Tamara Tchinarova and friends, Christchurch 1939

Russell Kerr lecture, February 2019

The Russell Kerr lecture for 2019 was delivered in Wellington, New Zealand, on 10 February 2019 by Dr Ian Lochhead. Lochhead is dance critic for The Press, Christchurch, and formerly Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Canterbury. His lecture focused on the tours to New Zealand by the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet in 1937 and the Covent Garden Russian Ballet in 1939.

While the lecture as a whole opened up a number of issues that perhaps have not been fully considered in previous writings about the Australasian Ballets Russes tours, for me the most fascinating moment of all came when Lochhead flashed up the image used as the featured image on this post. It is well known to most Australians interested in the tours of the Ballets Russes and shows (l–r) Serge Ismailoff, Anna Volkova, Oleg Tupine, and Tamara Tchinarova (later Tamara Finch) with bicycles. Paul Petroff stands to the right, hands in pockets. It belongs in the Papers of Tamara Finch (MS 9733) and it has always been considered to have been taken somewhere in Australia. But Lochhead showed convincingly that the image was shot in Christchurch in 1939 during the visit to that major South Island city by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet.

Lochhead introduced us (or certainly me) to Olivia Spencer Bower, an English-born artist who lived a large part of her life in New Zealand. Spencer Bower, it seems, was taken with the dancers of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet and the Spencer Bower collection at the Christchurch Art Gallery includes an album of photographs, which she may have taken herself, of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet during its 1939 visit. One, reproduced below, shows a row of at least seventeen dancers holding bicycles and lined up in front of a theatre identified by Lochhead (a Christchurch resident) as Christchurch’s Theatre Royal. It has a large poster advertising the Covent Garden Russian Ballet across its entrance and to the side of the line-up is the tobacconist and hairdresser shop seen in the featured image above. Ismailoff, Volkova, Tupine, and Tchinarova are wearing the same clothes in both images. There is no doubt that the featured image above is not from Australia but from Christchurch.

Covent Garden Russian Ballet, Her Majesty's Theatre Christchurch, 1939. Olivia Spencer Bower photo album, Christchurch Art Gallery
Covent Garden Russian Ballet, Theatre Royal, Christchurch, 1939. Olivia Spencer Bower photo album, Christchurch Art Gallery. Reproduced with the permission of the Olivia Spencer Bower Foundation

It is always a thrill to discover new information about material in archival holdings. And it is even better when new information allows us to revise previous assumptions. The featured image in this post celebrates Christchurch as a venue for the visiting Ballets Russes companies that had such an influence on the growth of dance in the southern hemisphere.

Ian Lochhead’s lecture was preceded by two danced items: a performance of the Prelude from Les Sylphides danced by Taylor-Rose Frisby, a second year student of the New Zealand School of Dance; and The Dying Swan performed by Abigail Boyle from Royal New Zealand Ballet. Frisby showed beautiful control and I look forward to seeing more of her work. Abigail Boyle has featured on this website on several occasions. Live music, and it was exceptional, came from pianist Hamish Robb and cello player Inbal Megiddo, both from the New Zealand School of Music, Te Koki.

It is with a certain regret that I add that Boyle will shortly retire as a performer. Recent news from Royal New Zealand Ballet indicates that Boyle will dance in RNZB’s forthcoming New Choreographic Series and will then pursue a teaching career.

A note on the first Russell Kerr lecture held in 2018 is at this link

Michelle Potter, 15 February 2019

Featured image: Serge Ismailoff, Anna Volkova, Oleg Tupine, and Tamara Tchinarova, Covent Garden Russian Ballet, Christchurch, 1939. Photographer not identified. Papers of Tamara Finch, National Library of Australia

Tamara Tchinarova and friends, Christchurch 1939

Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

Dance diary. November 2018

  • The changing face of Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre has just announced that the company is saying farewell at the end of the year to six of its dancers: Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson and Yolanda Lowatta. Each has made an amazing contribution to Bangarra over recent years. Who can forget Daniel Riley’s remarkable performances in the film Spear, and his equally powerful dancing and acting as Governor Macquarie in Jasmine Sheppard’s Macq? Then it’s hard to forget, again in Spear, Kaine Sultan Babij as ‘Androgynous Man’ stalking through long grass and between trees? And there is a myriad of performances from Waangenga Blanco that stand out. As well as his role in Patyegarang, there is the ‘Angel’ duet, danced with Leonard Mickelo, in Riley, and his powerful performance in Frances Rings’ Terrain. So much more …

I wish them all well for wherever their dancing takes them and look forward to seeing them before they leave in Dubboo, opening shortly in Sydney. And of course there is the thrill of seeing new dancers in 2019.

