Cecil Bates (1925–2019)

Cecil Bates had a remarkably diverse career both in and outside of dance. Born into a family in which the arts held a prominent place, he recalled that his first stage experience came at the age of three when, in one of his mother’s ballet concerts, he took the role of a teddy bear.

I first appeared in these shows, I believe, at the age of three, as a teddy bear. I remember being very angry with my mother because she didn’t think that I would know the time to come on to the stage, to know the right cue. But I was perfectly well aware of when to go on and, when she reminded me by giving me a gentle push, I was very angry and almost missed the entrance.1

His mother was a dancer and an operatic soprano. She was a pupil of Melbourne-based teacher Jennie Brenan and appeared in several productions by J. C. Williamson. She taught ballet in Maitland where her son was a pupil until he left primary school.

His father served in World War I and then took up teaching. It was he who convinced Bates to give up ballet once he entered high school and, at the end of his schooling, Bates took up a traineeship in metallurgy. He worked with Rylands Brothers Wire Mills in Newcastle while undertaking a technical college course in metallurgy.

But he was ‘restless’, as he remarked in an oral history interview, and began taking ballet classes in Newcastle with Grace Norman. Then, with a fellow ballet student, he went to Sydney to take a class with Hélène Kirsova and, as a result, moved to Sydney, changed his course to a similar one at Sydney Tech, and began working for Commonwealth Industrial Gas.

Although Bates didn’t ever dance with the Kirsova Ballet, Kirsova was impressed with his potential and suggested to Marie Rambert that she audition him for the Rambert Australian tour of 1947–1949. Bates joined Ballet Rambert in Melbourne in 1947 where he made his debut as a professional dancer. He toured Australia and New Zealand with Ballet Rambert and, when the company returned to England in 1949, he went with them. 

In England he became a principal dancer and later ballet master with Ballet Rambert and then, on leaving the Rambert company in 1953, danced with Walter Gore and in a variety of other productions including pantomime and film. It was during his time in England, encouraged by Marie Rambert, that he began to choreograph. His early choreographic works included two Scottish-themed productions for Rambert’s Ballet Workshop and a new version of Carnival of the Animals for the Rambert company. It was also the time when he took classes from Audrey de Vos, whose impact on his career continued throughout his life.

After the breakdown of his 1950 marriage to Rambert dancer Mary Munro, Bates returned to Australia to dance once more with Walter Gore who had set up Australian Theatre Ballet. When Gore’s Australian company folded, Bates went to work with Joanna Priest in Adelaide teaching and producing for her various initiatives and, in 1962, became artistic director of the recently-formed South Australian National Ballet Company. He also returned to choreography producing Design for a Lament (later staged as Requiem and dedicated to his mother, Frieda Bates), Villanelle for FourComme ci, comme ça, Seven Dances and A Fig for a King. In Adelaide Bates also staged some of the ballets he knew from his London experiences. They included PeepshowDeath and the MaidenCzernyana and Façade. He also established his own dance school and then a small company, South Australian Repertory Ballet. 

Bates eventually moved into a more academic life and began teaching maths and science, and drama on some occasions, at a series of high schools in Adelaide. He undertook a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Economic History at the University of Adelaide.

Bates was also an experienced Laban notator. His interest in notation began in London when he began taking lessons in Laban notation from an ex-dancer from the Kurt Jooss company. It was not, however, until he began working in Adelaide that he resumed his studies in notation, eventually taking a University course in the subject. He notated his own works and works by others with whom he had been associated, including Walter Gore, Andrée Howard, and Joanna Priest. He was later asked by Meg Denton to notate his work Requiem for Denton’s Australian Choreographic Project.2

Pages from Cecil Bates’ notated score for Requiem. National Library of Australia, MUS N m 792.842 R427

Bates is survived by his second wife, Glenis, and their three children as well as numerous grandchildren.

Cecil Hugo Bates. Born Maitland, New South Wales, 26 May 1925; died Adelaide, South Australia, 20 December 2019

An oral history interview recorded in Adelaide in 2005 for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection, from which much of the information in this obituary has been obtained, is available at this link.

Michelle Potter 3 March 2020

Featured image: Cecil Bates in the pas de trois from Swan Lake (detail), 1940s? Photographer not identified. National Library of Australia, Papers of Cecil Bates, MS 9427

Notes:
1. Oral history interview with Cecil Bates recorded by Meg Denton in 1985. J. D Somerville Oral History Collection, Mortlock Library of South Australiana, OH 84/16. A transcript of this interview is in the National Library of Australia, Papers of Cecil Bates, MS 9427.
2. For more about the Australian Choreographic Project see Meg Abbie Denton, ‘Reviving Lost Works: The Australian Choreographic Project.’ Brolga, 2 (June 1995), pp. 57-69.

Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent

Ballet Rambert in Australasia 1947–1949

Early in July I gave a brief presentation in Melbourne at the Cecchetti Ballet conference for 2018. The conference included a session relating to Marie Rambert and the tour made by Ballet Rambert to Australia and New Zealand between 1947 and 1949. Other speakers for this session were Jonathan Taylor, Audrey Nicholls and Maggie Lorraine who spoke about their experiences with the company after the Australasian tour. As we each had just 10 minutes each my introductory talk was necessarily brief. Nevertheless, I am posting it here.

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Ballet Rambert, led by the irrepressible Marie Rambert, came to Australia in 1947 for a tour that lasted until January 1949. On this slide you can see two of the dancers who made a particular impact in Australia, Belinda Wright and John Gilpin, both very young at this stage in their careers. In many respects the Rambert tour has been somewhat neglected compared with the attention that has been given to the Ballets Russes companies whose tours to Australia took place largely in the mid to late 1930s and in 1940. Today I only have 10 minutes to talk to you about the Rambert tour, which I delved into while writing my biography of Dame Margaret Scott. Maggie, as you most likely know, first came to Australia with the Rambert company and then made her subsequent career in Australia.

On this slide I have listed the towns and cities visited by the company. Unfortunately, the information for the New Zealand leg of the tour is not complete. I didn’t investigate that side of the company’s activities in great detail because Maggie Scott didn’t go to New Zealand. She was lying in bed in a plaster cast in St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. So, the New Zealand leg of the tour needs a bit more research.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the tour is a visit to Broken Hill, a three-night stand made in January 1948. It was made possible by sponsorship from several mining companies in the area. A local newspaper, Barrier Daily Truth, reported that Marie Rambert had introduced each ballet. ‘She was almost a star turn in herself, for she made no weary speeches but tickled the audience’s fancy by her humorous and witty remarks and explanations of the ballets’. But I’m sure it was a somewhat remarkable experience for the dancers to go to Broken Hill. This is what Broken Hill looked like then in a photo, sadly badly faded, from the private collection of one of the dancers.

And the weather was enervating. It was well over 100⁰ Fahrenheit in the shade each day and the dancers were sometimes performing in costumes that were heavy and very hot to wear. Those for The Fugitive for example were made of heavy English felt. But Cecil Bates, an Australian member of the company, recalls that they were well looked after. ‘The local people kept a running chain of iced orange juice in huge metal ice cream containers. They just kept a continuous line of it and as we came off stage we would have a glass of icy cold juice and then go back on. We would have passed out otherwise’.

But the tour was extensive and, on this slide, I give you Mme Rambert herself.

You see her on the left in Brisbane in 1948 looking very smart as she signs some document or other, while on the right you see her accepting applause for the opening night performance, the first performance in Australia in Melbourne. I know that other speakers will have more to say about Mme Rambert so I will simply let you heart her voice. She is speaking from Adelaide in 1948 giving the interviewer her thoughts on the success of the tour. And you’ll hear Ron Sullivan, the interviewer, attempting to get a word in every so often….but failing! Voice of Marie Rambert.

Not only was the tour extensive in terms of cities visited and time spent in Australia, the repertoire was also interesting.

This page from the souvenir program gives you an idea of the variety of fare that Australian audiences saw. There were classics of course but also works from English choreographers who were in the early stages of their careers—Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor, for example—as well as female choreographers such as Andrée Howard and Ninette de Valois, as well as others from within the company including Walter Gore and Frank Staff.

And I’d like to play you some comments about the tour by Australian designer Kenneth Rowell. Rowell was an emerging designer at the time and for him major commissions were few and far between in Australia. He was offered the commission to design Winter Night, a ballet by Walter Gore, which was the only work created in Australia by the Rambert company. Voice of Kenneth Rowell

And on the next slide I have some photos taken by two Australian photographers who did much to document the tour: Jean Stewart with some portraits of dancers, and Walter Stringer with a variety of performance shots.In the top row you see Sally Gilmour in Peter and the Wolf, Joyce Graeme in Peter and the Wolf, Margaret Scott in Gala performance, and Brenda Hamlyn in Soirée musicale.

