I have been curious for some time about an alleged visit to Bali by the dancers of the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet following their departure from Surabaya on 28 September 1934 bound for Brisbane. Anton Dolin in The Sleeping Ballerina records that in Bali ‘there was time for Olga [Spessivtseva] to visit the many temples and see the dances of Bali, which interested her profoundly’. But hard evidence of this visit has seemed non-existent, until now.
English dancer Anna Northcote had been part of this touring company from its beginnings early in 1934 when the dancers assembled in Paris to rehearse parts of their repertoire with Alexandra Fedorova and Mikhail Fokine. She records her experiences in Paris in an article written in the magazine MOVE in 1970. But it is her photograph album that is of particular interest in the Balinese context. It shows quite clearly that the dancers did indeed visit Bali—Northcote gives the date as 29 September 1934—and were present at one or more performances of Balinese dance. Her album contains several pages of photographs from Bali, most of which record an outdoor performance under the shade of a large banyan tree. In some Spessivtseva can be seen in the background, dressed in white with her dark hair parted in the middle and pulled back in its signature style, absorbed in taking photographs herself.
The exact location of these photographs is hard to pinpoint. The London Illustrated News for 21 March 1931 contains images taken in what appears to be the same location and notes that the performance recorded in the magazine’s photographs took place ‘in the village of Kedaton’. This is more than likely an error as kedaton is a variant spelling of kraton meaning ‘palace’ and both the performance in The London Illustrated News and that photographed by Northcote probably took place in the temple courtyard of a royal palace somewhere on the northern coastline of Bali, probably Singaraja.
At the time the dancers visited Bali, the town of Singaraja was the Dutch colonial administrative centre for Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands. It was the port of arrival for most visitors who, if they visited the southern region, usually did so by road. Moreover, the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet travelled to Brisbane on the Nieuw Holland a ship of the Dutch KPM line. It was the KPM line that initiated the first tourist passages to Bali initially on its cargo ships, which regularly visited Singaraja anchoring at its port of Buleleng.*
Northcote’s album also contains an image of three Legong dancers taken in what seems to be a different location suggesting that the dancers may well have seen more than one performance.
The Balinese interlude continues to invite questions and needs further research. But now it is certain that the dancers called at Bali after boarding the Nieuw Holland in Surabaya.
© Michelle Potter, 9–10 December 2010
Featured image: Balinese dance performance. Personal Archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya), Private Collection
*Colin McPhee in his book A House in Bali (1947) mentions a village called Kedaton in the Den Pasar region. But it does not seem likely that the dancers would have had time to take the then arduous road trip from Singaraja to Den Pasar and back, given Bali was a stopover rather than a final destination for the ship (and assuming that the Nieuw Holland was following its usual route and anchored in Buleleng harbour).
The dancers did, however, visit part of Bali beyond the coastline as Northcote’s album again indicates. Her photograph entitled ‘Valleys and volcanoes’, with its steeply terraced rice fields, is typical of the countryside immediately to the south of the northern Balinese coastline.
Information on the company’s touring activities in Java immediately prior to their Balinese visit is in a previous post: Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet: Indonesia, September 1934