Chitrasena Dance Company

When the Chitrasena Dance Company first came to Australia it was 1963. I was still a student dancer and living in Sydney. The company performed at the Elizabethan Theatre, Newtown. It hadn’t yet burnt down (that happened in 1980), and in fact I remember the startling rake on that theatre’s stage. I had never performed on a raked stage when I danced there in some Ballet Australia performances. It was somewhat confronting stepping onto that stage for the first time, especially as no one had thought to tell me in advance.

The 1960s and 1970s were heady times in Sydney and elsewhere for visits from so-called ‘ethnic’ dance companies. Along with the Sri Lankans, the Georgians came, the Mexicans (I remember in particular the Yaqui Indian Deer Dance), the Spaniards (I saw a jota for the first time) and the Mekeo dancers from Papua New Guinea. Then some time later, when I started working in various capacities at the National Library in Canberra, I discovered the photographic collection of Walter Stringer. In fact I had the pleasure of helping the Library acquire that material. He, being a Melbourne resident, had photographed most of the folkloric companies I had seen in Sydney during their visits to his home city.

It has always been a pleasure to see those companies again when, or if, they have returned to Australia. So it was with the Chitrasena company when they made their 2015 visit. Below are two of Walter Stringer’s images from the 1963 visit.

Here is the link to my review of the company’s performance in Canberra in January, written for The Canberra Times.

Michelle Potter, 17 January 2015

The Eternal Lovers. A ballet by Paul Grinwis

In its Treasures Gallery, the National Library of Australia currently has one display case devoted to a production by the Borovanksy Ballet, Les Amants eternels (The Eternal Lovers). When I looked a few days ago the display contained the notated score (Laban) for the ballet, the work of Meg Abbie Denton; a Borovansky Ballet program giving details of performers and creative personnel; a double page spread from The Australian Women’s Weekly published in the issue of 12 March 1952; and on the wall above the display case a costume design by William Constable for the character of Romeo in the ballet, and a drawing in pastel and charcoal on velvet paper by Enid Dickson of Paul Grinwis as Romeo. The Constable design is to be removed shortly (for preservation reasons) and will be replaced by photographs. The rest of the material will remain for a few more months.

'Eternal Lovers' display case, National Library of Australia, 2015
Eternal Lovers display case. National Library of Australia, 2015

The Eternal Lovers was created by Grinwis, a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet in the 1950s. It received its world premiere in Melbourne in December 1951 and remained in the Borovansky Ballet repertoire until 1960. As Alan Brissenden has recorded in his and Keith Glennon’s Australia Dances:

Paul Grinwis conceived this ballet as a continuation of the story of two lovers, called for the sake of convenience Romeo and Juliet, when they awake in after-life. Its focal point is a struggle between the spirits of Love and Death, Love being finally victorious.*

At the premiere, Grinwis danced the role of Romeo, Kathleen Gorham that of Juliet, with Bruce Morrow taking the part of the Spirit of Death and Helene Ffrance the Spirit of Love. The ballet was danced to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Sadly, the National Library no longer has a dance curator. It has an extensive and wide-ranging dance collection, built up as a result, firstly, of the Esso Performing Arts and Oral History Archive Project (1988–1991); then Keep Dancing! a collaborative venture with the Australia Council, Ausdance and the National Film and Sound Archive (1997–2001); and between 2002 and early 2013 as a result of having an in-house dance curator. So it is good to see that at least a small gesture is being made to give a very tiny part of the material some visibility. The current display reveals, again in a very small way, the kinds of areas in which the dance material is held—art works, ephemera, notated scores, popular magazines are present, and photographic material is coming. The captions refer to interviews, although there is no sound capture from the interviews.

The dance collection at the National Library is incredibly rich, crosses eras and dance styles, and is supported by extensive material from other art forms and by organisational records, all held by the Library across its many formats. I can but hope that more material will be displayed, and even that eventually someone will take the trouble to add to out-dated records—at the very least a few dates of death need to be added to Trove records.

As an aside, in 2005 I had the pleasure of visiting Grinwis and his beauitful, ever-vibrant wife, Christiane Hubert, also a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet for a few years from 1954. I had hoped to record an oral history interview with Grinwis, but at the time he was not amenable to the idea. Another occasion never arose and Grinwis died about a year later in 2006. Hubert, I believe, moved back to Paris but I am not sure if she is still alive.