Waangenga Blanco in 'Patyegarang', Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: Greg Barrett

Waangenga Blanco in Patyegarang, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: © Greg Barrett

  • Robert Helpmann. The many faces of a theatrical dynamo

A new book of essays on Robert Helpmann has recently been published. It contains essays from a range of scholars and performers and is supplemented by a DVD of archival footage, including a documentary on the revival of Miracle in the Gorbals in 2014 by Birmingham Royal Ballet

My chapter, ‘Elektra. Helpmann uninhibited’ considers the origins of Helpmann’s ballet Elektra, Helpmann’s choreographic approach, and the differences, particularly in relation to Arthur Boyd’s designs, between the English production of Elektra in 1963 and that presented by the Australian Ballet at the Adelaide Festival in 1966.

Robert Helpmann book cover

Edited by Richard Cave and Anna Meadmore. Published in the United Kingdom by Dance Books in October 2018.
ISBN 9781852731793

Available from Dance Books Ltd and other retailers.

 

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, 2018 (Dance)

Canberra Critics’ Circle, now almost 30 years old, held its annual awards in November. This years dance awards went to:

Liz Lea: For the multi-media production RED, which drew together the work of four choreographers, including Lea, in a moving, courageous and dramatically coherent exploration of the medical condition of endometriosis.
My review of RED is at this link.

Alison Plevey and the Australian Dance Party: For Seamless, an innovative, well-considered and theatrically staged comment on the fashion industry, performed with wit and skill at the 2017 Floriade Fringe.
My review of Seamless is at this link.

Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Lorna Sim

Scene from Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock: For their innovative choreography for the Canberra Philharmonic Society’s production of Strictly Ballroom. Their inventive interpretations of a number of traditional ballroom dance styles allowed the large ensemble of dancers to convince as champion ballroom dance contestants.

Michelle Heine: For her choreography for Free Rain Theatre Company’s production of 42nd Street. Her choreography for the spectacular production numbers successfully captured the authentic Broadway feel of the musical and was exceptionally well danced by the ensemble.

  • James Batchelor

Canberra dance goers will be interested to learn that James Batchelor will be back working in Canberra in 2019. He will be showing his latest work, Hyperspace, at a time and a Canberra venue to be announced. Hyperspace was made in 2018 during residencies in Nottingham, England, and Bassano del Grappa, Italy, and was recently performed in the B.motion festival in Bassano and at La Briqueterie Paris. It will also be part of the Dance Massive 2019 line up in Melbourne.

Batchelor is also looking forward to creating a new full-length work for Quantum Leap. It will premiere as QL2’s major work for the full ensemble at the Playhouse in August.

  • NGA Play. Sally Smart

The National Gallery of Australia has just installed a new children’s play area that highlights aspects of the Gallery’s extensive collection of costumes from the era of the Ballet Russes. It is designed by Melbourne-based artist Sally Smart, one of whose interests is in the juxtaposition of the art of the Ballets Russes with contemporary ideas of assemblage, cut-out items and patchwork-style lengths of fabric.

Dance features in a series of projections of dancer Brooke Stamp improvising in homage to and inspired by the dances of the Ballets Russes era (with a nod to Javanese dance). Stamp performed live (a one-off performance) at the opening of the play area early in November.

Brooke Stamp improvises for 'NGA Play. Sally Smart', 2018

Brooke Stamp improvising at the opening of the National Gallery of Australia’s children’s installation. Photo: Michelle Potter

  • Press for November 2018

’Rudolf Nureyev.’ Program article for La Scala Ballet’s Australian season, 2018. This article contains two very interesting, casual photos of Nureyev (one with Fonteyn), which I have not come across before.

