who runs a uniform supplier business Bibi&Baba with her husband, Mr Quek Chin Tiong, 70. They have three children and three grandchildren.

She is parting with part of her beloved collection also to raise awareness about the careers of dancers, some of whom have retired.

She says: "Their families and friends, like my sons, may not know much about what they used to do, so it's an opportunity to educate them."

Looking through the booklets, she adds: "I'm still sorting through them to decide which ones I'm going to donate. There are many dear memories here that I would still like to hold on to."