Dance diary. February 2017

  • Australian Dance Party

Canberra’s Australian Dance Party has announced some upcoming events/performances for 2017.

Shake it will take place on 18 March in the courtyard of the National Film and Sound Archive as part of the Art Not Apart Festival. It will feature, in addition to Party dancers, a mixologist and a DJ.
Autonomous will be played out in a carpark in Canberra’s CBD as part of the You Are Here Festival and will investigate ‘laziness, disposability and pollution of our cities’.
Mine! scheduled for August (depending on funding). A site-specific work set in a Canberra warehouse with a great line-up of dancers. Richard Cilli, Olivia Fyfe and Jack Riley will join Alison Plevey for this show.

Check out ADP’s promo with a message from Alison Plevey and brief scenes from Strings Attached at this vimeo link.

  • BOLD Festival

Plans for the BOLD Festival, which I mentioned in the January diary, are moving ahead speedily. I will be giving a talk on the Saturday (11 March) entitled ‘The Search for Identity. Australian Dance in the 1950s’. I have especially enjoyed where my research has taken me on this one.

I discovered a little more about the composer Camille Gheysens, who wrote music for several of Gertrud Bodenwieser’s works, including Central Australian Suite and Aboriginal Spear Dance, footage of which, danced by Keith Bain, will be shown during my talk. Investigating material relating to Gheysens led me to artist Byram Mansell who designed a record cover (amongst many other items) for some of Gheysens’ compositions. I am still trying to unravel various threads relating to Aboriginal Spear Dance, but in many respects my talk is a forerunner to another session on 11 March, which will feature a 1951 documentary about Rex Reid’s Corroboree and Ella, a film about Ella Havelka.

I will also be discussing briefly Wakooka, a ballet choreographed by Valrene Tweedie for the Elizabethan Opera Ballet Company in 1957. This section of the talk will include an audio extract from an oral history interview recorded with Tweedie in 2004. In the extract she explains how, with the help of John Antill who wrote the score, she came to call the ballet Wakooka. In looking for a portrait of Tweedie from around the time she made Wakooka to include in my presentation, I came across one I had not encountered before, which she has dated on the back of the print as ‘1952-ish’. She was 28 or 29.

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Here is a link to the Saturday BOLD events at the National Film and Sound Archive. And here is a link to a promo video showing some of the amazingly varied dance that can be seen during BOLD.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2017

Just announced: the 2017 Australian Dance Awards will be held on 24 September 2017 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Save the date.

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2017

Featured image: Scene from Strings Attached. Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. January 2014

  • Graduation Ball

In January I received a query via the contact box on this site about some YouTube footage of Graduation Ball. I had never come across this footage before and sadly the vision is of very poor quality. The material has obviously been transferred from format to format on more than one occasion. As for the query, it concerned the date of the footage and eventually I suggested the date of 1947–1949 from the late period of de Basil’s company in the United States. What made me initially feel that it was late 1940s was that I thought I saw, for a flash, Valrene Tweedie as one of the ‘fouetté girls’. In one of the interviews I did with Tweedie I asked her about the roles she had danced in Graduation Ball and she mentioned that she had been one of the ‘fouetté girls’ for de Basil towards the end of her career with him. Watching the footage, I thought I caught a glimpse of a familiar facial expression. Peering hard at the opening credits, I noticed the name Paul Grinwis, and further investigation confirmed that Grinwis had been with de Basil in the late 1940s, which confirmed my initial dating.

Below are links to the two segments of footage. Any further information would be most welcome

Part one Part two

  • Bodenwieser news

Further information about some of the images in the National Library’s Bodenwieser collection has recently come to light. Those close to Bodenwwieser recently identified the ‘unknown dancers’ in some of the Library’s digitised images. The most interesting comments concern a photograph of dancers on what has been regarded as a 1950s New Zealand tour. Well this is probably not the case.

