Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Edna Busse celebrates 100 years

Former Borovansky Ballet dancer, Edna Busse, has just celebrated her 100th birthday. Busse was born in Melbourne in 1918 and received her early dance training with Eunice Weston. She was for a time junior assistant to Weston but later studied with Xenia Borovansky at the Borovansky Ballet Academy and subsequently danced with the Borovansky Ballet from its earliest days. With that company she danced a variety of roles including those in Borovansky’s restaging of Anna Pavlova’s Autumn Leaves and in Frederick Ashton’s Façade staged by Laurel Martyn. She also danced in the classics as produced by Borovansky, as well as in a number of Borovansky’s own works such as L’Amour ridicule and Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in 'Autumn Leaves', 1946. Photo Hugh P Hall

Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in Autumn Leaves, 1946. Photo: Hugh P Hall. National Library of Australia

By 1946 she was prima ballerina with the company and the first fully Australian trained dancer to reach the rank of principal. Her most frequent partners were Martin Rubinstein and Serge Bousloff.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux, Borovanksy Ballet 1940s. Photo: Phil Ward
Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron in 'L'amour ridicule', Borovansky Ballet 1940. Photo Hugh P Hall

 

(left) Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Bluebird pas de deux. Photo Phil Ward; (right) Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron (right) in L’Amour ridicule. Photo: Hugh P Hall. Borovansky Ballet, 1940s. National Library of Australia

One of the most remarkable works in which she took the leading role during her career with the Borovansky Ballet was The Black Swan, Borovansky’s second ballet on an Australian theme following on from his Terra Australis of 1946. Danced to music by Sibelius and with designs by William Constable, The Black Swan was based on an historical incident in 1697 when a Captain Vlaming from the Dutch East India Company encountered and named Rottnest Island and the river on which the city of Perth now stands. He was particularly struck by the number of black swans on the river and his crew captured several and took them back to Java. A libretto, written around this incident by M. Millet, told the story of the Captain entranced by a black swan as a symbol of a new (to him) land. The work was first performed in 1949. Busse took the role of the Black Swan in productions of 1950 and 1951.

Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Busse went to London in 1952 where she danced at the Palladium in a variety of shows, including in the pantomime Cinderella in 1953. While overseas she studied with Mathilde Kschessinska in Paris but came back to Australia in 1955 when family illness required her return. In Australia she was given a contract by entrepreneur Harry Wren and continued to dance for another few years, including in the Tivoli Circuit’s production of The Good Old Days (1956–1957) and as a guest artist with Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Guild. Injury forced her to retire. Busse then taught in Melbourne for several years before opening a ballet school in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in 1968. With the support of a local consortium she established Inland Ballet and, over many years, produced both the classics and new works for this company.

Edna Busse was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Program in 2014 and her time in Wagga Wagga is discussed in more detail there. The interview, which has been debated somewhat on this website, is not available online but copies are available via the National Library via the ‘order a copy’ tab.

Michelle Potter, 9 August 2018

Featured image: Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in The Black Swan, Borovansky Ballet, 1950–1951. National Library of Australia

Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1950

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'

Dance diary. August 2014

  • Edna Busse

In August I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Edna Busse, Borovanksy ballerina of the 1940s and early 1950s. The National Library had been working towards adding Edna’s memories of her life and career to its collection of dance interviews for many years, so it was a thrill that Edna, now aged 96, agreed to the invitation to participate in the program. Edna is seen below in two images from the Borovansky days, on the left with Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux in a photo by Philip Ward, and right as Swanilda in Coppélia in 1946, photographer unknown.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux, Borovanksy Ballet 1940s. Photo: Phil Ward
Edna Busse as Swanilda in 'Coppelia', Borovanksy Ballet, 1946.
  • Oral history

Other oral history interviews I recorded during August were not specifically focused on dance, but were interesting arts interviews nevertheless. They were with John Hindmarsh, founder of Hindmarsh Constructions and a major arts philanthropist in Canberra; and with artist John Olsen. The Olsen interview focused on his mural Salute to Five Bells, commissioned for the Sydney Opera House in the early 1970s. (The Olsen interview is too new to have a catalogue record).

  • The Johnston Collection

I was delighted to hear that the Johnston Collection, the remarkable Melbourne-based collection of decorative arts located at Fairhall House, recently received an award from the Victorian branch of Museums Australia. The award was for the Johnston Collection’s recent exhibition David McAllister rearranges Mr Johnston’s collection. The image below shows Desmond Heeley’s costumes from the Australian Ballet production of The Merry Widow, as displayed in the sitting room during the Fairhall House exhibition.

Costumes from 'The Merry Widow' on display in Fairhall House

The text for my talk for the Johnston Collection as part of this award winning exhibition is at this link.

  • Press for August 2014

‘Odd mix misses the mark.’ Review of Boundless, Quantum Leap, The Canberra Times, 1 August 2014, ARTS p. 6. Online.
‘S for spectacularly physical.’ Review of S, Circa, The Canberra Times, 8 August 2014, ARTS p. 7. Online.
‘A swirl of colour.’ Review of Devdas the musical. The Canberra Times, 19 August 2014, ARTS p. 6. Online.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2014

Featured image: Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Laurel Martyn’s Sigrid, Borovansky Ballet, ca. 1945. Photographer not known. National Library of Australia.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'