‘Movement and message fail to link.’ Review of Australian Dance party’s Energeia. The Canberra Times, 22 November 2018, p. 20. Online version

 

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2018

Featured image: Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in Spear. Photo: © Tiffany Parker

Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

 

Portrait of Tamara Tchinarova, 1941. Photo Fred Breen

Tamara Tchinarova Finch (1919–2017)

I was saddened to learn of the death of Tamara Tchinarova Finch on 31 August 2017 in Spain at the age of 98. Her story is told in her autobiography Dancing into the unknown and this post is simply a short, belated tribute to her, which includes details of a rather amazing occurrence with which I was fortunate enough to be involved.

Tchinarova’s Australian connections include performances with the Ballets Russes companies during their Australasian tours in the 1930s; with the Kirsova Ballet in the early 1940s; and with the Borovansky Ballet in the mid-1940s. She was also briefly engaged to Australian press photographer, Fred Breen, who took the photographic portrait of her that I have used as the featured image for this post. Breen joined the Air Force during World War II but was killed in 1942. In 1943 Tchinarova married actor Peter Finch in Sydney and a few years later moved to London with him, but they divorced in 1959. She continued, however, to use his name for the rest of her life, although in most cases in this post I have opted to use Tchinarova only.

In later life, Tchinarova came to Australia in 1994 as a guest of the Australian Ballet. Along with her colleague from the Ballets Russes, Irina Baronova, Tchinarova gave a series of lectures in various places and, during the Canberra leg of that visit, I was able to record a short oral history with her for the National Library. Here is a two minute excerpt from that interview in which Tchinarova talks about Hélène Kirsova. The complete interview and transcript is available online at this link.*

I met Tchinarova again, and her daughter Anita, in New Orleans at a Ballets Russes conference/reunion in 2000 but in 2004 a remarkable event occurred. I was dance curator at the National Library at the time and in that capacity I received an enquiry from Moscow via the now defunct website, Australia Dancing. The enquiry culminated in the discovery that Tchinarova had a half-brother and a second family in Moscow. The story is told in the November 2004 issue of National Library of Australia News, available via this link. Tchinarova met her half-brother in Spain in 2006 and in her autobiography she talks about that meeting. Below is a brief extract from her discussion of the meeting:

I am now 87. On a sunny day here in Spain last week, my half brother Alexander and I met for the first time. He is 77 and came from Moscow with his daughter Ludmila, to meet the sister he had for 60 years been searching for … This stranger, Alexander, had all the qualities I love in a man—intelligent, articulate, interested in everything … How wonderful that we were able to meet towards the end of our lives. One has to wonder about Fate.**

Tamara Tchinarova Finch was a beautiful, intelligent, caring woman. It was such a privilege to have had a hand in that meeting. Vale Tamara.

Tamara Tchinarova Finch: Born Bessarabia, Romania, 18 July 1919. Died Marbella, Spain, 31 August 2017.

Michelle Potter, 26 September 2017

*The transcript was never corrected. It contains a number of spelling errors.

**Tamara Tchinarova Finch, Dancing into the unknown. My life in the Ballets Russes and beyond (Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books, 2007) pp. 207–208.

Featured image: Portrait of Tamara Tchinarova, Sydney 1942. Photo: Fred Breen. National Library of Australia, Papers of Tamara Finch, MS 9733.

Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in 'Le beau Danube', 1936 (detail)

Valentina Blinova. An unexpected find

Some charming writing about Valentina Blinova, during her engagement with the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet for the company’s Australasian tour of 1936–1937, unexpectedly came to light while I was researching a totally different topic. I came across two typewritten pages, which may have been misfiled by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. as I found them alongside material relating to the promotion by JCW of a Russian ballet tour of a much later date.* It is not clear who wrote the two short articles (Blinova and the JCW publicity team perhaps?), nor whether they were ever published. I have reproduced them below.