Dancers of the Bodenwieser Ballet, ca. 1948

Bodenwieser dancers. Papers of Gertrud Bodenwieser, MS 9263. National Library of Australia

The dancers in the image above have been identified as L—R back row: Jean Raymond, Madame Bodenwieser, Pamela Mossman, Dory Stern; L—R front row: Elaine Vallance, Coralie Hinkley, Mardi Watchorn, Eileen Cramer, Denise Searlie. Those who appeared with Bodenwieser around this time say that neither Pamela Mossman nor Denise Searlie performed in New Zealand and that their time with the company was earlier than the date of 1950 given on the record. They believe that the photograph was taken around June 1948 (the weather is cool as suggested by their clothing) and at that time the Bodenwieser Ballet performed in Brisbane and on the north coast of NSW. They suspect the photograph was shot at Brisbane Railway Station. The National Library catalogue record should reflect this new information shortly.

  • Coming soon

My recent interview with Rafael Bonachela is due to be posted soon on the DanceTabs website. I spoke to Bonachela in mid-January and, as ever, was overwhelmed by the passion and generosity of Sydney Dance Company’s current artistic director. A link to the post is forthcoming.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2014

 

Athol Willoughby. An oral history

Earlier in February I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Athol Willoughby, former dancer with the National Theatre Ballet and other companies, and an esteemed Melbourne-based ballet teacher over several decades.

Tasmanian-born, Willoughby first took up ballet in Hobart with Beattie Jordan but soon moved to Melbourne to further his training at the National Theatre Ballet School under the direction of Lucie Saronova. Saronova played a particularly significant role in the early days of the Cecchetti Society in Australia and Willoughby recalls her fondly and discusses her teaching and her role in Australian dance history throughout the interview.
Saronova story webWilloughby joined the National Theatre Ballet in 1952 and worked with two directors of that company—Walter Gore and Valrene Tweedie. Following a stint in the United Kingdom, where he took classes from a range of well-known teachers including Anna Northcote and Stanislas Idzikowski and performed with Western Theatre Ballet, he came back to Melbourne and devoted himself to teaching. He returned to the professional stage twice with the Australian Ballet—in a revival of Anne Woolliams’ Swan Lake, and as one of Clara’s émigré friends in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker: the story of Clara.

'Swan Lake' Act 1, NTB 1955 or 1956Naeidra Torrens, Noelle Aitken and Athol Willoughby in Swan Lake Act I pas de trois,  final pose. National Theatre Ballet, 1955 or 1956. Photo: Walter Stringer

Willoughby has always maintained strong connections with the Cecchetti Society. He taught Cecchetti technique, is a holder of the Cecchetti Diploma and was one of the most senior examiners for the Cecchetti movement in Australia. He also prepared a number of now highly-respected Cecchetti examiners for their role as examiners, namely Sandra Allen, Lorraine Blackbourn, Anne Butler, Sandra Clack, Carole Oliver and Jennifer Stielow.

The interview is significant from so many points of view. In particular, it contains considerable background to and information about the National Theatre Ballet, a company that has been somewhat neglected, I think, in present day Australian dance scholarship. The interview is also full of delightful anecdotes about life as a dancer and about the personalities with whom Willoughby came into contact in Australia and elsewhere!

The catalogue entry for the interview on the National Library of Australia’s catalogue is at this link. I hope in due course it will be made available as an online resource. It is well worth listening to and highlights how important oral history is in the recording of Australia’s dance history. So much of what interviewees give us through the medium of the oral history interview will never be recorded in any other way.

All photos reproduced are from the personal collection of Athol Willoughby.

