Image Credit : Soraya Ham
The staff at Dance Base are deeply saddened by the death of Diana Payne-Myers. She is an inspiration and she will be sadly missed.
Close friend and duet–partner, Matthew Hawkins, wrote of Diana :
In 1986 I was 28 and free of all commitments. Each Saturday, in return for demonstrating advanced and diploma-level exercises, I was gifted with a free ballet class, courtesy of the Cecchetti Centre and my teacher Richard Glasstone. I became aware of a regular personage at the barre; a crochet-clad bundle of abstruse energy. We got to a summer break and this figure stepped close and beamed up at me. Amid her fizz of enthusiasm I gathered she had appreciated my dancing. Her references were eclectic and her outburst was interspersed with gales of throaty laughter. I managed not only to decipher what was being said but also to interject about a show I was staging. This was A Different Set of Muscles at The Place. My class-going aquiaintance appeared in the theatre's bar post-performance to regale cast members with a jangle of whimsical admiration. Off she trotted and that might have been that. 'But how do you know that strange and wonderful person?' asked a stunned companion. I explained how we had the kind of glancing acquaintance that is typical on the open ballet class scene and as I spoke, I became aware of how blinkered we sometimes are.
Diana had retired from a career in variety, musical theatre and satirical review. When I looked her up, she was living near Golders Green, caring for her father but otherwise involved in a quasi-hectic sequence of personal projects, some with admirable intellectual basis and others more connected to wish-fulfilment. Diana soon began re-training with my contemporary group. She was drawn to our vibrancy but had as yet resisted the offer of a part. After all, it had been a while.
Then, in 1998, at the age of 60, Diana was on the boards again after the decades of hiatus, ecstatic really, dressed by Pearl (who enhanced the sprite persona in each of us) framed in my ensemble piece Percy Circus and in the embrace of the Hackney Empire. Here her confidence and her mission re-surfaced. Clearly her new achievement stood on the foundation of prior convictions. To some she had appeared flighty but she was actually well grounded. Her prior spells on the stages of an Alhambra here and a Gaiety there had been balanced by street busking and running a junk shop. Grit would emerge amid subsequent exposure in the work of the DV8 choreographer Lloyd Newson. His work was cogent and gave her a stable platform, backed by public demand and a decent logistical set up. From there she went on to work severally with Philippe Decouflé, Ian Spink, Arthur Pita, Quinny Sacks, Wayne McGregor and Natasha Gilmore among many others. This side of the millennium, she was until recently flaunting the full gamut of her physical theatre accomplishments in the West End, taking the 'mute' role of Edna in the play An Inspector Calls, which has a place on the national curriculum and in the cultural psyche. Coupled with this bout of mainstream accomplishment, Diana's MBE honoured her services to dance and underlined how her contribution influences new consideration of the long-serving dance performer, quite changing the game.
Diana loved being in Scotland and savoured every opportunity. She felt connected, through her background and her professional life. Her Granny grew up in Costorphine. Her cousins lived in Stornoway, where she frollicked on family holidays when little. Later, she would tour Scotland's variety venues as part of a sister-act, supporting Des O'Connor, Frank Sinatra, Mrs Shufflewick and many more.
In the year that Glasgow was European City of Culture, Diana popped up there in a project with Philippe Decouflé. She also was involved in CCA residencies Tramway performances with DV8.
In 1996 she treated herself to an Edinburgh stay so that she could join my morning class during a rehearsal period I was involved with at Dance Base's Assembly Rooms site.
Morag Deyes helped bring about our duet project Muscular Memory Lane by agreeing to programme the work at Dance Base as part of Fringe 2006. This booking assured, Diana was able to successfully apply for funding from Arts Council England. Our Fringe run earned us a Herald Angel Award. We then played the piece in London and in Stornoway at An Lanntair Arts - achieving Diana's long-held wish to return to the Isle of Lewis as an artist.
Most recently, in a rare instance of playing a character younger than herself, Diana appeared as the celebrant of a hastily arranged eightieth birthday, as depicted in Natasha Gilmore's dance-theatre piece A Conversation With Carmel. I played her middle aged son Adrian: Jade Adamson my daughter Laura: Vince Virr, Laura's latest flame (whose name we never learned). The show was developed in Glasgow at The Work Room and at Platform. There was community involvement at each venue on the subsequent three tours of the work. We met a host of people and connected with many places. It was marvellous and largely as a result of the integrating experience I have now made my home in Scotland.