Balinese dance performance, 1934

Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet. The Balinese interlude

I have been curious for some time about an alleged visit to Bali by the dancers of the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet following their departure from Surabaya on 28 September 1934 bound for Brisbane. Anton Dolin in The Sleeping Ballerina records that in Bali ‘there was time for Olga [Spessivtseva] to visit the many temples and see the dances of Bali, which interested her profoundly’. But hard evidence of this visit has seemed non-existent, until now.

English dancer Anna Northcote had been part of this touring company from its beginnings early in 1934 when the dancers assembled in Paris to rehearse parts of their repertoire with Alexandra Fedorova and Mikhail Fokine. She records her experiences in Paris in an article written in the magazine MOVE in 1970. But it is her photograph album that is of particular interest in the Balinese context. It shows quite clearly that the dancers did indeed visit Bali—Northcote gives the date as 29 September 1934—and were present at one or more performances of Balinese dance. Her album contains several pages of photographs from Bali, most of which record an outdoor performance under the shade of a large banyan tree. In some Spessivtseva can be seen in the background, dressed in white with her dark hair parted in the middle and pulled back in its signature style, absorbed in taking photographs herself.

Balinese dance performance for the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet, 1934. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection
Balinese dance performance for the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet, 1934. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection

The exact location of these photographs is hard to pinpoint. The London Illustrated News for 21 March 1931 contains images taken in what appears to be the same location and notes that the performance recorded in the magazine’s  photographs took place ‘in the village of Kedaton’.  This is more than likely an error as kedaton is a variant spelling of kraton meaning ‘palace’ and both the performance in The London Illustrated News and that photographed by Northcote probably took place in the temple courtyard of a royal palace somewhere on the northern coastline of Bali, probably Singaraja.

At the time the dancers visited Bali, the town of Singaraja was the Dutch colonial administrative centre for Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands. It was the port of arrival for most visitors who, if they visited the southern region, usually did so by road. Moreover, the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet travelled to Brisbane on the Nieuw Holland a ship of the Dutch KPM line. It was the KPM line that initiated the first tourist passages to Bali initially on its cargo ships, which regularly visited Singaraja anchoring at its port of Buleleng.*

Northcote’s album also contains an image of three Legong dancers taken in what seems to be a different location suggesting that the dancers may well have seen more than one performance.

Legong dancers. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection
Legong dancers. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection

The Balinese interlude continues to invite questions and needs further research. But now it is certain that the dancers called at Bali after boarding the Nieuw Holland in Surabaya.

© Michelle Potter, 9–10 December 2010

*Colin McPhee in his book A House in Bali (1947) mentions a village called Kedaton in the Den Pasar region. But it does not seem likely that the dancers would have had time to take the then arduous road trip from Singaraja to Den Pasar and back, given Bali was a stopover rather than a final destination for the ship (and assuming that the Nieuw Holland was following its usual route and anchored in Buleleng harbour).

The dancers did, however, visit part of Bali beyond the coastline as Northcote’s album again indicates. Her photograph entitled ‘Valleys and volcanoes’, with its steeply terraced rice fields, is typical of the countryside immediately to the south of the northern Balinese coastline.

'Valleys and volcanoes', 1934. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection
‘Valleys and volcanoes’, 1934. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection

Information on the company’s touring activities in Java immediately prior to their Balinese visit is in a previous post: Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet: Indonesia, September 1934

4 thoughts on “Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet. The Balinese interlude

  1. Comments retrieved from back-up

    Nick Clark said:
    Feb. 21, 2011

    From my research in to Bali tourism it would seem this Banyan tree is in Ubud in the Palace, perhaps this is why the Illustrated London News calls it Kraton. There seem to have been three main locations the tourists were taken for dance performances. The Bali Hotel (KPM) The palace at Ubud and I Ketut Marya would have his dance classes in Tabanan. Nearly all the pictures and film I have seen appear to be in these places. However the Kris Dance seems to have been performed in some unrecognizable Kampung.
    Michelle said:
    Feb. 21, 2011

    Thank you for this comment. In addition to the fact that you recognise the banyan tree, Ubud makes perfect sense from the point of view of the archival material I have been looking at. I have puzzled over the photographs of the hillside rice terraces in Anna Northcote’s photograph album. There are several others in addition to the one I published and they are so obviously of the area south of Singaraja. I kept wondering whether the dancers made a short excursion out of Singaraja and, while the distance to Ubud isn’t exactly short, it is certainly within a day’s driving distance there and back, even in 1934. The other image I published may be a postcard as it is clearly in a different location and it seems to be taken on a different camera from the rest of the Balinese images in the collection.
    I have so far been unable to find shipping notices for arrivals and departures from Singaraja in 1934 or thereabouts and would been interested to know how long ships usually stayed in port. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.
    Gillian Bonsall said:
    Feb. 24, 2011

    I have had a closer look at Anna Northcote’s album which has revealed that the picture of the Legong dancers is in fact a postcard. Sadly, there is no indication on the reverse as to the specific location but a hand written annotation says ‘Bali Sept 29 1934, a dance in progress’.
    Michelle said:
    Feb. 24, 2011

    Thank you. This explains why the location is so different from the rest of the photographs of the dance performance the company was watching that day. It also perhaps explains why the background looks a little staged, again so different from the very natural setting under the banyan tree.

  2. There is no doubt that Bali photo, at least the one depicted here, is taken in Kedaton near Denpasar. In early 1930s Dutch colonial administration in order to promote tourism organized stop-over of cruise ships in Denpasar. Visitors were entertained by Walter Spies – de-facto leader of artists community based there. Program included trip to temple complex in Sacred Monkey Forrest and a “dance show” in Kedaton.

  3. Sergey, thank you for your comment. I appreciate your knowledge but I am wondering if the Nieuw Holland was a cruise ship as such. I got the feeling that it was a cargo vessel also carrying passengers. But I could be wrong. Also, had the dancers been taken to the monkey forest I feel sure that Anna Northcote would have taken photos of the monkeys. It is a bit hard to ignore them (I’ve been there)! The legong photo is actually a postcard so it could have been taken in Kedaton perhaps and sold elsewhere. But I am speculating at this stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *