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.

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945

Laurel Martyn (1916–2013)*

Laurel Martyn, one of Australia’s most eminent dancers, choreographers and dance educators, has died in Melbourne on 16 October, three years short of her 100th birthday. Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, as Laurel Gill, Martyn received her early dance training with Kathleen Hamilton in Toowoomba and Marjorie Hollinshed in Brisbane and in 1933 left Australia for further training. In England she studied with Phyllis Bedells and in 1934 won a choreographic scholarship from the Association of Operatic Dancing (later the Royal Academy of Dancing) with her first composition Exile. She passed all her Royal Academy exams to Solo Seal and in 1935 won the Adeline Genée gold medal, the second Australian to do so in the then short life of the competition, which began in 1931. In 1935 Martyn also arranged the dances for a production of The Waltz King and in the same year received second prize in a choreographic competition, the Pavlova Casket, for her ballet Sigrid.

Laurel Martyn in 'Exile', London 1935

Laurel Martyn in Exile, London 1935. National Library of Australia

Martyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Sadler’s Wells Ballet) in 1936. She was the first Australian woman to be accepted into the company and by 1938 was a soloist. While in England she changed her name from Gill to Martyn, also a family name. She danced in many of Frederick Ashton’s early ballets including Horoscope, Nocturne and Le Baiser de la fée and also spent time in Paris studying with the Russian émigré ballerinas Lubov Egorova and Mathilde Kchessinska.

Martyn returned to Australia in 1938 following the death of her father and took up a position in Melbourne with well-known teacher Jennie Brenan. While teaching for Brenan she was offered the dancing lead in Hiawatha, a pageant produced by T. E. Fairbairn and choreographed by Brenan, which opened in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building on 21 October 1939. The ballet cast of 80 was led by Martyn, Serge Bousloff and Lawrence Rentoul. While performing in Hiawatha Martyn was noticed by Edouard Borovansky who persuaded her to join his fledgling Borovansky Ballet, which she did in 1940. Martyn was one of Borovansky’s principal artists in the early days of the Borovansky Ballet, along with Edna Busse and fellow Queenslander Dorothy Stevenson. Martyn danced and created leading roles with Borovansky until 1945, including the Spirit of the River in Borovansky’s meditation on his Czech homeland, Vltava. While with Borovansky she also restaged Sigrid and reworked what is probably her best known work, En Saga, which premiered for the Borovansky Ballet in 1941.

Martyn left the Borovansky Ballet after her marriage to Lloyd Lawton in 1945. But in 1946, at the request of the Melbourne Ballet Club, Martyn took on the directorship of Ballet Guild, as the Melbourne Ballet Club had renamed itself. She was its director for an extended period. Ballet Guild became Victorian Ballet Company in 1963 and Ballet Victoria in 1967. Martyn was at the helm until 1973. She also established a school associated with Ballet Guild and students from the school augmented professional dancers in Ballet Guild productions. Martyn created many original works for Ballet Guild and Ballet Victoria productions and collaborated with Australian composers, including Dorian Le Gallienne, Margaret Sutherland, John Tallis, Esther Rofe, and Verdon Williams, and Australian designers, including Alan McCulloch, Len Annois, and John Sumner. Some of her works also had specifically Australian themes, notably The Sentimental Bloke (1952) and Mathinna (1954). Other significant works that Martyn made in this period included L’Amour enchantée (1950), a full-length Sylvia (1962), Voyageur (1956) and Eve of St Agnes (1966).

Laurel Martyn in 'En Saga', 1947. Photo: Ronald Esler
Laurel Martyn in 'Swan Lake', Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photo: Ronald Esler

 

(left) Laurel Martyn as the Aggrieved Woman in En Saga, Ballet Guild, 1947; (right) Laurel Martyn in Swan Lake, Act II, Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photos: Ronald Esler. National Library of Australia

Martyn developed a specific method for teaching dance to children, the principles of which she published in Let them Dance (1985). She also was instrumental in forming the Young Dancers’ Theatre, for which she choreographed several works in the 1980s, and the Classical Dance Teachers Australia Inc, which provided in-service training for dance teachers. She was on the steering committee for the Australian Institute of Classical Dance in the early years of its development. Martyn guested with the Australian Ballet as Mar in The Sentimental Bloke in 1985, as the mother of James in La Sylphide also in 1985, as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, in Giselle in 1986 and as Miss Maud in The Competition (Le Concours) in 1989. In 1991 she reproduced Michel Fokine’s Le Carnaval for the flagship company. In 1997 she was the recipient of the award for lifetime achievement at the inaugural Australian Dance Awards.

Martyn was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 1989 and the interview is available online at this link. See also ‘Inspiring Mentors: Valrene Tweedie and Laurel Martyn’ published in July 2002 in National Library of Australia News. In addition, a special issue of Brolga: an Australian journal about dance—Issue 4 (June 1996)—was published in honour of Martyn’s 80th birthday. It contains the following articles:

  • Laurel Martyn OBE: a voyager ahead of her time by Janet Karin
  • In her own words: excerpts from an oral history interview with Laurel Martyn
  • The choreography of Laurel Martyn, 1935–1991
  • The smile of Terpsichore: notes on Laurel Martyn as choreographer by Robin Grove
  • Dancing the Bloke by Geoffrey Ingram
  • Laurel Martyn and her composers, 1946–1956 by Joel Crotty

Also published in Brolga, in its first issue of December 1994, and under the title ‘Silent stories’, is Robin Grove’s incisive discussion of Martyn’s Sylvia.

Laurel Martin Lawton: born Toowoomba, 23 July 1916; died Melbourne, 16 October 2013.

Michelle Potter, 19 October 2013

*This brief biography draws on original research I carried out, first for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Keep Dancing! project between 1997 and 2001 and then as part of the early stages of the National Library of Australia’s Australia Dancing project beginning in 2002.

Featured image: Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945. National Library of Australia

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945