Portrait of Jane Devine by Monica Batiste
Oil on canvas
1.5m x 1.2m
Jane Devine was a professional ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet Company. She has graced the stages of the most famous opera houses in the world and danced with the greatest dancers of our time.
Jane was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and had a passionate desire to dance. She began dancing at the age of five and at 12 decided on her life path as a professional dancer. At 16 Jane left her family and moved to London to dance in the Royal London Ballet School. It was a huge decision for the young dancer, but Jane was determined to overcome all obstacles and make it work. Her teachers during this time, Julian Farron (OBE) and Eileen Ward, supported her and helped her reach her dreams. In Jane’s first year at the Royal Ballet School she won the prestigious award of the Adeline Genée Gold Medal.
At 18 Jane was invited to join the Royal Ballet Covent Garden Company.
‘I stayed with the Royal Ballet Company for many years.'
I asked her about Margot Fonteyn.
‘Oh yes, she was still in the company when I joined. She was at the tail end of her career, and was still performing.
'I’ve danced with so many beautiful dancers,’ she reminisced, ‘and many of them are still my good friends.’
‘Tell me about some of your tours?’
‘We did a lot of tours in the US during my time with the Royal Ballet. We would usually start at the MET in New York, for two weeks, then one week in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and some others before returning to the UK for some other tours.’
‘When we toured the US, we would arrive in the city about two days before our first performance to rehearse with the US orchestra, light, stage and crew. We travelled with our own Royal Ballet Company Conductor who knew exactly how the music was meant to be for each performance.’
‘Did you perform everyday?’
‘Almost. We usually performed six evenings a week, plus two matinees, for about six weeks.'
Jane mentioned the Royal family’s involvement in the ballet.
‘Did you meet the Queen?’
‘No,’ said Jane. ‘The Queen was the patron of the Royal Ballet Company, but it was Princess Margaret who loved the ballet. Princess Margaret came to many of our performances and I met her on several occasions.’ Jane paused and smiled, ‘It was remarkable how complicated the security was when Princess Margaret came to a performance. Every step and turn was accounted for in her itinerary, but she loved the ballet and was very sweet.’
Jane Devine with Princess Margaret in Toronto, Canada.
Photograph by Bill Cooper
'Do you have a favourite Ballet?'
‘I love so many,’ Jane paused, ‘ I really loved Romeo and Juliette. It was choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.. The music score was by Prokofiev. So very different to "The Rite of Spring," with music by Stravinsky, which I also loved, and was also choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.
Jane picked up her phone and opened a page, she showed it to me, ‘Watch this.’
The dancers wore orange and white. The moves were more modern than classical ballet.
There were no pointe shoes, it was organic and raw.
‘This is the Rite of Spring,’ she said, ‘Look at the dancers. So beautiful. This ballet was so different to Romeo and Juliette and yet, both genius.
'Sir Kenneth was amazing. He actually married an Australian painter named Deborah Williams. She was very pretty.'
‘What did you do after the Royal Ballet Company?’
‘I was offered a position as a soloist with Festival Ballet. Now known as The English National Ballet. This Company was very different to the Royal Ballet Company as they did more provincial tours, but I loved it and I had the best of times with them.'
‘What was it like with Festival Ballet?’
‘In the Royal Ballet Company we stayed in the best hotels, ate gourmet dinners and were invited to glamorous functions. Festival Ballet showed me how hard dancers can work. We began the day at 10am with dance class, then dance rehearsal, followed by our performance. We would finish after 10pm and on our way to bed, we’d grab some food. We did this for at least six days a week and on the seventh day we travelled to our next gig.
‘It was exhausting, but, we did it, and we did it well,’ she paused. ‘and as tough as it was, it was the best time of my life. One of the things I loved most about Festival Ballet was the fantastic camaraderie. The friends I made are still my friends today. We laughed and learned so much from each other. I loved this company so much.’
Jane Devine in Prince Igor. Photograph by Bill Cooper
We paused from our interview to have a cup of tea. I wandered around Jane’s modest house. One of the things I noticed was how her home reflected more of who she is now, rather than what she has achieved.
At first she was reluctant to share her accolades.
‘I’d rather talk about the present, than who I was then,’ she said.
The books on her shelf are about poetry, philosophy, and anthropology. A guitar stands in the corner that she plays on occasion, and a woodturning she created from a course on the gold coast, adorns her simple shelf.
We sat on her back deck and sketched.
Jane has been in Australia for more than 20 years. After migrating to Australia, Jane has taught ballet, fitness and in the summer holds a position of adjudicating for ballet competitions.
‘I decided on Redcliffe for my home because it’s such a beautiful place with everything here.’
We draw and chat for a little longer and I leave with a plant under my arm to add to my garden.
At home I start some preliminary paintings, and I think about the time Jane invited me to watch a performance at QPAC by the Queensland Ballet Company.
‘I have a spare ticket,’ she said, 'We will have lunch with my mother and friends.’
When we arrived at QPAC we were greeted by many of Jane’s ballet friends. Jane introduced me to the Queensland Ballet Director Li Cunxin and his wife Mary McKendry.
Mary and Jane are still very good friends since dancing together at Festival Ballet.
At the completion of my painting, I invited Jane to my house for a painting launch.
One of Jane’s guests to our painting launch was Graeme ‘Connie’ Collins who danced in Festival Ballet before her time. Although they hadn’t met in London, they knew of each other and became friends in the last ten years in Redcliffe.
Graeme has spent his entire working life in the ballet as a dancer, teacher, and for twenty years before his retirement, he was head of Hong Kong Ballet.
They reminised about Festival Ballet and the subject moved on to Rudolph ‘Rudi’ Nureyev.
Graeme said that he danced in 18 stage performances with Rudi and that he was a wonderful and generous man, but, when he was working on a ballet, everything had to be right. There was no room for error. They laughed about his thunder and revelled in his grace. They agreed, 'It was an opportunity to work with some of the greatest dancers of our time.'
My Painting Process
I began this portrait in January 2023.
As an artist, I want to paint people who are making a difference. Especially women, as women’s achievements and voices are not always heard.
I approached Jane for a portrait a few years ago, we did some sketches and I took some photos, but the timing wasn’t right and the painting was not completed.
In 2022 I approached her again to paint her portrait, and I did more sketches, photographs and interviews.
I knew Jane was a world-class ballet dancer, but because she is so humble, I didn’t know the extent of her career until our interviews.
I chose the size of the painting to be as close to life size as possible. I chose a limited palette to reflect Jane’s humble demeanour. I wanted to keep the tones as close together as possible, to reflect the nuances of grace Jane demonstrates in her voice and posture.
I did some preliminary strings of colour using raw sienna and ultramarine blue for the black, titanium white, yellow ochre and cadmium red for the colour.
I wanted to include an image of Jane dancing in the background of this portrait, and for this I referenced a photograph by Bill Cooper, of Jane dancing in 'Prince Igor.'
I noticed her dancer’s feet when we were doing our sketches, and I include them in the painting to remind viewers that dancers always have their dancer body, no matter how much time has passed.
Jane’s face shows the calm and happy place she is in now. I wanted to demonstrate that she is delighted to have done what she has done, but still maintains a life of interest in many areas.
it took me two months to complete 'Portrait of Jane Devine.'
After our launch, we made the long drive to Sydney and enjoyed friends and galleries along the way. I entered my painting into the Archibald 2023. It was not accepted for the exhibition, but I had a lot of fun .
Thank you for reading about Jane and her portrait.
lots of love, Monica.