Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'

Dance diary. August 2014

  • Edna Busse

In August I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Edna Busse, Borovanksy ballerina of the 1940s and early 1950s. The National Library had been working towards adding Edna’s memories of her life and career to its collection of dance interviews for many years, so it was a thrill that Edna, now aged 96, agreed to the invitation to participate in the program.

Edna is seen above in two images from the Borovansky days, on the left with Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux in a photo by Philip Ward, and right as Swanilda in Coppélia in 1946, photographer unknown.

  • Oral history

Other oral history interviews I recorded during August were not specifically focused on dance, but were interesting arts interviews nevertheless. They were with John Hindmarsh, founder of Hindmarsh Constructions and a major arts philanthropist in Canberra; and with artist John Olsen. The Olsen interview focused on his mural Salute to Five Bells, commissioned for the Sydney Opera House in the early 1970s. (The Olsen interview is too new to have a catalogue record). [Update October 2020: The Olsen interview is now available online at this link.]

  • The Johnston Collection

I was delighted to hear that the Johnston Collection, the remarkable Melbourne-based collection of decorative arts located at Fairhall House, recently received an award from the Victorian branch of Museums Australia. The award was for the Johnston Collection’s recent exhibition David McAllister rearranges Mr Johnston’s collection. The image below shows Desmond Heeley’s costumes from the Australian Ballet production of The Merry Widow, as displayed in the sitting room during the Fairhall House exhibition.

Costumes from 'The Merry Widow' on display in Fairhall House
Costumes for The Merry Widow on display at Fairhall House

The text for my talk for the Johnston Collection as part of this award winning exhibition is at this link.

  • Press for August 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times prior to 2015 are no longer available]

‘Odd mix misses the mark.’ Review of Boundless, Quantum Leap, The Canberra Times, 1 August 2014, ARTS p. 6.
‘S for spectacularly physical.’ Review of S, Circa, The Canberra Times, 8 August 2014, ARTS p. 7. 
‘A swirl of colour.’ Review of Devdas the musical. The Canberra Times, 19 August 2014, ARTS p. 6.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2014

Featured image: Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Laurel Martyn’s Sigrid, Borovansky Ballet, ca. 1945. Photographer not known. National Library of Australia.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'

18 thoughts on “Dance diary. August 2014

  1. The interview with Edna Busse is one I should like to hear, not only on her own account but because of Borovansky; I imagine that Edna Busse must be one of the last dancers alive to have danced in Borovansky’s production of Pavlova’s ‘Autumn Leaves’.

  2. Yes, Edna did dance in Borovansky’s Autumn Leaves. The interview is open for all uses (and users) but it takes a little while for it to be processed and made available online over the National Library’s website. She is still incredibly active and bright for someone who is 96!

  3. I can’t wait to listen to the interview. I had the great pleasure of spending a day with Edna a couple of years ago while working at PAC, unfortunately I was unable to return to complete an interview before I finished with PAC – but it was a day I treasure, full stories, old letters and photos.

  4. My experience was in many respects the opposite of yours Nick. Although Edna was keen to show me her paper-based material I had to focus on the interview, which as you know has been a long time in coming. But the small amount of letters, drawings and so forth I did see were amazing. A real treasure trove indeed.

    The interview had some technical issues as Edna was not entirely comfortable with the microphone, but the audio team at the NLA was able to solve the problems. Not sure when it will be available. What an incredible lady though.

  5. She wanted to spend the day getting to know me, which was an absolute pleasure. It was a great regret that I couldn’t record Edna’s stories that day as she was very candid. The letters were wonderful, did Edna show you the Borovansky’s scrapbooks? I have a vague recollection that Edna mentioned that Xenia compiled them. Perhaps at some point they can be reunited with the other Boro material that ended up with Ingram Collection.

  6. You are right Nick, it would be good to bring Edna’s material together with the other Boro material. As I recall the story, most of the Ingram material was gathered up from under Xenia’s house after she died. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of Edna’s paper-based items, apart from a lovely portrait hanging in her living room and drawn by Boro. Much nicer than others I have seen.

    However, having started listening back to the interview for summary purposes, I am glad I kept to the plan and persisted with the interview only, despite problems. I really did need to direct the interview quite carefully. It is unfortunate too that I no longer have the kudos with certain areas of the NLA to be able to pursue manuscript items. Let’s hope the material isn’t lost.

  7. The way Edna Busse accounts for things is quite surreal: missing names, missing dates, missing events, missing etc., not to mention the lack of modulation in her voice! Maybe that elocution teacher of her’s has something to answer for? As if reading from a script, two people get the pejorative treatment – Boro is demonised and Xenia Borovansky is caricatured – while Edna rises and out-performs all, like the Phoenix – or is it Carabosse? You can hear Edna pounding those drums of her’s again. How sad. And some who could comment and right the injustices are now all dead and gone?

  8. Thank you for your comment Elizabeth. Your knowledge of the context of the Borovansky Ballet gives credence to your remarks. As you know, oral history has its drawbacks and individual interviews should always be considered as very personal accounts of any situation. I hope users of the Edna Busse interview will look as widely as possible at the story and I welcome comments from others with first hand knowledge.

  9. I was surprised and saddened by Elizabeth Kennedy’s words. Miss Busse has been a mentor in my life for the past 40 years… a magical ballet teacher to so many of us in country NSW and a beloved elderly family member (perhaps great aunt?) to those still in touch. She would be devastated for her recollections to be misinterpreted as “surreal”; Miss Busse has been nothing but cautious and sensitive in her comments (when she has been aware these are being made public). Please remember that Miss Busse is elderly, and has spent over 60 years defending the Borovanskys.

  10. Well said Beth. As another former student of Miss Busse in the 70’s & 80’s I would like to add that we are very lucky that she has agreed to any interview as she has always been a very private person especially in regards to her past. She is highly respected by all who were taught by her.

  11. Thank you for this comment Helen. I was pleased that the interview took place because the National Library had been trying to record her recollections since the 1980s. I am a great fan of oral history and used it extensively in my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, published last year. However, oral history is only ever as good as the historian who uses it, as I have said on many occasions before. It is a very personal voice and historians always need to cross check facts that are put forward in an interview when considering using it in other contexts. I hope the interview will be useful in the future and that those who access it for historical purposes will use it wisely.

  12. Dear Michelle, Could you please advise me how I can access the interview you had with my great aunt. My family would be very keen to hear it. I was a student of Aunty Edna before she moved to Wagga, then I continued with Madame Borovansky. Thank You…Carrin

  13. Dear Carrin
    As your great aunt’s interview has no restrictions on access, getting a copy for you and your family is not difficult. You need to go to the National Library’s catalogue (http://catalogue.nla.gov.au) and find the entry for the interview. At the catalogue search box simply key in ‘Edna Busse’ and limit the search to ‘audio’ from the drop down box. Once you get the catalogue entry, scroll down to the bottom of the entry and find the ‘order a copy’ tab. Open it and follow the instructions. There will be a small charge to cover the cost of making a copy and sending it out to you.

  14. Thank You Michelle. I have ordered the audio…and am looking forward to listening to Aunty Edna share her story. Thank You…Carrin

  15. Carrin, I believe you may have been a student of Madame Borovansky at the time I was. I also started my ballet studies with Miss Busse before she left Melbourne.

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