Colonel de Basil. Some surprising news

Most of what we know about Colonel Vassily de Basil (Vassily Grigorievitch Voskresensky) concerns his activities as director of variously named companies that toured the world in the 1930s and 1940s. He came to Australia with one of those companies, which is best known as the Original Ballet Russe, on a tour that began in December 1939 and which lasted until September 1940 when the company sailed for the United States.

Little has been written about de Basil’s life prior to his arrival in Paris in 1919. Kathrine Sorley Walker in her invaluable publication De Basil’s Ballets Russes, from which so much further research has developed, provides us with some background. She devotes a chapter to the Colonel and includes a brief account of his exploits as a Cossack officer during World War I.

It was to my astonishment then that I recently had the good fortune to be contacted by Mr Valery Voskresensky, the Colonel’s grandson. Mr Voskresensky, who is seen in the photo below with Tatiana Leskova when they met up recently in Paris, is presently preparing an exhibition on de Basil to be installed in the A.A.Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow later this year.

Tatiana Leskova and Valery Voskresensky, Paris 2013
Tatiana Leskova and Valery Voskresensky, Paris 2012

The existence of a grandson (born 1939) was more than a surprise to me but there is definitely a likeness, which Leskova also remarked upon.

Colonel de Basil, Chicago 1930s. Photo: Maurice Seymour
Colonel de Basil, Chicago 1930s. Photo: Maurice Seymour. From the collection of the National Library of Australia

I look forward to posting further news in due course.

Michelle Potter, 17 May 2013

3 thoughts on “Colonel de Basil. Some surprising news

  1. What wonderful news MIchelle. The Colonel has always suffered from the most uninformed and prejudicial attitudes, especially from latter-day ballet historians ( see the recent Chazin-Benahum book on Rene Blum). During the 1930’s, at least, he was treated with more respect. The always invidious Diaghilev comparisons do not take note of what a changed world de Basil had to operate in. The early years of his company are just as creative and exciting as those of DIaghilev. Anyway, further news regarding the forthcoming exhibtion will be eagerly anticipated.

  2. I think you are right Adrian. De Basil has suffered something of a bad press recently. And it was indeed a changed world in which he operated. It remains a source of regret to me too that the recent Australian Ballets Russes project did so little to investigate the role of de Basil.

    As for the man himself, I remember recording an interview with Valrene Tweedie and Anna Volkova just prior to the opening of the National Gallery of Australia’s 1999 exhibition From Russia with Love. This is part of what Valrene said about de Basil:

    ‘I know there’s a lot of controversy and you’ll get many different opinions about de Basil in the world. But I’ve always thought you must speak about people and take them as you find them yourself personally and I found de Basil was actually very honourable and very honest with me. He really didn’t promise me anything when I went into the company except that I would be in it. Financially I was the last one the newest one in the company when we left Australia but I was paid the same as all the others so I couldn’t say I was taken advantage of. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was the same as everyone’.

    Val always liked to tell the story too about how when she left Australia with the Original Ballet Russe her mother had given her enough money for a return fare. In the middle of the Cuban strike she lent it to de Basil who later, when he could do so financially, gave it back to her.

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