A day in the life of a dancing star

A typical day in the life of Valentina Blinova, one of the principal dancers of Colonel de Basil’s Monte Carlo Russian Ballet.

Up at 8.30 in the morning. A cold shower, gymnastics and physical exercises for twenty minutes. A cup of coffee with some toast for “breakfast.” Then a brisk walk to the theatre. Practice. Then rehearsal till quarter to one. Lunch comprising steak or other meat, salad, a sweet, no alcoholic drink, no smoking. Back to the theatre for rehearsal at 2.30 or 3 o’clock until 5.30 or 6. Home for a rest. A cup of tea. Then if she is dancing in the first ballet back at the theatre at 7 o’clock (no dinner). After the performance supper comprising meat, salad and perhaps a glass of Australian wine, which the principals of the Russian Ballet are very fond of. Then to bed.

This is Blinova’s daily routine, the only variation being Sunday which is spent in the open air—in the hills or the bush or on the beach.

And now you know why the members of the Russian Ballet have those slim figures.

How Christmas is spent
Valentina Blinova

Valentina Blinova was born in St Petersburg where she spent her girlhood—at Christmas time her thoughts go back to those days—a gorgeous Christmas tree loaded with candles, nuts, fruits, many sparkling things and presents for all. Christmas Day is regarded as a solemn occasion, not a time for feasting until the evening star is seen in the sky. The children wait longingly for the evening repast—a feast of good things, Then after the presents have been distributed they sit round the fire and seek to pierce the future when other Christmas days shall come. This fortune telling is carried out in a very quaint way. A large piece of wax is melted and thrown into a dish of water and, according to the shadows that are thrown or the shapes the wax takes, so each one interprets their future. But, as Blinova says, it has to be interpreted with a great deal of imagination!

Last Christmas was spent by Blinova in Hamburg, Germany, where she was a member of Leon Woizikowsky’s Company. Christmas was here spent similarly to Russia though the Germans have their own way of celebrating it, which, says Blinova, they do in a very serious way. “We had a Christmas tree,” said Blinova, “but there was the usual performance and when it was over we went to our rooms, where we had supper, and sat around the fire and talked of childhood days in Russia.”

“That was our last Christmas Day. As regards the next:—there will, of course, be no performance. We shall have a party amongst ourselves and, of course, we shall spend most of the day in the beautiful surf on the Sydney beaches.”

valentina-blinova-portrait
valentina-blinova-in-swan-lake

(left) Portrait of Valentina Blinova, Papers of Moya Beaver, National Library of Australia. (right) Valentina Blinova as Odette in Swan Lake, Bettine Brown Collection, National Library of AustraliaPhoto: Ivon Studios

Not a great deal of information is available about Blinova’s career, although Kathrine Sorley Walker tells us that she was not trained at the Imperial School in St Petersburg but was ‘the product of a course founded after the Revolution in an attempt to reform teaching methods.’ After her training she went to Germany with Vera Trefilova and Pierre Vladimirov, danced in Monte Carlo, established a partnership with Valentin Froman and came to Australia with de Basil’s company in 1936.

(The story of an apparently spectacular break up with Froman is recounted by Elisabeth Souvorova at this link in one of her letters from Australia.

Michelle Potter, 6 December 2016

Featured image: Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in Le beau Danube, 1936, Bettine Brown Collection, National Library of Australia. Photo: Leicagraph Pty. Ltd., Melbourne. Inscribed: ‘Leon Woizikowsky 18.6.37, Maitre de Ballet’.

Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in 'Le beau Danube',1936

* Source: Records of J. C. Williamson, National Library of Australia, MS 5783, Box 353

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. Paul Cox’s ‘cinematic poem’.

The death earlier in June of film maker Paul Cox sent me in search of a DVD copy of his film The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. The backstory is that Cox heard actor Paul Schofield on British radio reading from Nijinsky’s diaries (cahiers), which were first released in 1936 after having been rearranged and edited dramatically by Nijinsky’s wife, Romola.From that moment Cox was smitten and wanted to make a film based on the diaries. The making was a drawn-out experience (it took three years),2 but the film was eventually completed in 2001 and released in 2002. Cox has referred to it as a ‘cinematic poem’: it is certainly far from a documentary in the commonly understood meaning of the term.

