Ballets Russes. The National Library’s finding aid

I was interested, but also filled with despair, to see that the National Library has updated another of its important online dance resources—the finding aid to the Ballets Russes programs for the three Australian tours by Colonel de Basil’s companies. I was interested because the original finding aid needed an update. Since the text was prepared some 10 years or so ago by Australian Collections’ librarian Richard Stone, new information has been unearthed, especially in relation to the dancers who toured with the company. This new material clearly needed to be added. I was also filled with despair, however, because it seems that once again an update to an existing dance resource now offers less than what was offered in the original version.

The original finding aid contained Stone’s text and digitised images of the entire National Library collection of programs and cast sheets for all three tours, along with some interesting advertising flyers for the tours. This digitisation project was carried out in 2005 with funding from the Australian Research Council as part of the Ballets Russes project. Some gaps existed where the Library did not hold programs or cast sheets, but the gaps were small as the Library’s holdings of de Basil company programs are extensive. Now in this update just a tiny portion of that material is being made accessible to the public as an online resource. I am at a loss to know why and wonder whether the Library intends to go back and attach the rest of the digitised material to the new finding aid? The full digitised material was an amazing resource making it possible to discover with ease who danced what and when, anywhere and at any time.

The updated finding aid also includes additional material that may cause confusion. An attempt is made to document the performances after the Original Ballet Russe left Australia in 1940 using a small collection of material from the Papers of Valrene Tweedie, also part of the National Library’s dance resources. While it is only to be expected that this documentation is, at this stage, far from complete, the problem is that many of Tweedie’s programs are not for performances by the Original Ballet Russe. The later part of the tour listings in the finding aid are for the company led by Sergei Denham, usually known as the One and Only Ballet Russe, which Tweedie joined in 1946, and for Cuban companies with which Tweedie was involved. The listing from 1940 onwards is really a reflection of the career of Valrene Tweedie rather than of the history of the Original Ballet Russe. This is not made clear in the updated finding aid. And incidentally, Valrene Tweedie was not the only Australian-born dancer to appear with the Original Ballet Russe in the United States and Cuba, as the text states. Melbourne-born Lydia Kuprina (Couprina) (Phillida Cooper) danced with the Original Ballet Russe in Australia in 1940 and also in the United States and Cuba at least until 1942.

It is unfortunate that the National Library’s dance material continues to be updated in a way that compromises that material. Let’s hope that at least the entire collection of digitised programs will eventually find its way into the updated finding aid.

Michelle Potter, 21 January 2013

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