An Interview with Carmel

Diana Payne-Myers, 83 year old dancer in Barrowland Ballet's A Conversation with Carmel

Feature by Stephanie Green | 10 Sep 2011

Most dancers, apart from Margot Fonteyn, appear to have a short career, but Diana Payne-Myers disproves this. At 83 she is going strong and currently touring with A Conversation with Carmel, choreographed by Natasha Gilmore, the five star show from the 2011 Fringe. A mixture of professionals, (including former Royal Ballet member, Matthew Hawkins) perform alongside a group of dancers aged 60 and above drawn from the local community. 

Yet it is the delightful Otis, aged 14 months, Natasha's son, who vies with Diana as the star. It features a surprise party for 80 year old Carmel, and celebrates life's cycle, from pregnancy to ageing. In heaven, they hope, we will keep dancing. Diana is extraordinarily supple – in this show she dances on a table, and is even spun by one foot and an arm in a circle through the air.

Watching her dance, and talking to her, her sheer verve for living makes one forget her age. I asked Diana what her secret was. "Seven Seas' Cod Liver Oil with orange," she said. "And exercising every day seems to keep rheumatism and arthritis away." She loves to walk bare foot. Her revolutionary mindset seems to be inherited from her surgeon father (from Lewis) who used to tap-dance whilst operating (to keep the mind alert too). Training with the Ballet Rambert in 1949, she has a career spanning classical ballet, variety, pantomime, contemporary dance, performance art and as an actor. (She was a maid in An Inspector Calls at the Garrick Theatre). From being a Sister Act, she fronted Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin at the Glasgow Palladium.

Nothing seems to faze her. With Lloyd Newson's DV8, she sat naked by a sign saying 'Please touch' at the Tate Modern in 2003. One man even put his finger up her nose but she did not move. Her face lights up at the memory of the weird costumes, in Matthew Hawkins' Percy Circus, one of which, the male Orchid, is on show at the V&A. Diana leaps up and hunches, miming fumbling across the room wearing a leotard covering the face, with sequins for a mouth. She straightens up, laughing. Does dance keep her happy? "Of course," she says "but I dance because I must."

A Conversation with Carmel continues touring at: 19 Oct 7.30pm Rothes Halls, Glenrothes 22 Oct 7.30pm Paisley Arts Centre 26 Oct 7.30pm Stirling Macrobert, University of Stirling