Ludmilla Schollar in Australia

In his memoir Ballet mystique, George Zoritch remarks that Ludmilla Schollar accompanied her husband, Anatole Vilzak, to Australia on the 1934–1935 tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet. Vilzak was the leading male dancer for a major part of that tour performing main roles in Java, Australia, Ceylon, India and Egypt. In Australia he partnered Olga Spessivtseva in Brisbane and Sydney, and then, following Spessivtseva’s departure, Natasha Bojkovich in Melbourne and Perth. But Schollar?

Schollar was a dancer of renown in her own right having graduated from the Imperial Theatre School in St Petersburg in 1906. She had danced at the Maryinsky Theatre and with Diaghilev and later with Ida Rubinstein’s company and with Bronislava Nijinska.

Ludmilla Schollar and Anatole Vilzak in ‘Carnaval’, postcard ca. 1920 National Library of Australia. Published with permission

There is no record, however, of her having performed in Australia or elsewhere on the Dandré-Levitoff tour. Other than Zoritch’s comments, the only mention of Schollar in relation to the tour that I had been able to find was on a passenger list in the issue of 27 September 1934 of the Dutch newspaper De Locomotief (published in Semarang, Java). A ‘Mrs Anatole Vilzak’  is listed as being on board the ship that was taking the Dandré-Levitoff company from Surabaya to Brisbane.

However, two photographs in the personal archive of Anna Northcote were recently brought to my attention. Neither photograph has any form of identification associated with it but they appear to show Schollar with others from the Dandré-Levitoff company. The photographs may have been taken in Australia in Melbourne or Perth. The dancers in Swan Lake costume in the line-up on stage are, I think, Vilzak and Bojkovich, which suggests that the photographs probably post-date Sydney where it was usually Spessivtseva who danced Odette. My identification of those in the photos is tentative at this stage and I would welcome any further information or comments.

l-r: Vladimir Launitz (conductor and musical director), Anatole Vilzak, Ludmilla Schollar, Natasha Bojkovich, unidentified gentleman. Personal archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya). Private collection
Ludmilla Schollar with Vladimir Launitz standing behind her. Personal archive, Anna Northcote (Severskaya). Private collection

My extended article on the full 1934–1935 tour by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet will be published shortly in Dance Research, Vol. 29 (No. 1, Summer 2011) pp. 61–96.

Michelle Potter, 14 April 2011

12 thoughts on “Ludmilla Schollar in Australia

  1. I have often wondered about Schollar’s presence on this tour. In a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings about this company I have, there is an extended piece about the company wherein the writer appears to have had free run backstage. The following paragraph notes :

    “Vilzak’s good-looking wife, herself a noted stage dancer, gazes on his performance from the stalls with a critical eye. In a crackle of Russian consonants she praises or criticizes his art in the dressing room between ballets.”

    The clipping is not identified but would be a Melbourne one from either The Age or Argus. There is no byline.

    I am eagerly looking forward to your forthcoming article on the Dandre-Levitoff tour.

  2. Thank you for passing on this quote. It seems clear that Schollar didn’t dance. I will have to try to find the source of your quote, perhaps on Trove? I noticed too that now there are some articles relating to the tour from The Australian Women’s Weekly online via Trove.

    I have been curious too about the postcard I reproduced of Schollar and Vilzak in Carnaval as it comes from the papers of Moya Beaver. I have been wondering whether postcards like this were on sale in Australia during the 1934-1935 tour. Beaver most likely went to see the company so some ferreting in her collection is probably warranted.

  3. Yes, the appearance of the postcard among Moya Beaver’s papers is interesting. I must say that during many years of collecting ballet material here in Australia I never came across foreign produced postcards such as these. It was only via overseas catalogues and local dealers, who acquired them from abroad, that I got some. Perhaps Moya got an introduction to the Vilzaks and the card was given to her personally by one of them as a remembrance of the meeting. And isn’t his costume interesting !

    In the article I quoted from in the above comment, there is another item that I am intrigued by :

    “With the help of Spirka, a genial Russian who came here with Pavlova and who now teaches in Sydney, Juliana’s mother will tell you that her daughter began at the age of 5 years.”

    Is this the same Spirka who features in cast lists of male dancers during the first deBasil tour in 1936/1937 ?

  4. Re Arnold Spirka, I assume it is the same person. In The Sydney Morning Herald on 26 September 1936 the following announcement appeared:

    ‘RUSSIAN BALLET A recital of Russian ballet and character dances will be given by the pupils of Arnold Spirka late Anna Pavlova company at the YMCA Hall 198 Liverpool street on Tuesday next at 8 pm. Pupils from the Lillian Skinner school of dancing will assist’.

    This announcement is just one of many similar ones. The earliest I came across dates to April 1933. So no doubt he was on hand when the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet arrived in 1936, although what he did with his school while performing is anyone’s guess at the moment. He also danced with the Kirsova Ballet, although without looking at the programs I don’t know in what capacity. And given that he was with Pavlova and therefore no doubt knew Dandré, it is likely that he was on hand when then Dandré-Levitoff company arrived in Sydney in November 1934 to act as an interpreter, friend, colleague.

    The costume Vilzak is wearing is certainly interesting. I have never seen one like it to tell the truth. Schollar’s costume is also interesting – more decorative than others with which I am familiar. And of course Moya could easily have bought the postcard while dancing in Europe.

    Re the ‘stage line-up’ photo I posted in this piece of writing, I am starting to think that the unidentified gentleman on the far right could be Levitoff. The only other photo I have of him is taken in Durban and he’s in a rickshaw and he doesn’t look quite so portly. Photos can be deceptive though!

  5. There is a photo of Alexander Levitoff reproduced in the Saturday January 5 1935 edition of The West Australian newspaper. As you say regarding your rickshaw photo, the stage line-up gentleman seems more fuller than the person in the West Australian photo. I found this photo on the Trove website. Levitoff seems to have been very active in both proposed and actual events throughout the 30’sand 40’s.

  6. Michelle, you may be interested in article “Teachers in the Russian Tradition” by Marian Horosko in Dance Magazine, April 1979 – the same photo of Ludimilla Schollar as Estrella, and Anatole Vilzak as Harlequin appears.

  7. The article in Dance Magazine is indeed an interesting one. It presents a very human side of both Schollar and Vilzak and their teaching methods. I was also interested to read of Vilzak’s experiences partnering Spessivtseva.

    I have a feeling though that the photo in Dance Magazine, which Anne mentioned and which is the same postcard I published at the beginning of this post, is mis-captioned. I don’t believe it is Estrella but Columbine. The costume for Estrella is quite different and illustrations of it are easy to find via any search engine. There is a lovely illustration of it by the Australian artist Adrian Feint, which was on display in the NGA’s recent exhibition.


  9. Mme. Schollar was my first teacher. As a little girl it was my dream to take class from Mr. Vilzak. As a teenager I was his frequent partner in pas de deux class, in part because I was the right size! I only knew a little of their careers and now, as I have learned more, I cherish those experiences.

  10. Thank you Linda. I know how you feel about cherished experiences. I feel the same that I was taught by Valrene Tweedie whose experiences with de Basil have fuelled a lot of my research.

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