With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert, Gent, January 2005
With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert, Gent, January 2005

 Michelle Potter, 10 January 2015

* Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon, Australia Dances. Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2010), p. 20

Colonel de Basil: further news

At various times over the past year or two I have had some correspondence with Valery Voskresensky in Minsk and have posted a few items relating to Mr Voskresensky’s activities in his search for information about his grandfather, known to most as Colonel Wassily de Basil (various spellings are current). Just recently Mr Voskresensky contacted me again to pass on an article he had written. It contains, in particular, some interesting material relating to de Basil’s military background before his arrival in Paris in 1919, which seems to clarify the question of whether or not de Basil did have the military background claimed for him.

Here is a link to the article. It is entitled The Return of the Legend: The Ballet Russe of Colonel de Basil. I am told it has been published in Russia and Mexico and is being translated for publication in Japan.

See the tag Colonel de Basil for other posts.

Michelle Potter, 23 December 2014

Dimity Azoury receives 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. Photo: Jess Bialek

Dimity Azoury. 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award

Dimity Azoury, currently a coryphée with the Australian Ballet, remembers her grandmother with great fondness. She was a ballet student in Wellington, New Zealand, and even went on as an extra when the Ballets Russes companies visited New Zealand in the late 1930s. But, Azoury tells me, her grandmother’s parents thought that ballet was not an appropriate career for a young lady, which was not an uncommon attitude at the time. So her grandmother gave up her ambitions, married and moved to Australia.

‘I often used to look at a photo of her wearing a long, Romantic tutu,’ Azoury recalls, ‘and I think it was from her that my love of ballet came.’

Azoury’s career as a ballet dancer, a career now (happily) considered a worthy course to take in life, moved another step forward just recently when he received the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, worth the substantial amount of $20,000. Her win was announced on stage at the Sydney Opera House at the final rehearsal for Sir Peter Wright’s Nutcracker.

‘I was in a state of shock when my name was called,’ Azoury says. ‘I was shaking and found it really hard to hold on to the flowers I was given. Then, when the curtain came down, all the dancers hugged me and were so supportive. This is one of the lovely things about working in the Australian Ballet. Everyone is so generous.’

Azoury was trained first in Queanbeyan and then in Canberra at the Kim Harvey School of Dance. She was twice rejected for the Australian Ballet School but, encouraged by her parents and by Harvey, she auditioned again and was accepted in the 2005 intake. She spent three years at the school and was taken into the Australian Ballet in 2008.

‘My aspirations are all with the Australian Ballet. I love the company and feel totally involved. And now I feel I am getting opportunities.’

She is looking forward to the company’s production of Maina Gielgud’s Giselle, a highlight of the 2015 season, and has enjoyed rehearsing under Gielgud’s direction. Gielgud, Azoury says, knows exactly what she wants and so it is easy to find a clear focus in rehearsals. It has also been especially exciting for her to have the opportunity to try the role of Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis. There are also rumours that her much-loved deerhound, Gunther, may have a walk-on part in Act I. ‘I guess he’ll have to audition,’ she muses.

In addition to regular company repertoire, since joining the company Azoury has also performed in every one of the annual Bodytorque programs, in which her fellow dancers try their hand at choreography.

‘Bodytorque feels like a collaboration. There is no pressure on the dancers and I love being able to help my friends bring their vision to the stage.’

Dimity Azoury in Vivienne Wong's 'Touch Transfer', Bodytorque Muses, 2011. Photo: Jess Bialek
Dimity Azoury in Vivienne Wong’s Touch Transfer, Bodytorque Muses, 2011. Photo: © Jess Bialek

The year long journey as a Telstra nominee has proven to be an exciting one for Azoury. She looks back with particular pleasure on making the video each of the six nominees created as part of the year’s work.

‘We were given a lot of freedom. We were each given a colour and an element to work with —my colour was blue and my element paint. While the camera angles were set, at one stage I was given the opportunity to show how many ways I could make the paint move. It was a wonderful experience for me and a way of celebrating the Telstra sponsorship of the Australian Ballet.’

Azoury recently married Australian Ballet senior artist Rudy Hawkes. Her no-strings-attached Telstra award will most likely be spent on renovations to their house in North Melbourne.