Michelle Potter, 25 February 2013

Featured image: Valrene Tweedie and Athol Willoughby in Le Coq d’or. National Theatre Ballet, 1955. Photo: Walter Stringer

Tankard bannerHOW TO ORDER

‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is also available through the National Library of Australia’s bookshop and to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

Ballets Russes. The National Library’s finding aid

I was interested, but also filled with despair, to see that the National Library has updated another of its important online dance resources—the finding aid to the Ballets Russes programs for the three Australian tours by Colonel de Basil’s companies. I was interested because the original finding aid needed an update. Since the text was prepared some 10 years or so ago by Australian Collections’ librarian Richard Stone, new information has been unearthed, especially in relation to the dancers who toured with the company. This new material clearly needed to be added. I was also filled with despair, however, because it seems that once again an update to an existing dance resource now offers less than what was offered in the original version.

The original finding aid contained Stone’s text and digitised images of the entire National Library collection of programs and cast sheets for all three tours, along with some interesting advertising flyers for the tours. This digitisation project was carried out in 2005 with funding from the Australian Research Council as part of the Ballets Russes project. Some gaps existed where the Library did not hold programs or cast sheets, but the gaps were small as the Library’s holdings of de Basil company programs are extensive. Now in this update just a tiny portion of that material is being made accessible to the public as an online resource. I am at a loss to know why and wonder whether the Library intends to go back and attach the rest of the digitised material to the new finding aid? The full digitised material was an amazing resource making it possible to discover with ease who danced what and when, anywhere and at any time.

The updated finding aid also includes additional material that may cause confusion. An attempt is made to document the performances after the Original Ballet Russe left Australia in 1940 using a small collection of material from the Papers of Valrene Tweedie, also part of the National Library’s dance resources. While it is only to be expected that this documentation is, at this stage, far from complete, the problem is that many of Tweedie’s programs are not for performances by the Original Ballet Russe. The later part of the tour listings in the finding aid are for the company led by Sergei Denham, usually known as the One and Only Ballet Russe, which Tweedie joined in 1946, and for Cuban companies with which Tweedie was involved. The listing from 1940 onwards is really a reflection of the career of Valrene Tweedie rather than of the history of the Original Ballet Russe. This is not made clear in the updated finding aid. And incidentally, Valrene Tweedie was not the only Australian-born dancer to appear with the Original Ballet Russe in the United States and Cuba, as the text states. Melbourne-born Lydia Kuprina (Couprina) (Phillida Cooper) danced with the Original Ballet Russe in Australia in 1940 and also in the United States and Cuba at least until 1942.

It is unfortunate that the National Library’s dance material continues to be updated in a way that compromises that material. Let’s hope that at least the entire collection of digitised programs will eventually find its way into the updated finding aid.

Michelle Potter, 21 January 2013

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‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is available to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

James Upshaw and Lydia Kuprina in South America

Recently I had the good fortune to be contacted about a photograph album believed to have belonged to James Upshaw, probably best known in Australia for his work as television producer for the ABC. The album was indeed assembled by Upshaw and the photographs largely cover a period from 1942 until 1946. During this period Upshaw and his then wife, Phillida Cooper, or Lydia Kuprina as she was known at the time, danced their way around Central and South America, first as members of Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe and then as an independent dance duo.

James Upshaw ca. 1943James Upshaw, ca. 1942

Cooper had been a pupil of Melbourne teachers Eunice Weston and Jennie Brenan and had left Australia in 1939 to study ballet in Paris with Lubov Egorova. She returned with the de Basil company for its third tour of Australia, 1939‒1940, and then left with them in 1940 for the United States. With de Basil she danced under the name of Lydia Couprina. Her birth name may have been Helen Phillida Cooper, although on some archival records she appears as Phillida Helen.

Upshaw was born in 1921 in Paris to an American father and a French mother and spent his childhood and youth in France and America. I have not yet been able to ascertain where he trained as a dancer but he appears to have joined de Basil in New York at the end of 1941 apparently, as did others, to escape military service. A letter dated May 1943 from Valrene Tweedie (whom Upshaw married at a later stage in Australia) to her friend Marnie Martin in Sydney explains:

 Phyllida married Jimmy Upshaw, one of the boys escaping the draft.

