Found in Translation

An Honors project in dance history brings international recognition for Patricia McAndrew ’68

by Mindy Aloff

Until about 25 years ago, when universities began to recognize dance scholarship on the graduate level, dance history was primarily the province of independent scholars, following their own interests and working usually at their own expense.

Among the remaining independent dance historians in America, Patricia McAndrew ’68 is one of the finest and most altruistic. But at last she is being discovered by the larger world. In August, she was invited to Copenhagen as an honored guest for a symposium of international scholars to celebrate the 19th-century Danish choreographer August Bournonville, one of the great names in the history of ballet. He is a figure with whom McAndrew is indelibly associated, and has been since he was the subject of her Honors project as a Moravian senior.

Her painstaking translation, 10 years in the making, of Bournonville’s nearly 700-page memoir, My Theatre Life, is consulted by scholars and balletgoers and is not likely to be bettered. Nor are her translations of Bournonville’s enchanting letters (My Dearly Beloved Wife! Letters from France and Italy 1841) or of the memoirs of Bournonville’s daughter Charlotte. McAndrew also has depicted Bournonville in her own words, examining his intense Danish patriotism and artistry in a 1979 issue of Dance Chronicle.

A native of Bethlehem who still lives in the house where she was raised, the only child of a father who was a physician and a mother who was a nurse, McAndrew recounts how she came to be focused on a man so distant in time and place. It started when she was 7 and her mother took her to see Danny Kaye and the French dancer Jeanmaire in Hans Christian Andersen, the stylish 1952 movie musical that features scenes in which Kaye, as the writer, travels to Copenhagen from his native Odense, wanders into a rehearsal at the Royal Theater, and falls in love with a ballerina.

“You make your own luck. You have to be ready when the chance comes,” McAndrew says in her mezzo voice and precise diction. “Hans Christian Andersen was pure magic. I was enchanted with the dancing. [It was choreographed by Roland Petit, Jeanmaire’s husband.] I said to my mother: ‘Someday, when I’m grown up, I’m going to Copenhagen like Hans Christian Andersen.’ And my mother said, ‘Don’t let your father hear you say that!’”

McAndrew’s father would hear her say something similar many times over the next decades. As a child, she studied ballet at the studio next door to her house. She also attended parochial school for 12 years, and the ballet lessons fell by the wayside. When she was 18, she picked them up again. Initially, she hadn’t wanted to go to Moravian College. “I wanted to go to New York or London to be an actress. But my father said, ‘You need something to fall back on.’”

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Patricia McAndrew ’68 contemplates the subject of her research, August Bournonville.

Photo: John Kish IV