New York City Ballet’s Australian tour, 1958

A recent comment posted on this website spoke of the differences between the styles of three major ballet companies visiting Australia in the mid-decades of the twentieth century: de Basil’s Ballets Russes, Ballet Rambert and New York City Ballet. The comment went on to note that perhaps the most enthusiastic attendees at New York City Ballet performances when that company first visited Australia in 1958 were those interested in stage and film musicals. The full remark about the attendees can be read in the comments section at the end of the post at this link, and it prompted me to post the small picture gallery below.

Images top row: (left) Symphony in C, (right) Stars and Stripes
Bottom row: (left) Concerto Barocco, (right) Serenade

Most of the repertoire brought to Australia by New York City Ballet was by Balanchine although works by Jerome Robbins and Todd Bolender were also included. But even looking at the small number of  images in the gallery, it is clear that the range of works was diverse. The gallery includes images of some of Balanchine’s works that might be seen as redolent of musical theatre, along with others from some of his most glorious pared-back, abstract creations.

New York City Ballet did not receive the attention in Australia that it deserved and the company was disappointed with its reception, according to Valrene Tweedie. Tweedie was a close friend of several of the dancers as a result of her decade of dancing in the Americas. She believed that New York City Ballet’s repertoire and style of dancing were way ahead of Australian audiences’ expectations at the time. Tweedie also noted that there were financial issues that caused the dancers some unhappiness. She has remarked in an oral history interview that the dancers were not able to take their salary, paid to them in Australian dollars, out of the country but had to spend it in Australia. It was the reason, she maintains, that Andre Eglevsky came but stayed only a week or so. He had a family to support in America and could not afford to spend his money on frivolous items such as souvenirs.

All the images in the gallery were taken during performance by Walter Stringer, an enthusiastic amateur photographer based in Melbourne. His photographic record of almost every dance company that performed in Melbourne between about 1940 and 1980 is of inestimable documentary value, especially given that his archive is now in public hands and so available to all for research.

Further comments, including identification of dancers in the Stringer images, are welcome. All photos are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Australia.

Michelle Potter, 17 December 2009

Featured image: New York City Ballet in Western Symphony. Melbourne, Australian tour, 1958

4 thoughts on “New York City Ballet’s Australian tour, 1958

  1. Those of us who worship at the shrine of Balanchine and aren’t of an age to have been able to attend these perfs. are quite agog at the repertoire that was offered to Aust. audiences during this tour. And the chance to see now legendary performers.Especially as the large works like Stars And Stripes and Western Symphony and Symphony In C were being given. And what an incredibly slow drip feed it has been to get more Balanchine works performed here. For some reason they still do not seem able to make a connection with Australian audiences. We have not had a revival of Night Shadow and it has taken the Aust. Ballet School to stage the Aust. premiere of Divertimento Nr. 15 generally regarded as one of his finest works and certainly confirmed as such by the 2 perfs. I saw them give of it. Anyway, thank you for the photo gallery giving such a good cross selection of works. The Stringer photos here and elsewhere are particularly valuable as they are in colour and we are able to get a large amount of info regarding the set and costume design details of early Australian Ballet productions from them. Especially interesting are some from the first Aust Ballet prod. of Ballet Imperial with designs by Kenneth Rowell. It was a great thrill to have this back in the repertoire. especially with the line up of ballerinas we currently have. I will never forget the Melbourne opening night performance of Danielle Rowe. And Lana Jones seeemed to be “on fire” as they say !

  2. Two photos that I couldn’t post because they are by American photographer Fred Fehl and still in copyright show Jacques d’Amboise in Lew Christensen’s 1938 American classic ‘Filling Station’ and two unidentified dancers in Todd Bolender’s ‘Still Point’. I don’t remember either of those two works but it indicates again that the repertoire was diverse and astonishing really. Works/dancers I do remember in particular are Diana Adams – those legs, ‘Concerto Barocco’ – I’d never seen a work so closely linked to the music before, ‘Serenade’ – who could forget seeing that work for the first time, the glitzy ‘Stars and Stripes’ and the luscious Robbins ‘Faun’. As for seeing Balanchine in Australia, I was really disappointed that the Australian Ballet chose not to restage ‘Theme and Variations’ in its ‘Mr B’ program a few years ago. Too close to the Stretton era? I can imagine Lana dancing the lead in that one. There is also an ABT recording of it around with Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov. It’s a knock-out. I’d also love to see ‘Mozartiana’ in Australia.

  3. Yes, I have seen the Gelsey tape and it is quite astonishing.From start to finish it is like one unbroken thread. The PDD is matchless. Although I do remember a Bolte/Heathcote perf. in Melbourne which came very close. During the Melb. run of the recent Beauty season I was reminded of Gelsey’s incredible arms during Lucinda’s performances.

  4. Strangely, I missed this discussion. I do have the 17th April, 1958 program, Sydney in my collection.I was lucky enough to be a dance student at the time 1978- 1979 in and around New York. The works of Balanchine made an incredible impression upon me -: programs included,
    Donizetti Variations with dancers Patricia McBride and Mikhail Baryshnikov; The Four Temperaments including Bart Cook, Jean-Pierre Bonnefous and Karin von Aroldingen;Chaconne which I adored danced by Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins (Nov,1978);Stars and Stripes (Jan, 26, 1979) with Liberty Bell – Merrill Ashley and El Caption – Peter Martins were a few of the treats. Balanchine opened my eyes. I also treasure the moments that Valrene Tweedie would talk about Mr B.

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