Olga Spessivtseva: her contract for Java and Australia

What treasures are still to be found in archival repositories around the world! Still on the trail of Olga Spessivtseva in Australia, I went through the process of gaining access to the archives of the museum and library of the Paris Opera, now part of the National Library of France. With formalities completed, I discovered, to my absolute delight, a folder of contracts for various of Spessivtseva’s engagements. Ít included a collection of documents relating to her engagement by Victor Dandré for the Javanese and Australian component of the 1934–1935 world tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet.

Several versions of the contract have been preserved, including some early versions heavily annotated in more than one hand. The earliest version indicates that Dandré began with the standard contract issued by Alexander Levitoff to other dancers in the company and altered that contract to suit Spessivtseva’s (and his own) requirements. Although no signed version exists in the collection, several copies of what appears to be the final version are intact. This version makes clear that the contract was a personal one between Dandré and Spessivtseva.

According to this final version, which is undated but from other contextual information in the Paris collection was probably written in June 1934, Spessivtseva was to leave Europe no later than 20 July 1934 to be in Batavia—present day Jakarta—before 15 August. Her contract was to begin on 15 August and was for a period of 20 weeks until 2 January 1935. It was to cover Java and Australia, or if required other countries (with the exception of Europe). The management reserved the right to extend the contract for a period of not more than 3 months, not including the return to Europe. This of course turned out to be a non-issue as Spessivtseva did not dance with the company after the Sydney season, which concluded on 28 November. She returned to Europe on the London-bound R. M. S. Orama, sailing from Sydney on 22 December.

Spessivtseva’s monthly payment under this contract was 15,000 francs (or the equivalent in foreign currency) payable fortnightly. While I have not yet been able adequately to compare this seemingly large figure with any average earnings in France in 1934, I found some evidence that in 1930 a French university professor was earning a monthly salary of around 4,000 francs. In addition, all Spessivtseva’s travel was to be in first class cabins, or sleeping compartments if travel was by train.

One has to imagine that Dandré cancelled Spessivtseva’s contract after Sydney, although there is as yet no evidence to support this. The Paris document stipulates, however, that the management reserved the right to terminate the contract if illness prevented the artist from taking part in performances for more than one week.

While much of the mystery of Spessivtseva’s Australian interlude still remains, this contract fills in a few more details of the puzzle.

© Michelle Potter, 8 June 2011

For related posts see the  Spessivtseva and  Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet tags. See also my extended article on the tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet published in Dance Research, Vol. 29, No 1, Summer 2011.

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