Elaine Vallance (1932–2021)

Elaine Vallance, who has died aged 89 in Melbourne, was a much admired member of the Bodenwieser Ballet from 1949 to 1954 before moving to Melbourne in 1955. In Melbourne she opened a dance school, keeping up connections with Dory Stern, Bodenwieser’s music director, and also teaching at schools in Melbourne, including Ivanhoe and Camberwell Girls’ Grammars. She continued to teach for the rest of her life, stopping only shortly before her death.

Vallance began dancing as an eight year old with Gertrud Bodenwieser at her Sydney school and by 1948 had been chosen as a demonstrator for classes. On joining the Bodenwieser Ballet in 1949 she performed with the group in Sydney and toured with them to South Africa and New Zealand in 1950, then across Australia in 1951 as part of the Arts Council’s Jubilee Tour to celebrate the establishment of Federation.

Bodenwieser Ballet on tour in New Zealand, 1950. Papers of Gertrud Bodenwieser (MS 9263), National Library of Australia

When a small group of dancers accompanied Bodenwieser to India in the second half of 1952, Vallance, along with Emmy Taussig, took charge of the Bodenwieser School in Sydney. Then, on Bodenwieser’s return and throughout 1953, Vallance danced with the Bodenwieser Ballet on an extensive tour of regional towns in New South Wales and in a variety of concerts in and around Sydney. The following year, 1954, Vallance performed and toured as one of the Spirits of the Whirlwinds, along with others from the Bodenwieser company, in Beth Dean’s Corroboree, staged in celebration of the visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II.

Elaine Vallance (centre front) with, (clockwise from top left), Nina Baron, Moira Claux and Biruta Apens in a study for Gertrud Bodenwieser’s The Blue Danube, Victorian tour 1950. Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Barbara Cuckson

During her time with the Bodenwieser Ballet, Vallance appeared in most of Bodenwieser’s major works and many smaller works as well. Her solo, The Moth, from Life of the Insects, became a popular inclusion in Bodenwieser programs and Vallance, in a costume of draped grey chiffon, received constant praise from critics with words such as ‘a vision of beauty and grace’.

Elaine Vallance as ‘The Moth’, c. 1949. Photo courtesy of Barbara Cuckson

Like so many of her Bodenwieser colleagues, Vallance continued to be aware of the impact Gertrud Bodenwieser had on her life and career. Writing to Barbara Cuckson, director of the Rozelle School of Visual Arts, she recalled:

I was intrigued and fascinated by the comprehensive way in which she explored movement. When Bodenwieser had a new movement idea she always explored it to the full.
A movement could be done in different directions, forwards, sideways, backwards; it could be performed on different levels, standing, kneeling, sitting, lying. There were different intensities to try out, flowing, swinging, impulsive, or it could be done with strength, possibly using straight lines or sharp angles. There was the possibility of the movement being performed in opposition or parallel to the rest of the body, and of course carried into space with steps, jumps or turns.
Then came the option of combining any two or three of these aspects, or combining the new movement with another previously explored, and the exploring the various relationships of these two movements.

Vallance often returned to Sydney where she taught master classes and oversaw reconstructions of Bodenwieser works at the Rozelle School of Visual Arts. Her last visit was in 2017 when she worked on a reconstruction of Sunset.

Elaine Vallance is survived by her daughters, Julia and Sue, and their respective families.

Elaine Vallance (Featherstone): born Sydney, 20 January1932; died Melbourne, 3 October 2021

Michelle Potter, 3 October 2021

Featured image (detail): Elaine Vallance in her solo as the Moth from Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Life of the Insects. Photo: Sun Newspapers. Full image below.

NOTE: The death of Elaine Vallance means that there is now only one dancer from those early Bodenwieser days who is still living. It is Eileen Kramer who is approaching her 107th birthday in November.

