Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Edna Busse celebrates 100 years

Former Borovansky Ballet dancer, Edna Busse, has just celebrated her 100th birthday. Busse was born in Melbourne in 1918 and received her early dance training with Eunice Weston. She was for a time junior assistant to Weston but later studied with Xenia Borovansky at the Borovansky Ballet Academy and subsequently danced with the Borovansky Ballet from its earliest days. With that company she danced a variety of roles including those in Borovansky’s restaging of Anna Pavlova’s Autumn Leaves and in Frederick Ashton’s Façade staged by Laurel Martyn. She also danced in the classics as produced by Borovansky, as well as in a number of Borovansky’s own works such as L’Amour ridicule and Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in 'Autumn Leaves', 1946. Photo Hugh P Hall
Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in Autumn Leaves, 1946. Photo: Hugh P Hall. National Library of Australia

By 1946 she was prima ballerina with the company and the first fully Australian trained dancer to reach the rank of principal. Her most frequent partners were Martin Rubinstein and Serge Bousloff.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux, Borovanksy Ballet 1940s. Photo: Phil Ward
Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Bluebird pas de deux. Photo Phil Ward. National Library of Australia
Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron in 'L'amour ridicule', Borovansky Ballet 1940. Photo Hugh P Hall
Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron (right) in L’Amour ridicule. Photo: Hugh P Hall. Borovansky Ballet, 1940s. National Library of Australia

One of the most remarkable works in which she took the leading role during her career with the Borovansky Ballet was The Black Swan, Borovansky’s second ballet on an Australian theme following on from his Terra Australis of 1946. Danced to music by Sibelius and with designs by William Constable, The Black Swan was based on an historical incident in 1697 when a Captain Vlaming from the Dutch East India Company encountered and named Rottnest Island and the river on which the city of Perth now stands. He was particularly struck by the number of black swans on the river and his crew captured several and took them back to Java. A libretto, written around this incident by M. Millet, told the story of the Captain entranced by a black swan as a symbol of a new (to him) land. The work was first performed in 1949. Busse took the role of the Black Swan in productions of 1950 and 1951.

Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951
Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Busse went to London in 1952 where she danced at the Palladium in a variety of shows, including in the pantomime Cinderella in 1953. While overseas she studied with Mathilde Kschessinska in Paris but came back to Australia in 1955 when family illness required her return. In Australia she was given a contract by entrepreneur Harry Wren and continued to dance for another few years, including in the Tivoli Circuit’s production of The Good Old Days (1956–1957) and as a guest artist with Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Guild. Injury forced her to retire. Busse then taught in Melbourne for several years before opening a ballet school in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in 1968. With the support of a local consortium she established Inland Ballet and, over many years, produced both the classics and new works for this company.

Edna Busse was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Program in 2014 and her time in Wagga Wagga is discussed in more detail there. The interview, which has been debated somewhat on this website, is not available online but copies are available via the National Library via the ‘order a copy’ tab.

Michelle Potter, 9 August 2018

Featured image: Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in The Black Swan, Borovansky Ballet, 1950–1951. National Library of Australia

Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1950

Rachel Cameron Parker (1924-2011)

Rachel Cameron Parker, dancer and dance teacher who has died in London just a few weeks short of her 87th birthday, worked all her life to maintain the classical basis of ballet.

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Rachel Cameron adjusting her ballet shoe, 1940s. Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australian Ballet. With permission of the National Library of Australia. Photo by S. Alston Pearl [?]

On a trip to Australia in 1976 Cameron told oral historian Hazel de Berg:

‘I want the pure classical basis of the ballet to continue. I want it to continue in England, the whole of Europe, America, and Australia, so that we can extend and continue to build on this basis. I feel that out of 200 pupils maybe only one will grasp the real significance of this basic work. But out of 200 or 300, one person is enough for it to be handed down to future generations. I don’t want it to be lost.’

Cameron was born in Brisbane but spent her early childhood in Townsville in northern Queensland before moving to Sydney aged about 5 or 6. In Sydney she began dancing lessons with Muriel Sievers who had studied in London with Phyllis Bedells and who taught the syllabus of the Royal Academy of Dancing, as it was then called. It was with Sievers that Cameron first began teaching as Sievers quickly had her helping teach the youngest classes on Saturday morning. Sievers also insisted that Cameron take piano lessons and also lent her Tamara Karsavina’s book Theatre Street.

In the early 1940s Cameron danced with the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company, which later became the professional Borovansky Ballet and then with the Kirsova Ballet in Sydney, a company led by former star of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, Hélène Kirsova. There were also opportunities for Cameron to develop her teaching skills in Kirsova’s school, which was firmly grounded in what Kirsova referred to as the ‘Russian method’.

Cameron was given major roles in a number of Kirsova’s works including Revolution of the Umbrellas, Faust, A Dream…and a Fairy Tale, Harlequin, and Hansel and Gretel. She has recalled that her happiest days as a dancer were with Kirsova:

‘She was a woman who tried to mould her company in the Diaghilev tradition where music, the scenery, the dancers became part of one whole, and there it was I think that the true beginnings of Australian ballet lie.’

Moving to England with her husband Keith Parker, Cameron danced in Song of Norway and in a company directed by Molly Lake. She also studied in Paris with former stars of the Russian Imperial Ballet, Lubov Egorova and Olga Preobrajenska, and with many notable English teachers including Anna Northcote.

By her own admission one of the most exciting periods of her life came when she was asked to demonstrate for two great teachers and former ballerinas—Lydia Sokolova and Tamara Karsavina. With Karsavina she also developed a teaching syllabus for the Royal Academy of Dance.

‘Sokolova was absolutely marvellous,’ Cameron once recalled. ‘She was not content with near being good enough, it had to be exact or else.’

Of Karasavina, she has recalled: ‘I found for the first time that what I had always dreamed of was true, and that’s why, now, I am such a stickler for perfection of technique.’

Cameron was guest teacher for many companies around the world including the Australian Ballet. In December 2010 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award for a lifetime of services to dance. Rachel Cameron is survived by her brother Alister and nieces Alison, Fiona and Christine.

Rachel Cameron Parker: born 27 March 1924, died 6 March 2011

Michelle Potter, 13 April 2011

Postscript: One of the images of Cameron that has fascinated me, as much for its 1940s glamour as anything else, is that of her with her colleagues from the Kirsova Ballet, Peggy Sager and Strelsa Heckelman, posing outdoors at Taylor’s Bay close to Kirsova’s home on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour.

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Clockwise from top: Peggy Sager, Strelsa Heckelman, Rachel Cameron, Taylor’s Bay, Sydney, 1943. With permission of the National Library of Australia.

Added 28 April 2011: Maina Gielgud studied with Rachel Cameron at various points in her life and they remained close friends until the end of Rachel’s life. Maina  shared this recollection:

Memories of Rachel from when she gave me private lessons when I was nine years old:   Passionate, outspoken, knowledgeable. I believe she was an excellent dancer with lots of personality and mammoth technique.

I always remember her coming to see me in Newcastle (UK) performing Swan Lake with Festival Ballet. I thought I was dancing quite well (for once!)—she said nothing, but wrote me a long letter which quite disillusioned me, but certainly made me rethink what I was up to and how I went about my work and my dancing…

She knew I knew that she only bothered because she thought I was worth it…