Michelle Potter, 6 December 2014

Featured image: Dimity Azoury (centre) receives the 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. Photo: © Jess Bialek

Dimity Azoury receives 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. Photo: Jess Bialek
Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'

Harry Haythorne. A tribute from Jennifer Shennan

From Jennifer Shennan

In September 2013 Anne Rowse and I flew to Melbourne for the Arts Festival…mainly in pursuit of Fabulous Beast, with Keegan-Dolan’s astonishing double-bill of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. We relished equally the chance to catch up with dear Harry, knowing he would say yes to the suggestion of a performance, an exhibition, a forum, with coffee dates, dinners and suppers tucked in everywhere. We knew he would have seen half the Festival already, and would offer us incisive and helpful opinions on what was what. Good times coming.

Tor and Jan Gnatt, bless them, met us at the airport. We were all so excited to connect so soon after the launch of Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty that the Gnatt boys forgot where in the airport they had parked their car. We had lots of conversation catch-up while they hunted every floor of the car park for the elusive vehicle. (Their father, Poul, would have remembered the rego plates of the vehicles he had parked next to, and been mortified by this scenario.)

We found an el cheapo hotel, and fell into welcoming Melbourne as though we had always lived there.

Harry had already seen Fabulous Beast, and had a number of reservations about it. He nonetheless joined us for the forum, and had the grace to acknowledge afterwards that the incisively brilliant mind and wit of Keegan-Dolan helped him to retrospectively re-evaluate the choreography.

Harry instructed us which exhibitions to visit, and suggested a local dance group’s performance, preceded by a meal with his friend Robin Haig (they had worked together in 1940s in London…a typical Harry trait…ever loyal to his many friends and colleagues). The meal was great fun but the performance, which entailed the slow lighting of many candles, then their being equally slowly extinguished, then equally slowly re-lit, we found suffocatingly pretentious. (In all his years in New Zealand Harry always attended everything, and was supportive in principle of all dance endeavour, but was occasionally heard to mutter upon leaving ‘Well, the best thing about it is that they’re doing it.’ After leaving this particular evening he muttered, ‘Well, the worst thing about it is that they’re doing it).’

But as we rode the tram back into Melbourne central, an extraordinary event took place. A young Aboriginal woman, striking in appearance, but in a state of very great distress, was remonstrating up and down the tram carriage with all the world about many things. Not drunk, but totally out of control, in a wrath of emotion and heartbreak, pain, confusion and grief that was moving, even terrifying, to witness. No one knew how to help. Harry quietly started speaking a commentary to us, tracing various chapters of Australia’s colonial history, engaging us to listen, and to thus avoid making eye contact with the woman pacing the tram, as any such eye contact can become a trigger to further volatility. There was such an informed sympathy, empathy even, in Harry’s words…no judgment, no reproof. His calm, informed, sad summarising of history, at the same time offering us a degree of protection from a potentially explosive situation, was much as I imagine Thomas Keneally might have behaved.

Bi-cultural issues and opportunities within dance were part of Harry’s long-term thinking. During his time at Royal New Zealand Ballet (‘the happiest years of my life’ he was often heard to say), he commissioned Tell Me A Tale from Gray Veredon, with design by Kristian Fredrikson, to music by New Zealand composer Matthew Fisher. In that talisman piece, with leading roles created by Jon Trimmer and Kerry-Anne Gilberd, was an encounter between Maori and Pakeha, a haka within the ballet given extraordinarily powerful expression by Warren Douglas. No more telling moment has occurred in the company’s entire repertoire history, and it is a great loss that the work has not been retained.

Warren was also spectacular as the hilarious Cook in the Veredon/Fredrikson Servant of Two Masters, with Jon Trimmer as Pantalone and Harry as Dr Lombardi, tottering about wearing a twelve foot long striped scarf that threatened to trip him and everybody else on stage all evening. A fine film of this ballet is held in the New Zealand Film Archive, and is well worth the three hours it lasts. (We subsequently lost Warren to AIDS and many hearts were broken).

Harry took his title of Artistic Director Emeritus very seriously. He wrote to Ethan Stiefel upon his appointment, wishing him well, highlighting the related arts in New Zealand as a context for choices of ballet repertoire, and encouraging an awareness of Maori issues. Despite clearly failing health, Harry was still taking an interest in the news of the appointment of Francesco Ventriglia in late 2014. He asked us to send reports on any indications or statements of artistic vision as they appeared. This company was Harry’s baby, and he loved it as parents love their children.