They married in Buenos Aires in 1942. It was probably in 1944 or 1945 that Upshaw and Cooper took on independent work dancing in nightclubs and casinos and later venturing into film. They later toured in Europe and danced on television in London before returning to Australia in the early 1950s.

Upshaw and Kuprina, Rio 1946Lydia Kuprina and James Upshaw performing in Rio de Janeiro, 1946

The album recalls other albums assembled by dancers while on tour and contains leisure shots as well as rehearsal and performance shots. It is especially interesting to see the repertoire that was being performed, and to see that it was sometimes being performed outdoors.

Faune outdoorsA performance of L’Après-midi d’un faune, Viña de Mar, Chile 1942

But what makes this album particularly significant is that it documents the activities of the Original Ballet Russe following the infamous strike of 1941, which resulted in a period of several months when the de Basil dancers were stranded and practically penniless. Looking at the album without the knowledge of the difficulties that the strike engendered, and which continued to plague the company for the rest of its existence, it would be easy to imagine that all was fun and games. The album nevertheless gives a wonderful insight into company life and will I’m sure yield more knowledge of this period of de Basil’s company.

at-the-beach-2On the beach in Rio, 1942

Michelle Potter, 5 December 2012

Tankard bannerHOW TO ORDER

‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is available to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

Dance diary. November 2011

  • SAR Fellowship: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)

In 2012 I will be taking up a SAR Fellowship, SAR being the acronym for Scholars and Artists in Residence, for two months at the National Film and Sound Archive. This Fellowship will enable me to investigate a lesser known aspect of the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson, namely his commissions for film and television. In addition to designing costumes for one or two televised ballets in the late 1960s, in the 1980s Fredrikson worked on at least three feature films, Undercover, Sky Pirates, and Short Changed, and three mini-series for television, The Shiralee, The Dirtwater Dynasty and Vietnam. I’m looking forward to delving into this aspect of Fredrikson’s multi-faceted career.

The SAR program aims to promote the NFSA as a centre for scholarly activity, to encourage and facilitate research relating to the NFSA collections and programs and to bring new ideas and expertise to the NFSA.

  • Houston Ballet

In addition to my meeting with Stanton Welch while in Houston recently, which was the subject of a recent post, I spent half a day with Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet’s wardrobe manager. Laura spoke to me at length about Kristian Fredrikson’s designs for ‘Pecos’, part of a Houston Ballet evening length program called Tales of Texas, and Fredrikson’s last work, a new version of Swan Lake. Both works had choreography by Stanton Welch and his Swan Lake, which premiered after Fredrikson’s death, was dedicated to Fredrikson. We also visited the HB warehouse, a little out of town, to have a look at the costumes themselves.

Rack of costumes for Houston Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

Rack of costumes for the Houston Ballet production of Swan Lake.

  • Miranda Coney Barker

Most readers of this site will remember Miranda Coney, a much-loved principal of the Australian Ballet during the 1990s. Miranda is now living in New York with her husband, conductor Charles Barker, and their two young sons. I caught up with her while in New York and was more than delighted to know that she has been giving class to young dancers in the current Broadway production of Billy Elliot—‘quite a challenge’ she says!

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2011

In November the Canberra Critics’ Circle met to discuss nominations for its annual awards, which were presented on 29 November. Two dance awards were made. Liz Lea received an award for her creative use of archival material from Canberra collecting institutions in her solo production of 120 Birds. Lea showed 120 Birds as a work for a small company at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 but reworked it as a solo show for presentation in February 2011 as an event associated with the National Gallery of Australia’s Ballets Russes exhibition. She drew on material from the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia bringing it all together to pay homage to those intrepid artists who toured to and from Australia when communications were not the instant experience we know today.

Photos from Lea’s Gallery performance are at this link.

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman received an award for her poignant and moving show Sapling to Silver, which was the story of a vibrant life—her own life in dance. I recall in particular from that show a duet between Dalman and Albert David in which two cultural heritages were juxtaposed, as were two lives lived in different generations. The citation for Dalman’s award also mentioned the seamless way in which the various sections of the work were put together to deliver a beautifully produced whole.