Nijinsky began writing down his thoughts as a kind of diary on the morning of his last public performance, which he gave at the Suvretta Hotel in St Moritz on 19 January 1919. He wrote his last entry on 4 March that same year, the day he was to go to Zurich to see the psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, who would decide that he was suffering from incurable schizophrenia and who would advise, among other things, that he be admitted to a sanatorium. There are three exercise books of writing and drawing, with the first two books containing sections of Nijinsky’s own form of dance notation. The fourth notebook contains several letters to family, friends and others. The three diary books are held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The fourth book of letters is held in Paris by the Department of Music, Bibliothèque nationale.

I found Cox’s film (which I must admit I had never seen before) absolutely mesmerising. It is in many respects a collage of images that flash past us, some of which return hauntingly throughout the film. Sometimes they are photographs of Nijinsky in his well-known roles for the Ballets Russes, such as the image at the top if this post, which shows Nijinsky as Petrushka. Sometimes they are images from nature, with flowing water and birds, in particular a crane, appearing frequently. Cox also plays with light and shade and there are many fleeting, emotive moments where shadows flicker over walls, water, and natural features of the landscape. The images reflect Nijinsky’s words as they are written in the diaries and are spoken as a voice over by Derek Jacobi.

The film begins with a funeral procession, Nijinsky’s funeral. As the coffin and the mourning party move down a pathway we see ‘ghosts’ of Nijinsky hovering in the background and sometimes merging with the funeral procession. They are characters Nijinsky played in the ballets that made him the famous male dancer that he was—the Spirit of the Rose from Le spectre de la rose, the Golden Slave from Scheherazade, the Faune from L’Après-midi d’un faune, and so on. These characters appear, disappear and reappear throughout the film, slipping between the other images, always reminding us of Nijinsky’s remarkable dancing career.

The dancing components, like the characters who hover around the funeral procession, are interspersed seemingly randomly between the flow of non-dancing imagery. David McAllister and Vicki Attard appear as the two characters in Le Spectre de la rose, while dancers from Leigh Warren and Dancers take on most of the other dancing roles. I admired Aidan Kane Munn’s ‘War Dance’, which he choreographed as a tormented, quivering solo and danced blank-faced. This was the item Nijinsky chose to dance at Suvretta House: ‘Now I will dance you the war … the war which you did not prevent.’ It is described by Joan Acocella (following Romola Nijinsky’s description) as ‘a violent solo, presumably improvised’ and analysed by Ramsay Burt in relation to Nijinsky’s thoughts on war and peace.I also especially admired Csaba Buday’s performance as the Faune in a version of L’Après-midi d’un faune choreographed by Alida Chase and set outdoors in a clearing surrounded by trees and bushes. There was an animal-like awareness to Munn’s reactions as the Nymphs passed by, and his closing scene with the veil was gentle yet blatantly sexual.

There is a kind of narrative component to anchor the imagery and dancing. We meet Romola and her parents and the various doctors who examined Nijinsky, for example. But we never hear them speak, although their body language and facial expressions give us clues as to how the story and their thoughts about Nijinsky are unfolding. Their presence forces us to face the reality that is behind the film.

DVD cover

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is a truly beautiful, painterly film. Like John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, which Hamburg Ballet performed in Australia in 2012, it is absolutely compelling and arouses so many thoughts about the nature of Nijinsky—the man and the dancer. But, in contrast to the Neumeier work, the Cox film is almost serene in its overall mood, despite some confronting and bloody images relating to Nijinsky’s vegetarianism, and the challenging words and ideas spoken forcefully by Jacobi. That I find the mood serene is is not to suggest, however, that Cox has not presented the drama and the confusion of thought that permeated Nijinsky’s life. It is just felt in a different manner. The film and the dance work complement each other in a very unusual way and, having at last seen the film, I look forward immensely to seeing the Neumeier work again when it is performed by the Australian Ballet later this year.

