‘Mim’. A personal memoir of Marie Rambert. Brigitte Kelly

‘Mim’. A personal memoir of Marie Rambert: Brigitte Kelly (Alton: Dance Books, 2009). Available in Australia from Footprint Books or any good bookseller.

Marie Rambert, or Mim as she was familiarly known, brought her company, Ballet Rambert, to Australia in 1947. The company stayed until early 1949 and appeared in Adelaide, Brisbane, Broken Hill, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney with a short tour to New Zealand in May 1948. Astonishingly, they gave over 500 performances during those fifteen or so months.

Australian newspapers of the time refer to Rambert as a dynamic and somewhat unusual woman and it is clear that she enjoyed playing to the press. One clipping in a scrapbook held in the National Library of Australia shows her in a balletic pose supported by the entrepreneur Benjamin Fuller. He, somewhat portly, looks a little embarrassed. She is in her element! So it is not surprising to read in Brigitte Kelly’s absorbing memoir, Mim, sentences such as ‘She was a loose canon likely to explode in any direction’.

Marie Rambert in Australia, 1948. Photo: The Courier Mail (Brisbane). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Australia.

Kelly writes in an easy style. It is anecdotal but full of information and it offers opinions but is not opinionated. Perhaps what comes through most strikingly is the way Rambert’s personality, and that of her husband Ashley Dukes, affected the growth of Ballet Rambert. Kelly writes: ‘The strength and weakness of Mim and Ashley lay in the fact that they wanted complete autonomy over their enterprises, an understandable wish since they could then keep control over the artistic standards they set themselves’. There were serious and ongoing consequences especially of a financial nature according to Kelly.

A jolt to the Australian story is that the company left for Australia hoping to pay off large debts with profits made on tour. They returned from Australia bankrupt. Kelly writes: ‘[T]he manager, Dan O’Connor, had disappeared taking all the money and somewhere along the line lost the costumes and scenery’.

But the book also opens up the story of Rambert in an affectionate way offering many insights that only a dancer who was personally close to the company and its directors can offer. Rambert’s career with Diaghilev is touched upon as well as her ongoing connections with Diaghilev dancers. Her life in France before moving to England makes intriguing reading. And of course the trials and tribulations of the early company from the perspective of someone who performed in those early works of Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Andree Howard, Walter Gore and others of equal note is engrossing.

Mim is a beautifully personal book. A memoir. And well worth the read.

Michelle Potter, 10 December 2009

For more about Ballet Rambert in Australia see my article published in National Library of Australia News, December 2002.


The author of Mim, Brigitte Kelly, came to Australia with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet on its 1938-1939 tour dancing under the name Maria Sanina. She speaks about the photo below, taken by Melbourne-based photographer Spencer Shier, in part three of her memoir ‘Dancing for joy: a memoir’ published in Dance Chronicle, 22, Nos 1, 2 & 3 (1999) saying that it represents her decision to model herself on film star Hedi Lamar. She writes ‘There was a photo call for the souvenir program. I dressed myself in the nun’s costume from the second movement of Choreartium, and when I look at the photograph the “look-alike” effect is really quite good’. (p. 362).

Maria Sanina (Brigitte Kelly) in costume for Choreartium, Covent Garden Russian Ballet, Australian tour, 1938 or 1939. Photo: Spencer Shier. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Australia

5 thoughts on “‘Mim’. A personal memoir of Marie Rambert. Brigitte Kelly

  1. The Ringland Anderson film collection is generally noteworthy as containing de Basil footage but it also does contain a lot of footage devoted to Ballet Rambert in Australia. Especially interesting is a fairly comprehensive colour filming of Act 1 “Giselle” with Sally Gilmour in the title role. Also there are clips of “Soiree Musicale”, “Aurora’s Wedding”, “Les Sylphides” and “Gala Performance” [in colour].Australian balletomanes were incredibly fortunate in seeing tours by de Basil, Ballet Rambert, and the New York City ballet during the period 1939 – 1958. Each showing a distinctive style and school. Old school balletomanes I have spoken with are generally very positive in their memories of the Rambert repertoire. And especially about the performances of Sally Gilmour.

  2. I have seen the Ringland Anderson material relating to the Ballet Rambert visit (and of course the de Basil material). The Rambert tour has been somewhat neglected I think, which is a shame. The first of the companies you mention that I saw live was the NYCB tour of 1958. What an eye-opener it was. But let’s hope that the Rambert visit gets some attention at some stage soon.

  3. This comment is off-topic for this post, but your remark re the NYCB visit is interesting. From my experience in talking to people about that visit, sometimes the most enthusiastic attendees were those people who attended stage musicals and who followed film musicals, especially the MGM ones. They seem to really have appreciated the verve and speed and general American-ess of the presentation. Those balletomanes brought up on the de Basil and Rambert and Borovansky companies can be a bit sniffier about NYCB. It’s also interesting that during this period being interested in theatre generally meant that one did attend all forms of theatre, plays, musicals, opera [what there was of it] and ballet. This is not always the case nowadays.

  4. Your latest comment needs a different thread, as you note. I am planning a little photo gallery of NYCB images from the 1958 tour, which will be a better place to talk about that whole tour. There is plenty to say!

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