During my research into the year-long tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet between 1934 and 1935, the name Alexander Levitoff loomed large. Unlike Victor Dandré, who did not join the tour until the company had reached Java in mid September 1934, Levitoff sailed from Southampton with the Russian Ballet dancers on the R. M. S. Kenilworth Castle on 27 April 1934. His name appears on the passenger list when the Kenilworth Castle arrived in Cape Town on 14 May 1934 for the beginning of the South African leg of the tour. Throughout South Africa the Russian Ballet was promoted as being presented by Levitoff, as the poster in the photograph below, taken in Durban in June 1934, indicates. Yet information about Levitoff and his activities, both during the tour and beyond it, has proved elusive, as has the exact professional relationship between him and Dandré.
Recently, however, information about Levitoff has come to light in files held by the National Archives of Australia, some of which were made accessible only in January 2011. Combined with some correspondence between Levitoff and the English dancer Algeranoff, and the personal archive of Anna Northcote (Severskaya), another English dancer who performed with the Dandré-Levitoff company, it is possible to begin to piece together some biographical information about Levitoff. Although some reports refer to him as ‘a native of Moscow’, documents completed by Levitoff when he arrived in Australia on a number of occasions from 1934 onwards as an ‘alien passenger’ indicate that he was born in 1891 in Tiflis (present day Tbilisi, Georgia). On these documents he gives his profession as ‘impresario’ and this description also appears on his personal stationery immediately underneath his name. The immigration documents also record, where ‘nationality’ is requested, that he was ‘stateless’ and that both his parents were born in Russia.
Levitoff lived in Paris from at least the early 1930s at 5 rue de Boudreau. It was from Paris that he issued Northcote (and presumably other dancers) with a contract for the Dandré-Levitoff tour. But he appears to have led a peripatetic life as an impresario following the Dandré-Levitoff tour, working between the northern and southern hemispheres. His personal stationery during the 1940s and early 1950s gives his address as ‘formerly 5 rue de Boudreau’ and lists his places of business as ‘Sydney, Auckland, Paris’. He brought a number of artists and companies to Australia and New Zealand during the late 1930s and into the 1940s including the Don Cossack Choir, pianist Isador Goodman, and soprano Ninon Vallin. He announced many other theatrical plans although a significant proportion of those plans appear not to have been realised. In the mid 1940s he was involved in a legal dispute with a Sydney sponsor and was eventually ordered to repay monies advanced to him.
In Sydney, at least for part of 1939, he lived in what Tamara Tchinarova Finch describes in her memoirs as ‘chic poverty in a small back room of the Hotel Australia’. Finch also records that Levitoff persuaded her and some of her colleagues who had remained in Australia in 1939 at the end of the tour by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet to give some matinee performances in the city of Newcastle, north of Sydney. She writes:
‘He made an agreement with us that he would pay us each ten pounds a performance and keep the rest of the box-office himself. It was a roaring success; the theatre was chock-a-block with wide-eyed youngsters. At the end of the three days, Levitoff, now a few hundred pounds richer, was easily able to pay off his pressing bills.’
He may also have had connections with Ballet nationale, a company founded in Sydney in the late 1930s by Leon Kellaway, another dancer with the Dandré-Levitoff company. Kellaway joined the Dandré-Levitoff company when they arrived in Brisbane in October 1934 and danced under the name Jan Kowsky (Kowskiy). He remained in Australia when the company left for Ceylon in January 1935.
By 1942, however, Levitoff had moved to Melbourne where he lived in the salubrious suburb of Toorak. Between 1942 and 1945 he worked as Canteen Manager with the Department of Munitions at the High Explosives and Ordnance Factory, Marybrynong, and in 1945 he applied for, and was granted, Australian (Commonwealth) citizenship. In one document he intimated that, as a stateless person, travelling overseas was not easy and that having citizenship would allow him to travel more easily in the ‘Dominions’. In support of his citizenship application he noted his good character while working at Marybrynong and noted that as an impresario it was his practice to require the artists whom he engaged to give two charity concerts for some worthy cause. A clipping from an unidentified New Zealand newspaper notes that a concert by Isador Goodman in Wellington raised £1020 for the Metropolitan Patriotic Fund.
Levitoff was still at his Toorak address in May 1950 but by the mid 1950s he was back in Paris where he died in 1957. His obituary in Dance News notes that he was survived by his wife about whom I have as yet been unable to find information.
© Michelle Potter, 21 January 2011
- Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Personal Archive. Private Collection
- Papers of Harcourt Algeranoff, MS 2376, National Library of Australia
- Various documents relating to Alexander Levitoff, National Archives of Australia
- Tamara Finch, Dancing into the unknown (Alton: Dance Books, 2007)
- ‘Obituary: Alexander Levitoff’, Dance News, February 1958, p. 7