7 thoughts on “Elaine Vallance (1932–2021)

  1. What a far-reaching legacy Bodenwieser brought to this part of the world.
    Shona Dunlop Mactavish always praised her focussed ideas for dance-making — and I remember the thrill when Anne Rowse invited Shona to stage Bodenwieser’s The Demon Machine at New Zealand School of Dance in 1980s. [There is a fine recent film of that choreography directed by Carol Brown in Melbourne that one can find online]. Barbara Cuckson’s Rozelle School of Visual Arts is further vibrant evidence of Bodenwieser’s inspirational approach to life, art and dance. So, vale to Elaine, a salute to Eileen Kramer, to Barbara and to Carol.

  2. Thanks Jennifer. Yes, we were lucky, and those were the days when Australia and New Zealand shared so much. When I was adding the photo of the bus on the 1950 NZ tour Barbara Cuckson mentioned how they spoke of the fun they had travelling. ‘…dressing up for receptions and going through floods and the bus getting bogged.’ Her comment about them was, ‘Such pioneers.’

  3. Elaine Vallance came to see the reenactment of ‘Demon Machine’ at the NGV Ian Potter Gallery in August 2017 as part of the exhibition Leap into the Modern curated by Rachel Fensham. She spoke to the dancers (all VCA Undergraduates) afterwards, and we were all so impressed by her detailed feedback on the work and embodied memories that were still vital and resonant. It was like the work was still turning in her. I think this spoke to the deep embodied legacy of the Bodenwieser signature that you describe so well Michelle. The photo of the company with Elaine on tour in New Zealand is poignant, Bodenwieser sitting off in the grasses on the side of the road in headscarf and dark glasses and her dancers behind the bus looking like they are edging to perform. Vale Elaine.

  4. Thanks for your comments Carol. It is interesting to think about the embodiment aspect that you mention. In the message Elaine wrote to Barbara Cuckson, a bit of which I have included in the obituary, Elaine also talks about the first rehearsal for Le Malade imaginaire, including the role Marcel Lorber played in making additions to the score so that Bodenwieser could better develop some of the roles. She even started off with Elaine as the Maid and Jean Raymond as the Daughter but swapped them around when she decided the two dancers were better suited in that different arrangement. Then Elaine writes ‘The other thing that stands out in my mind is Bodenwieser’s extraordinary ability to create a dance for an individual to show that person to the best advantage.’ Perhaps the term embodiment was not used to the same extent in the 1950s as it is today and Bodenwieser was simply a highly intuitive person in how she approached her choreography? But it seems quite clear, given what Elaine has said both as above but also in the quote in the obituary about Bodenwieser’s constant exploration of an individual movement, that Bodenwieser’s teaching involved using an individual dancer’s physical attributes to the greatest advantage. If it sits well on the body, it is remembered forever.

  5. Elaine Vallance was my mother. I was so appreciative (and amazed) that you managed to put this beautiful acknowledgement together and publish it on the day she died. It meant that, in delivering the difficult message to family and friends, I was able to include this wonderful honouring of her.
    Yes, she was at the reenactment of the Demon Machine in 2017 because I insisted on taking her to it. She was reluctant, feeling that she would be in the way, but once there, ‘Elaine Vallance’ emerged and she was sitting in the audience quietly critiquing the work, just as she always did, whenever she and I went to any dance performance of anything…
    I have a photo of the Demon Machine dancers with Mum on that day, which I am hunting out.
    Some time in November, when COVID restrictions are lifted and we can gather together, there will be a celebration of Elaine’s diverse life, also streamed, and anyone is very welcome to both attend and participate.
    There is a private family funeral on Monday 11th October, which will focus on Mum/Grandma/Great Grandma.

  6. Lovely to hear from you Julia and I am especially glad you found what I wrote useful. I had Barbara Cuckson’s help as I wrote and I am indebted to her. The current lockdown here in Canberra meant that material I would have been able to draw on from the National Library was unavailable. Barbara was a great help. I would be interested to see the photo with the Demon Machine dancers in due course if that is possible. In the meantime, my thoughts are with you and your family for the funeral.

  7. No problem at all. I have lovely early archival material of Mum’s also. Let me know where to send it, Michelle.

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