Harry’s own term as artistic director, from 1981 to 1993 with business manager Mark Keyworth, was a resilient team effort and there has probably never been a stronger partnership between artistic and business directors in the company’s history. What those two achieved on the miniscule resources of the day was breathtaking. Harry also maintained a very close relationship with the New Zealand School of Dance under the direction of Anne Rowse. They shared so much knowledge and awareness of repertoire in the wider dance world that the students were fortunate beneficiaries of that rapport, also the strongest partnership in the history of both institutions.

The chapter Harry wrote for the book, Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty, recounts many highlights of his term. It was an inspired early move to celebrate in 1983 the company’s 30th anniversary with a Gala season, inviting each previous director to select a choreography. We had No Exit from Ashley Killar (this was Harry’s choice, and a pearler) and Bournonville from Poul Gnatt. Perhaps the abiding achievement of this project was Harry’s diplomacy in welcoming Poul back to his adopted country after various chapters of less than happy history since his departure in 1963.

In 1986, Harry’s production of Swan Lake, again in tandem with Fredrikson, was a theatrical tour de force. He always remained very sad it was not retained in the company’s repertoire. Harry was a youngster in vaudeville performance. His formal schooling had turned into supervised backstage correspondence while on tour, but his bright brain and fabulous memory ensured a lifelong passion for learning across many disciplines. Harry’s close rapport with Graeme Murphy saw him in several cameo roles … as Court Photographer in that astonishing Swan Lake, a charming friend of Clara in the inspired Nutcracker, only upstaged by his tap dancing on roller skates in Tivoli (and was certainly worth my trip across the Tasman to check it out).

In an adult education course I will teach in Wellington early in 2015, one of the sessions will be dedicated to a survey of Harry Haythorne’s term as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet …’the happiest years of my life’. Well, you said it Harry.

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington, December 2014

Featured image: Jon Trimmer (left) as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in A Servant of Two Masters, 1989. Photo: Martin Stewart, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. PACOLL-8050-36-04

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'

Raisse Kouznetsova and Valery Shaievsky

A new comment on one of my earlier posts about the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet tour of 1934–1935, which included Australia as well as South Africa, Indonesia and other locations, set me thinking about Raisse Kouznetsova and her Polish colleague Valery Shaievsky. The comment, which I thought came from Poland but I was wrong, indicated that Kouznetsova had married Shaievsky in 1927 and questioned why Hirsch was being used with her name. The comment is currently the last one at this link.

Raisse Kouznetsova in costume for 'Choreartium', 1939. Photo Spencer Shier
Raisse Kouznetsova in costume for Choreartium, Act IV, Melbourne 1939. Photo: Spencer Shier. National Library of Australia

When the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet arrived in Cape Town on 14 May 1934 to begin the South African leg of its tour, a passenger list for RMS Kenilworth Castle, the ship on which the company travelled from London to South Africa, appeared the following day in the Cape Times. A ‘Mrs R Kuxnetzova-Hirsch’ (sic) appeared on that list. A few months later, the company arrived in Brisbane to begin their appearances in Australia. Immigration records held in the National Archives of Australia list a ‘Raissa Hirsch’, born 1907 of Russian nationality, arriving in Brisbane on board the Nieuw Holland (the ship on which the company travelled to Australia from Bali) on 8 October 1934.

Although throughout Australia, for performances by the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet and later with the Ballets Russes companies and then the Polish Australian Ballet, the name Hirsch appears not to have been used with Kouznetsova, or indeed used alone, what is puzzling is that Australian immigration records usually reflect passport details. I have always assumed that Kouznetsova was married to someone by the name of Hirsch when she arrived in Australia and I have idly speculated (to myself until now) that perhaps this was Georges Hirsch (1895–1974). Hirsch was administrator of the Réunion des théâtres lyriques nationaux in Paris during the 1940s and 1950s, although I have not yet discovered anything of his earlier career or whereabouts. The situation reminded me a little of that of Nina Verchinina-Chase’s marriage. I am wary of accepting the statement found in the entry on Kouznetsova on the National Library’s search engine Trove that Kouznetsova’s ‘real name’ was Raisse Hirsch. And was she even a Pole as many writers have stated? As for the date of her marriage to Shaievsky, Tamara Tchinarova, in her biography Dancing into the unknown, intimates that Kouznetsova and Shaievsky were married sometime after 1940.

Clarification of these mysteries is not helped by the many and varied spellings of the names (given and otherwise) of the protagonists! But clearly there remains a lot of investigation to be done.