  • ‘The fire and the rose’

The link to my tribute to Valrene Tweedie, an article originally published in Brolga. An Australian journal about dance in December 2008 and posted on this site in July 2009, is not currently available as it was previously via the Ausdance website. The National Library of Australia’s web archiving service, Pandora, came to the rescue however and the tribute is now available at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2011

Nina Verchinina: a new article

Those who have been following posts on this site relating to Nina Verchinina may be interested in an article published in the most recent edition of Brolga: an Australia journal about dance (issue 34, June 2011). This elegantly written article, rather lengthily entitled ‘Designing for Nina Verchinina’s choreographic vivacity: a new light on Loudon Sainthill’s art’, is by Andrew Montana. It sheds important light on Verchinina’s choreographic exploits in Australia and suggests that gender may have played a role in the fact that, in Montana’s opinion, Verchinina’s ballets were never really given adequate showings in Australia.

The gender issue is an interesting speculation and perhaps will never ultimately be more than that. But the idea does have a certain plausibility and is echoed by the difficulties faced by Hélène Kirsova as she tried to develop her own company, the Kirsova Ballet, in the early 1940s in the face of competition from Edouard Borovansky. See for example my recent post on Kirsova, my article ‘A strong personality and a gift for leadership: Hélène Kirsova in Australia’ (Dance Research, 13:2, Winter 1995, pp. 62-76) and a shorter article in National Library of Australia News published in August 2000.

Montana is perhaps at his most eloquent when describing the drawings and paintings of Verchinina executed by Sainthill. But his article also develops further than has been done so far the story of de Basil’s design competition of 1940 won by Donald Friend, along with a number of other matters relating to the Original Ballet Russe in Australia.

As something of a side issue, Montana also mentions the Sidney Nolan designed Icare and notes that there is nothing to indicate that Sainthill was approached to design this work. This appears to contradict Brian Adams’ contention in his biography of Nolan, Such is life, that Sainthill had ‘already been commissioned by Colonel de Basil’ (p. 46) to design this work. Adams gives no source reference for his statement but I believe it does warrant more investigation. Adams goes on to say that Sainthill had been ‘edged out by [Serge] Lifar and [Peter] Bellew’ (p. 46) so there is potentially source material elsewhere other than in Sainthill’s archival collection, which Montana has investigated.

One error in the text needs correction. Montana notes that the cast of Verchinina’s Etude included ‘Lydia Couprina (Valrene Tweedie)’ (p. 22). In fact Lydia Couprina was the stage name of Phyllida Cooper, an Australian from Melbourne who had joined de Basil in Paris where she had been studying with Olga Preobrajenska. Tweedie danced under the name Irina Lavrova. As a side issue, however, there is a connection beyond nationality between Cooper and Tweedie. When Tweedie returned to Australia from the United States in 1950s she eventually bought the school in Sydney jointly run by Cooper and her then husband, James Upshaw. Upshaw later became Tweedie’s second husband.

Unfortunately this most welcome article from Montana is not available online, but it is worth following up in hard copy in libraries where Brolga is held.

Michelle Potter, 28 June 2011

Valentin Zeglovsky. Further Australian notes

During August I spent some time investigating the spelling of Valentin Zeglovsky’s name and posted some results under the title ‘Valentin Zeglovsky: some Australian notes’. It was a somewhat esoteric exercise but it did yield other information about Zeglovsky, of which I was not previously aware. So for me it was a worthwhile excursion, although it did envelop Zeglovsky in further mystery.

  • Place of birth

I mentioned in the previous post that Zeglovsky completed the various procedures to become a permanent resident in Australia and to acquire the status of a British subject. One document that was part of that process contains a short but closely packed, typewritten section entitled ‘General Remarks’. The document, dated 11 December 1945, was typed not by Zeglovsky but by a public servant from information provided by Zeglovsky. Under ‘General Remarks’ the document states, in part: ‘Applicant states that his birthplace is Riga Latvia not Kharkov as per Declaration. Passport verified this statement’. This is interesting because in his autobiography, Ballet Crusade, Zeglovsky records that he was born on 26 July 1908 in Kharkov.