Michelle Potter, 25 June 2016

Featured image: Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrushka. Photographer and source unknown

1. Joan Acocella, in her introduction to the unexpurgated edition of the diaries, published in English in 1999 as The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, explains in detail how Romola altered the diaries in that first publishing endeavour of 1936. In particular Acocella notes that around 40% of the contents of the diaries was omitted. Acocella’s introduction is, as is all her writing, lucid and informed: Joan Acocella (ed.), The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999).

2. Philip Tyndall describes the development of the film saying that Cox ‘did much of the cinematography himself in addition to the writing, directing, co-producing and editing.’ Philip Tyndall, ‘The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. The culmination of a career.’ In Sense of Cinema. Issue 20, May 2002. Accessed 25 June 2016.

3. Ramsay Burt, ‘Alone in the world. Reflections on solos from 1919 by Vaslav Nijinsky and Mary Wigman’. In On Stage Alone. Soloists and the modern dance canon, eds Claudia Gitelman and Barbara Palfy (Gainesville FL: University of Florida Press, 2012).

Dance diary. January 2015

  • Jennifer Shennan

I am thrilled to welcome Jennifer Shennan as a contributor to this website. Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Jennifer is a renowned dance writer whose major publications include A Time to Dance: the Royal New Zealand Ballet at 50 (Wellington: RNZB, 2003) and The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2013), which she edited with Anne Rowse. Jennifer teaches dance history and anthropology and has a particular research interest in the Pacific. Her own teachers were Poul Gnatt and Russell Kerr. Now that is a proud heritage!

Jennifer’s first contribution was her tribute to Harry Haythorne and I look forward to publishing more of her writing as 2015 proceeds.

  • ‘Pulse: reflections on the body’

The Canberra Museum and Art Gallery has been running a show since October 2014 called ‘Pulse: reflections on the body’. The exhibition has on display items by a range of artists working across several media. Amongst a collection of works on paper and canvas and some sculpture, two dance items are included—Australian Dance Theatre’s 15 minute video of Garry Stewart’s Proximity, and James Batchelor’s video, Ersatz. Batchelor has also been giving some live performances during the run of the show. As seen in the image below, his performance takes place on the highly polished floor in front of his video installation and, as with all his work that I have seen, it is meticulous in its fine detail and in its interest in the stillness that surrounds movement.

James Batchelor performs in 'Pulse', CMAG 2015

(The hand-blown glass objects in the foreground of the image are from a work by Nell)

Pulse logo

  • Arthur Murch and the Ballets Russes

I was pleased to be contacted during January by the daughter of Australian artist Arthur Murch, who told me that her father had travelled to Australia from Italy on board the Romolo with some of the dancers coming to Australia for the 1939–1940 Ballets Russes tour. I was curious because I had been under the impression that the dancers had come from London on board the Orcades, with another group arriving from the West Coast of the United States on board the Mariposa. The two groups met in Sydney and gave their opening performance at the Theatre Royal on 30 December 1939.

It seems, however, that there were a few Ballets Russes personnel who did indeed travel on the Romolo from Genoa. They included Olga Philipoff, daughter of Alexander Philipoff, de Basil’s executive assistant; Marie (Maria) Philipoff, mother of Olga; and dancer Nicolas Ivangine. The Romolo was the last boat to leave Italy before Italy joined the war and Murch was returning to Australia after spending time in various parts of Europe. The Romolo and its passengers have, it seems, escaped the attention of Australian Ballets Russes scholars so far, as has Murch’s connections with the company. To date I have seen a photograph of a beautiful head sculpture Murch made of Mme Philipoff, and a photo of Olga Philipoff and Ivangine on the deck of the ship. I look forward to reporting further on this discovery at a later date.

  • Dance and criticism

The newest issue of Dance Australia (February/March 2015) includes its annual survey by critics from across Australia, although this year Karen van Ulzen has expanded the space given to the survey so that critics are able to give fuller accounts of their choices. It makes the survey more than simply a list and gives a touch of analysis, an essential element in good dance writing. The new look is a welcome initiative that I hope continues. It is always interesting, too, to see how varied the choices are.

