Valentin Zeglovsky. Some Australian notes

Some recent correspondence with a friend of the family of the Ballets Russes dancer Valentin Zeglovsky sent me in search of further information. I was curious in the first instance about Zeglovsky’s name as it seems to have had a number of variant spellings. While this is not surprising in the context of the Ballets Russes, where names were changed for stage purposes and often Russianised for maximum theatrical effect, the Zeglovsky situation was a little different.  There is no doubt that his stage name was Valentin Zeglovsky as this name appears on programs for the Covent Garden Russian Ballet season in Australia as well as in programs for seasons by the Borovansky Ballet and the Kirsova Ballet, in which Zeglovsky danced after he elected to remain in Australian at the end of the season by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet in 1939. But online references to documents held in the National Archives of Australia consistently indicated that his name was Valentins Zeglovskis. The family, however, while acknowledging his stage name regarded Valentin Zeglovskis as his ‘real’ name and believed that Valentins was a misnomer.

Portrait of Valentin Zeglovsky, 1940s. Photographer unknown. Courtesy National Library of Australia, Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australian Ballet. Reproduced with permission.

Examination of the hard copy records in the Archives revealed an interesting situation. During his time in Australia, Zeglovsky spent some of his time teaching in Sydney. He set up a school in a studio in the house in which he lived in Macdonald Street, Potts Point, in the early 1940s. From there he submitted four patent applications to the Sydney office of the Commonwealth of Australia’s Registrar of Copyrights. The applications were for four ballets, The Red Poppy, Les Amoreux, Miralda and  Morning Noon and Night. They were probably never realised but the libretti were submitted and approved between late 1942 and mid 1943. On these applications the name Valentins Zeglovskis appears quite clearly both in typewritten and handwritten form, including as an official signature. Not only that, Zeglovsky applied to be naturalised in 1945 and this was achieved in 1946. On naturalisation documents held by the Archives, including copies of newspaper declarations of his intent to seek naturalisation, his name appears as Valentins Zeglovskis. It seems that this situation remained until his Australian passport, issued in 1949, was cancelled and his naturalisation certificate returned to the Department of Immigration in Canberra in 1954 from the London office of the High Commissioner for Australia. In 1954 he registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. So for some reason he clearly wanted to be known officially, at least in Australia, as Valentins Zeglovskis.

While names will always be somewhat capricious, especially in the situation in which Zeglovsky found himself during his years in Australia, research into those archival documents revealed other fascinations about the life of a dancer in Australia in the 1940s. They will be the subject of a future post.

© Michelle Potter, 19 August 2010

8 thoughts on “Valentin Zeglovsky. Some Australian notes

  1. The mention of The Red Poppy is very interesting. I have in my collection a gouache drawing inscribed as follows : Chinese Dancer – The Red Poppy – Constable – 1942. It is a very elaborate work and was once owned by Irene Mitchell of St. Martins’s Theatre. I have always supposed that it is a drawing done on spec and not for a specific commission as I had never come across any references to The Red Poppy having been performed here during the 40’s. It was certainly a work that was known through the orchestral suites and fed into the period’s fascination with Soviet Russia. I think it was choreographed by another Ballets Russes alumnus, Igor Schwezoff, in America sometime in the 40’s. I am now wondering whether it has anything to do with a proposed Zeglovsky production.

  2. You are right that Schwezoff created a ballet called ‘The Red Poppy’. It was for the Denham Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and had its premiere in 1943. Jack Anderson refers to it briefly in ‘The One and Only’. It seems unlikely that your drawing would be for that production, don’t you think? The patent application by Zeglovsky for his ‘Red Poppy’ is dated 28 November 1942 and during 1942 he could well have discussed his intentions with Constable, who of course was very close to Borovansky. Zeglovsky danced in the April 1943 season by the Borovansky Ballet but I imagine he was in contact with Borovansky relatively frequently as they were both part of that little group who stayed on after the Covent Garden Russian Ballet tour and I think Zeglovsky was on the lookout for work. There was nothing else about the ballet in the NAA material I looked at but something may turn up! I have been wondering for which company Zeglovsky intended the work of course as he also danced with Kirsova during the 1940s.

  3. I phrased my post unclearly. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that there was a connection between the design and the Denham/ Schwezoff production. The designer there was Boris Aronson. Just a connection between the design and a proposed Australian production, for which I have never seen any other designs surface.

  4. My memory has now been jogged about an elegantly produced volume entitled “Ballet Crusade” by Zeglovsky that appeared sometime in the 40’s and was published, I believe, in Adelaide. It was probably one of the earliest “art” publications in Australia devoted to the ballet. No doubt Michelle knows the book. It used to be a mainstay in the ballet section of secondhand book dealers in the 70’s when I was trawling by foot [and tram] looking to build a ballet library.

  5. Yes, ‘Ballet Crusade’ was published by Reed & Harris, who also published the magazine ‘Angry Penguins’ and various ‘alternative’ titles, which in itself is interesting as far as Zeglovsky is concerned. As part of looking into the Zeglovsky story I came across an article in ‘The La Trobe Journal’ (No. 64, Spring 1999) on Reed & Harris as publishers in which the author, Brian Lloyd, said: ‘Zeglovsky’s presence [as an author for Reed & Harris] signalled the new wave of emigrant influence that was to become so important in the post-war cultural liberalisation of Australia’. Sadly for us though the last chapter of ‘Ballet Crusade’, ‘Four years in Australia’, is quite slight when it comes to details about what he was doing at the time.

  6. While looking further into the Zeglovsky story I noticed his very brief biog in one of the Kirsova Ballet programs of the 1940s, which included a snippet about The Red Poppy. It seems that at some stage before joining the Ballets Russes Zeglovsky danced in a Soviet version of the ballet at the National Opera in Riga. He also danced in several Melbourne seasons of the Kirsova Ballet in the early 1940s so it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that while there he talked to Constable about designs for his own projected version .

  7. Valentin Zeglovsky. His name in Latvian (and as it would have appeared in his Latvian passport and as it appeared in Latvian newspapers at the time) was Valentīns Žeglovskis. Note the diacritics. Approximate English phonetic equivalents: ī=ee and Ž=zh (similar to “z” in seizure). His first wife, Minna Žeglovskis, nee Hiršvalds, applied for divorce in Latvia in 1940. It was noted that he was born in Jēkabpils (a town Latvia) and that his whereabouts was unknown.

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