Michelle Potter, 27 September 2014

Update: The story gets more complicated. More comments at the earlier post.

The Listeners. A ballet by Joanna Priest

Towards the end of research for my forthcoming publication, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, an item relating to Joanna Priest’s ballet The Listeners emerged, quite unexpectedly. I had briefly looked into The Listeners as it was one of the ballets performed during the opening season by the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne in September 1949. This was the occasion when Dame Margaret Scott made her return to the stage, following a lengthy stay in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, during the 1947—1949 Australasian tour by Ballet Rambert.

The appearance of this previously unknown item (unknown to me anyway) prompted me to look at The Listeners in a little more depth. My main source for further investigation was a Laban score for the work, part of the small collection of notated scores acquired by the National Library of Australia from Meg Abbie Denton in around 2004. Further information came from Meg’s publication Joanna Priest: her place in Adelaide’s dance history (Adelaide: Joanna Priest, 1993), and Alan Brissenden’s and Keith Glennon’s Australia dances: creating Australian dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press,  2010).

The Listeners was first staged for the South Australian Ballet Club in Adelaide on 30 November 1948 at the Tivoli Theatre (later Her Majesty’s). It was inspired by a poem written by Walter de la Mare, and Priest used the poem’s title as the name of her ballet. It was performed to Erno Dohnanyi’s String Quartet No 2 in D flat major, Opus 15, played by the Elder String Quartet, and had designs by Kenneth Rowell, his second commission from Priest.

'The Listeners', South Australian Ballet Company, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne
Harry Haythorne as the Traveller, with Margaret Monson (left) as the Woman who Loved Him and Lynette Tuck as the Woman He Loved in The Listeners, South Australian Ballet Club, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

In the poem, the only human is a traveller who knocks on the door of a deserted house, deserted except for ‘a host of phantom listeners’ who do not respond to him. For her work, Priest added two women in the traveller’s life—one who loved him, the other whom he loved—as well as the child who was born from the liaison between the traveller and the woman who loved him. They were joined by the force of circumstance represented by four female dancers. Program notes explain:

The traveller arrives at an abandoned house which holds intimate memories…and here among “a host of phantom listeners” the conflict of his relationship with two women is re-enacted in his imagination. Dogged by the relentless interference of circumstance he tries in vain to weave into an enduring pattern his longing for the woman he loves, and his loyalty to the woman who has borne him a child. The harmony of the pattern is perpetually broken by inexorable forces, and, as in life, his struggles against them prove unavailing.

In the original production Harry Haythorne danced the Traveller, Margaret Monson the Woman who Loved  Him, and Lynette Tuck the Woman He Loved.

The ballet entered the repertoire of the National Theatre Ballet in 1949 with Rex Reid as the Traveller, Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him, Margaret Scott as the Woman He Loved and Jennifer Stielow as the Child. Six extra dancers were added, three men and three women, representing phantom listeners. Kenneth Rowell designed new sets and costumes for this production.

Alan Brissenden’s report of the National’s production has a number of errors, in particular some confusion as to which roles were danced by whom, but of the overall production he says:

The complex choreography followed the melodic structure of the music…and was firmly knit with the development of the story.

What is the unexpected item? It will appear in the plates section of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance.

Michelle Potter, 14 August 2014

Featured image: Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him and Jennifer Stielow as the Child in The Listeners, National Theatre Ballet, 1949. Photo: Harry Jay

Joyce Graeme as the Queen in Swan Lake, National Theatre Ballet, 1951. Photo Walter Stringer

Swan Lake. National Theatre Ballet

Some time ago now I posted a photo from Walter Gore’s ballet, The Crucifix, as staged for the National Theatre Ballet The photo had always fascinated me while working at the National Library of Australia and Athol Willoughby had some interesting words to say about it. Here is a link to the post.

Well, another photo, also from the days of the National Theatre Ballet has also always held a fascination. It is of Joyce Graeme as the Queen in Act III of the National’s full-length Swan Lake, the first ever full-length production to be presented in Australia. The stage presence of Graeme floods out of the picture and recalls the words of Keith Bain quoted in an obituary for Graeme: ‘once seen, never forgotten’.