One aspect of the tours that I found quite fascinating was the extra-curricular activities of the dancers and support staff. It was quite well known that, while in Australia, the Ballets Russes dancers engaged in all manner of socialising with visits to koala sanctuaries, swimming parties, dinners given by fans and sponsors and so on. But so did the Rambert dancers. And in this next slide are two images from the personal scrapbook and album of Pamela Vincent, a Rambert dancer who incidentally married an Australian musician, Douglas Whittaker. I was lucky enough to have access to Pamela Vincent’s material at the Rambert Archives in London. So, the Rambert dancers also had good times on their days off.

And when in Sydney, the dancers frequented a bohemian establishment called Merioola, home to artists, photographers, poets, and writers. Here you see Walter Gore at Merioola and the big house itself (now demolished) which was in Woollahra. And if you think back to the repertoire list I showed earlier, that page and much of the souvenir booklet was designed by Loudon Sainthill who was part of the Merioola group,

Another extra-curricular activity that is quite interesting relates to the ballet Simple Symphony, which was created in England by Walter Gore during World War II when on leave from duty in France with the armed forces and which was created largely on Sally Gilmour and Margaret Scott. It premiered in Bristol, England, in November 1944 and was performed throughout the Rambert Australasian tour. A note in Rambert Australian programs says it was ‘a thank-offering created by Walter Gore … a few months after he was twice torpedoed on D-Day’. It was also filmed during the Australian tour at Sandgate, a beachside suburb north of Brisbane. It was anticipated that the film would be distributed to schools in Queensland, although I am not sure whether this ever happened. The photo you see was taken on location during the filming in September 1948 and a copy of the film is now in the National Film and Sound Archive.

So, thank you. There is so much more to say, listen to and watch of course but I hope this has given you a glimpse of the Ballet Rambert tour. Should you be interested in more, you may like to read my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, which is still available through the website of Text Publishing here in Melbourne. Thank you.

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Dame Maggie Scott cover

Follow this link for information on how to order Dame Maggie Scott’. A life in dance via the Text website.

Here is a taster of what Maggie and her friend Sally Gilmour experienced on their first day in inner city Melbourne: ‘The first day we woke up I heard this noise, a commotion outside. You really wouldn’t believe it but there were some sheep dogs rounding up a flock of sheep outside the hotel—getting them out of the doorways, running along their backs. It was really quite extraordinary.’

See also an article published in December 2002 by the National Library in their monthly magazine (now defunct unfortunately) National Library of Australia News. Here is a link to that article. https://michellepotter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Ballet-Rambert-creates-a-splash.pdf

Michelle Potter, 24 July 2018

Featured image: Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent. Marie Rambert in the sulky perhaps?

Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent

Simple Symphony. Walter Gore

Earlier this year Rafael Bonachela choreographed a work to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony for his Sydney Dance Company. As a result, a few questions and comments arose on various websites about the use of this music for dance. Then, more recently, the Dancing Times carried letters about Walter Gore’s ballet Simple Symphony (danced to the Britten score) with some questions about the date of that production. In the course of research for another project, I had occasion to look at some archival material relating to the Ballet Rambert tour of Australia and New Zealand in the National Library of Australia, including the scrapbooks of Australian dancer Charles Boyd. From those sources I can add the following:

Gore’s ballet was created in 1944 and Mary Clarke in her Decca Book of Ballet states that its first performance was in Bristol on 29 November 1944. It was initially performed on Arts Council tours for the troops in England. The ballet was notated in Laban notation by Australian Cecil Bates in 1992 who notes that the work was taught to him by Gore when Bates joined the Rambert company during its Australia tour of 1947–1949. A copy of the notated score is part of the National Library’s music collection. Bates also notes that the version he learnt was unaltered from the 1944 original. Bates restaged it for his South Australian Ballet company in 1963.

Other notes on the Laban score state that the work was created by Gore during World War II during periods of leave from duty in France with the armed forces, and that it was created largely on Sally Gilmour and Margaret Scott. The work was performed throughout the Rambert Australasian tour. Its first Australian performance was at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, on 24 October 1947 with Gore and Sally Gilmour in the principal roles. A note in Rambert Australian programs says it was ‘a thank-offering created by Walter Gore, Rambert’s premiere danseur, a few months after he was twice torpedoed on D-Day’.

It was also filmed during the Australian leg of the Australasian tour at Sandgate, a beachside suburb north of Brisbane, by Alan Denby for the ‘Public Instruction Department’. It was anticipated that the film would be distributed to schools in Queensland, although I am not sure whether this ever happened. Charles Boyd’s scrapbooks indicate that the photo below, taken on location during the filming, appeared in Brisbane’s Courier Mail in September 1948.

Filming Walter Gore's 'Simple Symphony', Sandgate, Queensland,1948
A copy of this film is in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2013