  • Press for January 2015 (Update May 2019: Online links to articles published in The Canberra Times are no longer available)

‘Vibrant, expressive show.’ Review Dancing for the gods, Chitrasena Dance Company, The Canberra Times, 19 January 2015, ARTS p. 6.

‘In the WRIGHT frame of mind.’ Profile of Sam Young-Wright of Sydney Dance Company, The Canberra Times, ‘Panorama’, 24 January 2015, pp. 10–11.

‘A classic in its own right.’ Preview of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, The Canberra Times. ‘Panorama’, 31 January 2015, p. 18.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2019

Colonel de Basil: further news

At various times over the past year or two I have had some correspondence with Valery Voskresensky in Minsk and have posted a few items relating to Mr Voskresensky’s activities in his search for information about his grandfather, known to most as Colonel Wassily de Basil (various spellings are current). Just recently Mr Voskresensky contacted me again to pass on an article he had written. It contains, in particular, some interesting material relating to de Basil’s military background before his arrival in Paris in 1919, which seems to clarify the question of whether or not de Basil did have the military background claimed for him.

Here is a link to the article. It is entitled The Return of the Legend: The Ballet Russe of Colonel de Basil. I am told it has been published in Russia and Mexico and is being translated for publication in Japan.

See the tag Colonel de Basil for earlier posts.

Michelle Potter, 23 December 2014

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Victoria Tennant

Victoria Tennant is the elder daughter of Cecil Tennant and Irina Baronova, the latter so well-known in Australia where she first charmed audiences with her dancing in 1938 with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, and where she also spent her last years in a beautiful house at Byron Bay, New South Wales. Victoria Tennant, of course, knew Baronova in quite a different role from her legion of Australian fans: ‘Our mother was devoted to us,’ she writes, ‘and not exactly like anyone else’s mum. No one else’s mum did pirouettes in the butcher’s.’ This observation perhaps encapsulates the tenor of this book: it is a very intimate memento built around a personal collection of letters, photographs and other archival materials.

What is especially attractive about this book is its extensive use of photographs, which have been drawn largely from Baronova’s own collection. Many have never been published previously. Some are glamorous shots from Baronova’s Hollywood years. Others are informal shots of family and friends. Yet others are lesser known shots and early images from ballets in which Baronova starred.

Images from Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo by Victoria Tennant: clockwise from top left, Baronova in the movie Florian, 1940; driving with friends from San Diego to Los Angeles, 1936; in costume for Le Spectre de la rose, 1932; in costume for Thamar, 1935.

The book also has a special quality because much of the text consists of quotes from letters, an oral history made for the New York Public Library’s Dance Division, and recorded conversations made by Baronova at various times, although, unfortunately, it is not always clear which source is being used. But the informal voice of Baronova is strong. Anyone who met her, however briefly, or saw her speak in public, or teach or coach, will recognise that the words are hers and will be charmed all over again. These sections are differentiated from the linking text, written by Tennant, by the use of a differently coloured font.

There are some beautifully insightful moments when Baronova talks about working with various choreographers in different ballets. I was especially taken by her comments on Les Sylphides.

Nobody realizes that in Les Sylphides the whole thing is a dialogue between the Sylphides and the invisible creatures of the forest. It’s a whispering talk. All the gestures are listening, questioning, whispering back. It’s a conversation, and the Sylphides turn in the direction of the voice they hear and run to it. If you don’t know that, there are no reasons for doing anything, it’s just empty and boring. The whole ballet should be acting and reacting. To do it any other way is not fair to Fokine.

The chapter on Baronova’s time in Australia, 1938–1939, is short. But much has been written now about that time in Australia’s ballet history (although the last word has not yet been said I am sure) and the book is balanced in its coverage of the many strands of Baronova’s life. From a reference point of view it is good to have a list of Baronova’s repertoire from 1931 to 1946, although it is a shame that her film roles are not included as well.

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo has been beautifully designed and produced and, with its strong focus on imagery, makes a wonderful companion to Baronova’s autobiography.

Irina Baronova/ Victoria Tennant cover Victoria Tennant, Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014)
Hardback, 244 pp. ISBN 978 0 226 16716 9 RRP USD55.00/£38.50.

