Alexander Levitoff. Impresario

During my research into the year-long tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet between 1934 and 1935, the name Alexander Levitoff loomed large. Unlike Victor Dandré, who did not join the tour until the company had reached Java in mid September 1934, Levitoff sailed from Southampton with the Russian Ballet dancers on the R. M. S. Kenilworth Castle on 27 April 1934. His name appears on the passenger list when the Kenilworth Castle arrived in Cape Town on 14 May 1934 for the beginning of the South African leg of the tour. Throughout South Africa the Russian Ballet was promoted as being presented by Levitoff, as the poster in the photograph below, taken in Durban in June 1934, indicates. Yet information about Levitoff and his activities, both during the tour and beyond it, has proved elusive, as has the exact professional relationship between him and Dandré.

Alexander Levitoff in Durban, June 1934. Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Personal Archive. Private Collection
Alexander Levitoff in Durban, June 1934. Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Personal Archive. Private Collection

Recently, however, information about Levitoff has come to light in files held by the National Archives of Australia, some of which were made accessible only in January 2011. Combined with some correspondence between Levitoff and the English dancer Algeranoff, and the personal archive of Anna Northcote (Severskaya), another English dancer who performed with the Dandré-Levitoff company, it is possible to begin to piece together some biographical information about Levitoff. Although some reports refer to him as ‘a native of Moscow’, documents completed by Levitoff when he arrived in Australia on a number of occasions from 1934 onwards as an ‘alien passenger’ indicate that he was born in 1891 in Tiflis (present day Tbilisi, Georgia). On these documents he gives his profession as ‘impresario’ and this description also appears on his personal stationery immediately underneath his name. The immigration documents also record, where ‘nationality’ is requested, that he was ‘stateless’ and that both his parents were born in Russia.

Levitoff lived in Paris from at least the early 1930s at 5 rue de Boudreau. It was from Paris that he issued Northcote (and presumably other dancers) with a contract for the Dandré-Levitoff tour. But he appears to have led a peripatetic life as an impresario following the Dandré-Levitoff tour, working between the northern and southern hemispheres. His personal stationery during the 1940s and early 1950s gives his address as ‘formerly 5 rue de Boudreau’ and lists his places of business as ‘Sydney, Auckland, Paris’. He brought a number of artists and companies to Australia and New Zealand during the late 1930s and into the 1940s including the Don Cossack Choir, pianist Isador Goodman, and soprano Ninon Vallin. He announced many other theatrical plans although a significant proportion of those plans appear not to have been realised. In the mid 1940s he was involved in a legal dispute with a Sydney sponsor and was eventually ordered to repay monies advanced to him.

In Sydney, at least for part of 1939, he lived in what Tamara Tchinarova Finch describes in her memoirs as ‘chic poverty in a small back room of the Hotel Australia’. Finch also records that Levitoff persuaded her and some of her colleagues who had remained in Australia in 1939 at the end of the tour by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet to give some matinee performances in the city of Newcastle, north of Sydney. She writes:

‘He made an agreement with us that he would pay us each ten pounds a performance and keep the rest of the box-office himself. It was a roaring success; the theatre was chock-a-block with wide-eyed youngsters. At the end of the three days, Levitoff, now a few hundred pounds richer, was easily able to pay off his pressing bills.’

He may also have had connections with Ballet nationale, a company founded in Sydney in the late 1930s by Leon Kellaway, another dancer with the Dandré-Levitoff company. Kellaway joined the Dandré-Levitoff company when they arrived in Brisbane in October 1934 and danced under the name Jan Kowsky (Kowskiy). He remained in Australia when the company left for Ceylon in January 1935.