  • Ballet Crusade

Zeglovsky’s account of his life from birth to the early 1940s was published by Reed & Harris as Valentin Zeglovsky’s Ballet Crusade in December 1943 with a reprint in 1944. Ballet Crusade‘s title page (at least for the 1944 reprint) says ‘translated from the Russian’, although no acknowledgement of the translator is given. However, letters from Valrene Tweedie written in the 1940s from Cuba to her friend in Sydney, Marnie Martin, indicate that Martin had been working with Zeglovsky on a book, which Tweedie confirmed before her death in 2008 was Ballet Crusade. Martin had been an extra during the Ballets Russes visits to Australia and remained a lifelong friend of Tweedie. From the letters it appears she was quite close to Zeglovsky — Tweedie frequently ends her letters to Martin with a greeting to ‘Valentin’ as well. It was also Martin’s GPO box address that Zeglovsky used on most of his applications to the patent’s office mentioned in my earlier post. I have no evidence that Martin was a Russian speaker but I suspect that ‘translated from the Russian’ may have been a euphemistic way of indicating that the book owed much to Martin. Tweedie maintained in fact that it was ghost written, at least in part, by Martin.

  • Work life in Australia

Tamara Finch in her autobiography, Dancing into the unknown, records the initial efforts by those Ballets Russes artists who remained in Australia in 1939 at the conclusion of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet tour to find work for themselves in Australia. Her account explains that a small company, which included Zeglovsky, formed to give recitals but disbanded in 1940 after the venture proved unsuccessful. It was probably around this time that Zeglovsky settled in Sydney and began teaching and dancing with various companies. The ‘General Remarks’ on his naturalisation application state:  ‘At the outbreak of war applicant under engagement to J. C. Williamson and travel led all over the Commonwealth’.

Briefly, Zeglovsky danced and travelled with the Kirsova Ballet and danced some seasons with the Borovansky Ballet. In 1942–1943 he also performed in the J. C. Williamson revival of the popular musical White Horse Inn, which opened in Sydney in December 1942. This aspect of Zeglovsky’s Australian career will be the subject of another post.

However his naturalisation papers reveal that he also worked in decidely non-dancing jobs. The same ‘General Remarks’ mentioned above record: ‘Late in 1943 commenced work as a cement worker at the Captain Cook Graving Dock, Sydney’. And a little further on: ‘Applicant states that he is a fully qualified diamond tool setter’.

  • Marriage

On immigration documents relating to Zeglovky’s arrival in Australia with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet in 1938, he lists his status as married and his wife’s name is given as Mia. Later documents completed by Zeglovsky and held in the National Archives of Australia indicate that Mia was born in 1910 in Riga and that she was living in Tel Aviv, Palestine, when Zeglovsky applied for naturalisation. Mia Arbatova is mentioned on several occasions in Ballet Crusade and, although in the 1940s Zeglovsky continues to state that he is married, sources such as the Jewish Women’s Archive indicate that Arbatova and Zeglovsky, who were dance partners and who are said to have married in 1933, divorced in 1937.

Zeglovsky married dancer Pamela Nell Bromley-Smith in Sydney in 1949 according to the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Bromley-Smith appeared as the Daughter in La Concurrence with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet in its Sydney season in December 1938. Her name appears on a program dated 17 December 1938 and a photograph (not in costume for La Concurrence but in an exotic two piece fringed and beaded costume) appeared in the Evening Post from Wellington, New Zealand, on 6 February 1939 with the caption ‘Pamela Bromley-Smith, aged 10 years, who was engaged in Sydney to dance the child role in “La Convenience” [sic], a performance by the Russian Ballet. Pamela is from the Dolee Brooks School of Dancing and holds her intermediate dancer’s diploma for operatic dancing in Australia …’. The performing arts gateway AusStage records that she appeared in a number of productions at the Minerva and Independent Theatres in Sydney in the 1940s.