Michelle Potter, 1 November 2014

Ballets Russes in Tokyo

The National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition, Ballets Russes. The Art of Costume, which was shown in Canberra from December 2010 to March 2011, is opening in Tokyo on 18 June at the National Art Center. Installation is underway and the exhibition will be on display until early September 2014. Some new acquisitions, material not seen in the Canberra exhibition, will be part of the Tokyo show.

Did the Ballets Russes companies visit Japan? No, but there is considerable interest in Japan in the legacy of those companies, which was worldwide. It is of interest too that the influence of Japanese art on many of the artists working in Europe around the time that Diaghilev was taking Paris by storm was exceptionally strong. I look forward to reporting on how the show has been curated in Tokyo. It is always an experience to see familiar items in a different setting.

Ballets russes poster, Japan 2014

The progress of the hang can be seen on the National Art Center’s website by opening up the Facebook link at the bottom left of this page.

Michelle Potter, 11 June 2014

Dance diary. December 2013

  • The Johnston Collection, Melbourne

I was surprised to be contacted earlier this month by the curator of the Johnston Collection, Melbourne. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, will be a guest curator there in the first part of 2014 and will be adding some Australian Ballet costumes to the rooms of Fairhall, the house in which the collection of antiques amassed by dealer William Robert Johnston is displayed. I will be presenting a lecture at Fairhall in June—From bedroom to kitchen and beyond: women of the ballet. More later.

  • Fantasy Modern: Andrew Montana

Over the holiday break I enjoyed reading Andrew Montana’s biography of Loudon Sainthill, Fantasy modern: Loudon Sainthill’s theatre of art and life, published in November 2013 by NewSouth Books. There are a few irritating typos and errors (Alicia Markova wasn’t married to Colonel de Basil—at least not as far as I know!) and some odd references in the notes. But, as ever, Montana has researched his topic very thoroughly and, while it is essentially a book written by an art historian, it gives a fascinating glimpse of the cultural background in which Sainthill and his partner Harry Tatlock Miller operated. That background of course includes Sainthill’s commissions for Nina Verchinina during the Ballets Russes Australian tours, as well as his work as a designer for Hélène Kirsova, and his activities during the Ballet Rambert Australasian tour of 1947–1949. In addition it was Harry Tatlock Miller who was responsible (in conjunction with the British Council) for bringing the exhibition Art for Theatre and Ballet to Australia. There is some interesting information too about the 1940s documentary Spotlight on Australian Ballet. So Fantasy Modern is interesting reading for dance fans as well as historians of theatre design.
Fantasy Modern cover

  • Bodenwieser news

I was pleased to hear recently from Barbara Cuckson that Sydney-born Bodenwieser dancer, Eileen Kramer, had returned to her city of birth. Not only that, she has reached the grand old age of 99. She is seen below on her 99th birthday wearing a Bodenwieser costume, which she designed all those years ago. Eileen recorded an oral history interview for the National Library in 2003. It is available for online listening at this link.

Eileen Kramer

  •  Site news

In December I am always interested to know what tags have been accessed most frequently over the preceding year. Here is the list of the 10 most popular tags for 2013:

Hannah O’Neill; Ty King-Wall; The Australian Ballet; Ballets Russes; Paris Opera Ballet; Olga Spessivtseva; Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet; Leanne Stojmenov; Athol Willoughby; Meryl Tankard.

Visitors to the site may also be interested in what is probably the last comment for 2013. I am attaching a link to comments on a book review I wrote in January 2012. The comment queried whether the author of At the Sign of the Harlequin’s Bat, Isabelle Stoughton, is still alive. As you can read, she is.

  • Past and future grace

And finally I couldn’t help but notice a sentence in a roundup of events for 2013 by Fairfax journalist Neil McMahon. Writing of Australian political happenings over the past year he said: ‘The policy pirouettes on both sides were en pointe, but graceless’. I’m not holding my breath for a graceful political scene in 2014. The dance scene might be better odds!
Happy New Year banner

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2013