Passionate People: What Moves Dena Kaye to Give Globally

In November of last year Pinchgut was fortunate to receive a generous grant from The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation to fund our marvelous orchestra. 

Many of you saw the acknowledgement in our program and have asked how this came about. Was this THE Danny Kaye, Hollywood screen legend?  The answer to that question is yes, this foundation honors the legacy of both Danny Kaye and his wife Sylvia Fine who many might not know, wrote most of her husband’s special material, including many of the on-screen songs he performed, recognized with Academy Award nominations.  She herself produced and hosted a series on television called “Musical Comedy Tonight” that got a Peabody Award.  The connection to Pinchgut came through the friendship of one of our Pinchgut Board Directors, Norman Gillespie, Danny Kaye’s daughter Dena and her partner Richard Fallin.  As life would have it, Dena and Richard (Dick) have adopted Sydney as ‘home’ for three months of the Australian summer.  We caught up with Dena to ask further questions about the work of the Foundation.

DENA, IT’S WONDERFUL TO HAVE YOUR FOUNDATION – THE DANNY KAYE AND SYLVIA FINE KAYE FOUNDATION, SUPPORT PINCHGUT OPERA.  HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT?

 The Foundation supports a wide range of people, and I emphasise ‘people’, in humanitarian, health, heritage and the arts.  Our philosophy is simple; it is about giving to passionate people we meet, establishing and nurturing friendships with and learning about the projects with which they are involved.  When I met Norman a few years back in Denmark as part of a UNICEF conference [Danny Kaye was the first UNICEF ambassador] he suggested I come to Australia to speak about my father.   A friendship grew and Norman told us about this amazing young company called Pinchgut, its successes and aspirations. We decided we would like to help support it.  

WHAT OTHER ARTISTS AND COMPANIES DO YOU SUPPORT AND WHAT PROJECTS OUTSIDE OF THE ARTS?

 In addition to building schools, a hospital, and a women's weaving enterprise in India, creating a pocket park in the oldest Muslim area of Cairo, helping fund Parkinson’s research in the US, it has also been a privilege to become involved with great artists.  We are close friends with Wynton Marsalis, the Artistic Director of the Jazz@Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, who were recently here in Sydney. We supported the new building and an education program Wynton runs to identify rising talent.  Another long-term relationship is with Mikhail Baryshnikov – the Foundation supports the Baryshnikov Arts Centre in New York, a creative home for artists to develop and present new work, theatre, music and dance. Over the past few years we have also made grants to William Christie and Les Arts Florissants.

WILLIAM CHRISTIE IS OF COURSE WELL KNOWN TO MANY OF PINCHGUT’S SUPPORTERS AS AN ICON OF EARLY MUSIC, PARTICULARLY IN THE STAGING OF BAROQUE OPERA.  IS THIS A PARTICULAR INTEREST OF YOURS?

Honestly, I would say both Dick and I are really more attuned to jazz but we have experienced many spectacular and uplifting performances led by William and our appreciation of the Baroque continues to grow.  A chance meeting with William in Paris at a dinner for World Monuments Fund is a good example of the Foundation’s philosophy.  We were at the dinner because we were the major donors of the restoration of the once beautiful foyer of the Opera Comique, founded in the early eighteenth century but refurbished in opulent fashion in the late nineteenth century.   William was there because he and his company frequently performed in at the Opera Comique. We became friends. Soon after, we went to see his house in Thire, in the Vendee region of France, near Nantes, where for decades he has been restoring an abandoned 16th century house, and creating magical gardens.  As our friendship grew, I asked him for his wish list.  He wanted to merge his two passions; his music and his garden and create a festival at Thire with young talent, including students from the Julliard school in New York.  We became one of the initial supporters of ‘Dans les Jardins de William Christie’ that takes place every year at the end of August.

OUR LAST PERFORMANCE, L’AMANT JALOUX, WAS WRITTEN BY A COMPOSER NAMED GRÉTRY, INCREDIBLY FAMOUS IN HIS DAY, AND WHO WAS A RESIDENT COMPOSER AT THE OPERA COMIQUE IN PARIS SO THERE IS A VERY HAPPY CONNECTION.

I had no idea until Dick and I visited the restored foyer with Norman last year when he suddenly exclaimed ‘there’s our man’ – it was a bust of Andre Grétry.  We wondered why he was so excited, and he told us about Pinchgut’s forthcoming production.  We were delighted to find such a direct connection with Pinchgut in the very foyer which the Foundation restored.  

WE READ THAT YOUR FATHER WAS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS A RENAISSANCE MAN, AS HE EXCELLED IN SO MANY VARIED AND COMPLEX AREAS.  WHAT WERE SOME OF THE GREAT QUALITIES YOU ADMIRED IN HIM, AND WHAT DID HE ADMIRE IN OTHERS?

His humanity and his insatiable curiosity for life.  There wasn’t a moment he wasn’t applying that curiosity whether to fly a plane (he was a qualified pilot), cook a Chinese meal, conduct orchestras world wide to raise money for Musicians’ Pension Fund, own a baseball team or through UNICEF, devote his time to the world’s less fortunate children.  In his centenary year, I really had to study him like an outside observer. I discovered so much more about his unique gifts and achievements over and above his many movies and stage performances.  As to what he looked for in others: passion, professionalism, and …punctuality!  

THANK YOU DENA AND WE ARE DELIGHTED TO WELCOME YOU AND DICK INTO THE PINCHGUT FAMILY AND HOPE YOU WILL GET TO EXPERIENCE ONE OF OUR FUTURE PRODUCTIONS.