It’s with great sadness that I heard the news today that my wonderful and dear neighbor and the Grand Dame of dance in Belgium Jeanne Brabants had died…
What Jeanne has meant for the dance world is hard to even start to describe. She literally put dance on the map in Belgium and in Flanders in particular and professionalized this art by founding the Royal Ballet of Flanders and the famous Ballet school ‘Het Stedelijk Instituut voor Ballet’ here in Antwerp. Besides dancing herself and teaching she choreographed countless ballets herself.
Passionate about dance myself and dreaming of becoming a ballerina when I was young, I was already really happy to photograph in her school over 12 years ago.
© Wendy Marijnissen
© Wendy Marijnissen
I was so excited when I moved into my appartement block and found out that Jeanne was living in the same building. This wonderful block is filled with some amazing people that still really know each other and care about each other and I was lucky enough to get to know Jeanne personally. At first we came across each other in the hallway, she on her way to her physiotherapy and I on my way to yoga class and we would have our so called alley talks. Soon though she would invite me over for coffee and we would talk endlessly about ballet, about love, about really fighting for what you believe in, about the passion for life. She was really inspirational in her fight for getting Ballet to where it is right now and she never stopped fighting for it up until she really was too ill and in hospital. Jeanne breathed ballet…
But reducing her to ballet alone would be doing her great injustice indeed. I loved it most when we would talk about love. Like a grandmother she would listen to my stories of my latest love interests or breakups and she was always curious about how my dates went. She would talk so beautifully about her husband, former radio journalist Bert Van Kerckhoven. So wonderful to hear. Even though he had died a long time ago already, I feel she was still in love with him. Bert had written a youth book about his trip to the Congo with former Belgian King Boudewijn and I’m still so glad that I was able to find an original first edition copy of the book as a birthday present for Jeanne who wanted it so much for her children and grandchildren as she didn’t have a copy of it herself.
Do have a look at the episode ‘De Week van de liefde’ by Wim Opbrouck with Jeanne where she talks about love in all it’s shapes and forms. It really is how she was and how I’ll remember her. She talks about how we love more with our hands then with our eyes or our mouth as we touch. And that is what she would do constantly. A very tactile person, not afraid of touching, grabbing your hand, putting her hand on my body to correct my posture,…
And just as the new year has begun and I have written my new list of new years resolutions as I do each year, it now seems almost like a little bit of a tribute to her. Jeanne told me and reminded me to dream, to believe in myself and my work and to not be afraid to follow my heart. Looking at my list now and after writing a few love letters to some of the most wonderful and meaningful people in my life, it seems I’m reminding myself of her advice and I feel I’m doing my best to listen.
Miss you already dear Jeanne and hope you’ll dance on in the world of the spirits.