Ziggy, as he was apparently known in the Ballets Russes, continues to fascinate!

© Michelle Potter, 4 September 2010

Featured image: Zeglovsky in Cimarosiana reproduced from the Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australia Ballet with permission of the National Library of Australia.

 

New York City Ballet’s Australian tour, 1958

A recent comment posted on this website spoke of the differences between the styles of three major ballet companies visiting Australia in the mid-decades of the twentieth century: de Basil’s Ballets Russes, Ballet Rambert and New York City Ballet. The comment went on to note that perhaps the most enthusiastic attendees at New York City Ballet performances when that company first visited Australia in 1958 were those interested in stage and film musicals. The full remark about the attendees can be read in the comments section at the end of the post at this link, and it prompted me to post the small picture gallery below.

 

Images top row: (left) Symphony in C, (right) Stars and Stripes
Bottom row: (left) Concerto Barocco, (right) Serenade

Most of the repertoire brought to Australia by New York City Ballet was by Balanchine although works by Jerome Robbins and Todd Bolender were also included. But even looking at the small number of  images in the gallery, it is clear that the range of works was diverse. The gallery includes images of some of Balanchine’s works that might be seen as redolent of musical theatre, along with others from some of his most glorious pared-back, abstract creations.

New York City Ballet did not receive the attention in Australia that it deserved and the company was disappointed with its reception, according to Valrene Tweedie. Tweedie was a close friend of several of the dancers as a result of her decade of dancing in the Americas. She believed that New York City Ballet’s repertoire and style of dancing were way ahead of Australian audiences’ expectations at the time. Tweedie also noted that there were financial issues that caused the dancers some unhappiness. She has remarked in an oral history interview that the dancers were not able to take their salary, paid to them in Australian dollars, out of the country but had to spend it in Australia. It was the reason, she maintains, that Andre Eglevsky came but stayed only a week or so. He had a family to support in America and could not afford to spend his money on frivolous items such as souvenirs.

All the images in the gallery were taken during performance by Walter Stringer, an enthusiastic amateur photographer based in Melbourne. His photographic record of almost every dance company that performed in Melbourne between about 1940 and 1980 is of inestimable documentary value, especially given that his archive is now in public hands and so available to all for research.

Further comments, including identification of dancers in the Stringer images, are welcome. All photos are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Australia.

Michelle Potter, 17 December 2009

Featured image:

New York City Ballet in Western Symphony. Melbourne, Australian tour, 1958

 

‘Graduation Ball’. Some Australian notes

David Lichine’s light-hearted Graduation Ball, an audience favourite over many years, had its world premiere in Sydney on 1 March 1940. Vicente García-Márquez, in his 1990 publication The Ballets Russes, gives some clues to the origins of the work, including notes on the rehearsal process, the development of the musical compilation and on the designs.

An interesting slant is cast, however, on the unfolding of the design process and on Lichine’s early ideas for the storyline from an examination of the catalogue to an exhibition, Art for Theatre and Ballet: Australia. The exhibition, under the auspices of the British Council and arranged by Harry Tatlock Miller, was on display in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in 1940.