By 1942, however, Levitoff had moved to Melbourne where he lived in the salubrious suburb of Toorak. Between 1942 and 1945 he worked as Canteen Manager with the Department of Munitions at the High Explosives and Ordnance Factory, Marybrynong, and in 1945 he applied for, and was granted, Australian (Commonwealth) citizenship. In one document he intimated that, as a stateless person, travelling overseas was not easy and that having citizenship would allow him to travel more easily in the ‘Dominions’. In support of his citizenship application he noted his good character while working at Marybrynong and noted that as an impresario it was his practice to require the artists whom he engaged to give two charity concerts for some worthy cause. A clipping from an unidentified New Zealand newspaper notes that a concert by Isador Goodman in Wellington raised £1020 for the Metropolitan Patriotic Fund.

Levitoff was still at his Toorak address in May 1950 but by the mid 1950s he was back in Paris where he died in 1957. His obituary in Dance News notes that he was survived by his wife about whom I have as yet been unable to find information.

© Michelle Potter, 21 January 2011

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Personal Archive. Private Collection
  • Papers of Harcourt Algeranoff, MS 2376, National Library of Australia
  • Various documents relating to Alexander Levitoff, National Archives of Australia
  • Tamara Finch, Dancing into the unknown (Alton: Dance Books, 2007)
  • ‘Obituary: Alexander Levitoff’, Dance News, February 1958, p. 7

5 thoughts on “Alexander Levitoff. Impresario

  1. Levitoff must have married fairly late, as his entry permit to the USA – in connection with employment by Sol Hurok – on 6 December 1946 shows him as being Single. The only other personal information on the permit form is that for ‘Nearest Relative in county whence came’ and that is ‘D. Gordon’ living at the same address as Levitoff – 11 Denham Placde.

  2. I have a postcard mailed on August 13, 1930, [13. VIII. 1930. as written] from Zanzibar by a member of the “Levitoff Russian Ballet” to a Mr. Barakoff in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. I am unable to read the signature on the message, but here is the text translated from the original Russian:
    Dear Boris Vladimirovich, I hope that you have received my letter from South Africa. We are now headed for Singapore and Batavia on Java [presently – Djakarta. NS] So far it has been a fabulous voyage. We visit interesting ports, stay there for a couple of days each, or at least 24 hours! We have been in Lourenco-Marques, Mozambique, [presently Maputo NS] now we’re in Zanzibar, we’ll be going to Kenya and the Seychelle Islands – all places that I’ve known about only through stamps! Best wishes to you, Lidia Nikolaevna and Olga from me and Natasha. (signed)
    The handwritten “0” in 1930 seems pretty clear. Thus this document seems to indicate that the company made a a voyage to the listed locations four years prior to 1934 as the “Levitoff Russian Ballet” – that’s what is written on the image side of the card which shows a scene from “Promenade”. Unfortunately, the postage stamp and the dated cancellation on it had been removed, probably by someone in the Barakoff family, so there is no cancellation date strike to support the fact that this card was mailed in August 1930.

  3. Thank you for this comment. Very interesting, if confusing! The journey described in the postcard clearly reflects that of the 1934-1935 tour, which went on from Indonesia to Australia, and which I researched for my Dance Research article of 2011. But looking back at that article I see that there was some discussion of there being two tours. This was recorded by Anton Dolin in The Sleeping Ballerina. But I have stated in the article that no documentary evidence came to light for the existence of an earlier tour, at least not to Australia. The 1930 date is interesting too. Those who write of an alleged tour that preceded the 1934-1935 one say that it took place after Pavlova’s death, which was in 1931. So the date 1930 confuses the issue more. You say that the 0 is clear. At first I wondered if it was easily misread, especially as the writer says they were heading for Singapore (where they opened on 2 September 1934). But then 0 and 4 are not easily confused in writing. Promenade, which you mention as appearing as an image on the postcard, was performed in Maputo and from then on in Australia, Ceylon, India and Egypt during the 1934-1935 tour. Anyway, thank you again and I will, when I have some time, go back to various pieces of correspondence I came across to see if I can clarify anything! One’s research never ends.

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