A comment from a New York friend and colleague, whose much admired teacher at the School of American Ballet was Anatole Oboukhoff, along with some subsequent correspondence with Anna Northcote’s niece, have prompted me to post the image below. It shows Oboukhoff with Vera Nemchinova and the captain of the R. M. S. Kenilworth Castle, the ship on which the dancers of the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet travelled from England to South Africa for the first leg of their 1934–1935 tour.
One can’t help but admire Nemchinova’s posed right leg with its beautifully slim ankle. Nor can one fail to admire the elegant way in which both Nemchinova and Oboukhoff are dressed. Shipboard life has changed since 1934! I was also delighted to discover on Andros on Ballet the following recollection of Nemchinova, the teacher:
‘There was a time when ballerinas dressed and acted like the stars they were. Madame [Nemchinova] always dressed to come to class, and left the same way. By chance, I rode the elevator with her. She had on a pill box hat with a veil, a two-piece suit, high heeled shoes and to top it off, a fur stole. The highest of high fashion was her daily wear’.
On tour, however, the dancers did enjoy some relaxed moments. In South Africa, for example, they picnicked in Durban, visited the zoo in Pretoria and watched Zulu dancing in Johannesburg. Even on such occasions though they rarely forgot the fundamental attitudes of the day.
They continue to surprise with the way in which they each embraced the life of a touring dancer in the 1930s.
Michelle Potter, 19 July 2011
Photos: Anna Northcote (Severskaya). Personal archive, private collection