Amongst the 500 or so designs in the show there were 20 by Alexandre Benois for ‘a new ballet to “Perpetuum Mobile” by Strauss’ with choreography by David Lichine. The catalogue notes that the Benois designs were ‘specially lent for the occasion by Colonel W. de Basil’. They were listed in the catalogue as:

  • 385 Le Directeur
  • 386 Convent Pupil
  • 387 Pupil
  • 388 Senior Pupil in Sunday Dress
  • 389 Senior Pupil in Sunday Dress
  • 390 Senior Pupil in Sunday Dress
  • 391 The General
  • 392 Cadet
  • 393 Cadet
  • 394 La Sylphide
  • 395 Scotchman
  • 396 The Bearded Drummer
  • 397 The Professor
  • 398 The Governess
  • 399 The Professor
  • 400 The Lover
  • 401 The Lover
  • 402 The Major Domo
  • 403 The Maid
  • 404 Marquette [sic] and Plans of Scene

Not all the characters for which Benois had made designs eventually appeared in Graduation Ball, which this ‘new ballet’ clearly became. For example, the only design that appears to have stayed in Australia — no. 398 The Governess (La Gouvernante) held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney — does not represent one of the final characters in the ballet. The Sydney design remains of particular interest, however. Its catalogue record notes that it was a gift of ‘Col. W. de Basil’ in 1940.

But what is especially interesting about the list is that it contains designs for one divertissement that was only ever seen in Australia. The divertissement ‘Mathematics and Natural History Lesson’ was cut from the ballet, for reasons that are not clear, once de Basil’s company reached the United States after leaving Australia in September 1940. This divertissement was performed by two ‘Professors’—Australian Alison Lee (performing under the name Helene Lineva) who danced the tall, thin professor who manipulated a large mathematical instrument, and Maria Azrova who danced the short, well-padded professor who carried a butterfly net. They instructed a single pupil, danced by Marina Svetlova. It is tempting to speculate that nos 397 and 399 in the catalogue for Art for Theatre and Ballet: Australia are those for costumes worn by Lineva and Azrova. When the original designs are more readily available (at present they appear not to have been digitised and made widely accessible) they can be compared with photographs taken during the 1940 Melbourne season of Graduation Ball by Hugh P. Hall.

grad-ball-31

Helene Lineva (Alison Lee) and Maria Azrova as the two professors with Marina Svetlova as their pupil. ‘Mathematics and Natural History Lesson’, Graduation Ball, Melbourne 1940 (detail). Photo: Hugh P. Hall. Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Australia.

The Hugh P Hall material is of significant documentary value. But in addition to his archive, some of the most charming photographs of the world premiere of Graduation Ball were taken by Sydney photographer Nanette Kuehn. Kuehn herself was obviously happy with one particular photograph of Tatiana Riabouchinska, which she autographed to Riabouchinska and which Riabouchinska kept for the rest of her life. When in 2008 the Riabouchinska/Lichine Archive was acquired by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Pubic Library for the Performing Arts, a beautiful print of the photograph below was part of the collection. It was inscribed ‘Many thanks for all the beautiful dancing. Nanette Kuehn 7-2-40’.

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Tatiana Riabouchinska as the leading Junior Girl in Graduation Ball, Sydney, 1940 (detail). Photograph: Nanette Kuehn. Papers of Margaret Walker, National Library of Australia, MS 8495, folio box 3, album 3.

Postscript: On perhaps a less significant matter, but also relating to the ‘Mathematics and Natural History Lesson’ divertissement, it has always seemed something of an anomaly that in the well known photograph taken of Valrene Tweedie shortly after she had been accepted by de Basil into his company she has her foot resting on an old fashioned school desk. The school desk is in fact the prop used in ‘Mathematics and Natural History Lesson’, a fact confirmed by Tweedie in an oral history interview in 2004.

valrene-and-de-basilValrene Tweedie with Colonel de Basil, Sydney 1940. Photo The Sun. Collection of the author.

© Michelle Potter, 19 August 2009

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales. Alexandre-Nikolayevich Benois (Russia; France, b.1870, d.1960, Costume study for Graduation Ball, 1939. Accession no: 6935.
  • García-Márquez, Vicente. The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932-1952 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).
  • Miller, H. Tatlock. An exhibition of art for theatre and ballet: Australia (London: British Council, [1939?]).
  • Tweedie, Valrene. Oral history interview recorded by Michelle Potter, 4 December 2004. Oral History Collection, National Library of Australia, TRC 5350.