Joyce Graeme as the Queen in Swan Lake, National Theatre Ballet, 1951. Photo Walter Stringer
Joyce Graeme as the Queen in Swan Lake, Act III, National Theatre Ballet, 1951. National Library of Australia. Photo: Walter Stringer

The costumes for the pages are rather unusual and, while looking through the Rex Reid Collection at the Artscentre Melbourne, I came across a note that describes the costumes. In a folder of material relating to Ann Church, the designer of the momentous full-length Swan Lake, I found the following, in handwriting that appears to be that of Church: ‘The Queen’s pages had scarlet and white jerkins, crimson-pink-and white striped tights’.

On the same scrap of paper there was also a description of costume for the ‘Queen Mother’. ‘This was a black taffeta coat, lined and faced with crimson satin. The sleeves, also lined with crimson, were jagged and also reached the floor, and the train was cut in points like a star. It fastened beneath the bust and the wide neck was trimmed with coq feathers. Underneath, the bodice was mauve jersey, outlined with black velvet and pearls. The sleeves were mauve jersey, covered with black net; black velvet points with pearls, over the hands. The underskirt was mauve taffeta covered with black net. The black net skirt was criss-crossed with black ribbon with large tassels at the joins’.

That description also conjures up a striking item but unfortunately it doesn’t accord with the costume Graeme is wearing so maybe it is her costume for Act I? Perhaps someone who was part of the production may be able to help?

Michelle Potter, 16 March 2014

Rafael Bonachela and Interplay

In January I talked to Rafael Bonachela, largely about his new triple bill program, Interplay, which will open in Sydney in March and then travel to Canberra in April and onwards from there. Interplay features brand new works from Bonachela and Gideon Obarzanek and a return to Australia of Jacopo Godani’s Raw Models.

Rafael Bonachela at Walsh Bay. Photo Peter Grieg
Rafael Bonachela at Walsh Bay. Photo: Rafael Bonachela at Walsh Bay. Photo: © Peter Grieg

It is hard to think of anyone who has such enthusiasm and passion for dance, or anyone who loves talking so generously about what he is doing. The story has just been posted on DanceTabs. Here is the link.

INTERPLAY
Choreography by Rafael Bonachela, Gideon Obarzanek and Jacopo Godani

SYDNEY:  15 March – 5 April, Sydney Theatre
CANBERRA: 10–12 April, Canberra Theatre Centre
MELBOURNE: 30 April – 10 May, Southbank Theatre

Michelle Potter, 4 February 2014

Simple Symphony. Walter Gore

Earlier this year Rafael Bonachela choreographed a work to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony for his Sydney Dance Company. As a result, a few questions and comments arose on various websites about the use of this music for dance. Then, more recently, the Dancing Times carried letters about Walter Gore’s ballet Simple Symphony (danced to the Britten score) with some questions about the date of that production. In the course of research for another project, I had occasion to look at some archival material relating to the Ballet Rambert tour of Australia and New Zealand in the National Library of Australia, including the scrapbooks of Australian dancer Charles Boyd. From those sources I can add the following:

Gore’s ballet was created in 1944 and Mary Clarke in her Decca Book of Ballet states that its first performance was in Bristol on 29 November 1944. It was initially performed on Arts Council tours for the troops in England. The ballet was notated in Laban notation by Australian Cecil Bates in 1992 who notes that the work was taught to him by Gore when Bates joined the Rambert company during its Australia tour of 1947–1949. A copy of the notated score is part of the National Library’s music collection. Bates also notes that the version he learnt was unaltered from the 1944 original. Bates restaged it for his South Australian Ballet company in 1963.

Other notes on the Laban score state that the work was created by Gore during World War II during periods of leave from duty in France with the armed forces, and that it was created largely on Sally Gilmour and Margaret Scott. The work was performed throughout the Rambert Australasian tour. Its first Australian performance was at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, on 24 October 1947 with Gore and Sally Gilmour in the principal roles. A note in Rambert Australian programs says it was ‘a thank-offering created by Walter Gore, Rambert’s premiere danseur, a few months after he was twice torpedoed on D-Day’.

It was also filmed during the Australian leg of the Australasian tour at Sandgate, a beachside suburb north of Brisbane, by Alan Denby for the ‘Public Instruction Department’. It was anticipated that the film would be distributed to schools in Queensland, although I am not sure whether this ever happened. Charles Boyd’s scrapbooks indicate that the photo below, taken on location during the filming, appeared in Brisbane’s Courier Mail in September 1948.

Filming Walter Gore's 'Simple Symphony', Sandgate, Queensland,1948
Filming Simple Symphony, Sandgate, 1948

A copy of this film is in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2013