Jonathan Taylor and the Borovansky legacy

The following material, with the exception of my Sunday Herald article about Taylor from 1989, I prepared for my Facebook initiative Project Borovansky. It was intended to be a few paragraphs and a few photos acknowledging Jonathan and his work, particularly in the context of the Borovansky shaped roll-out of history. And then it evolved into something bigger. For more information about Taylor please see  Trove for a brief biography, Michelle Potter On Dancing for an obituary, VCA colleague Helen Herbertson for a tribute, and go to Rambert Voices to hear Jonathan on his early years and time at Rambert.Taylor funeral-1

The death of Jonathan Taylor has been yet another major loss to the Australian dance community. Dancer, choreographer, artistic director and former Dean of Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, Jonathan was known for his many artistic accomplishments but also for his vision of dance as a universal art with relevance for everyone. His warm hail fellow well met embracing of humanity, sense of humour and sheer pluck will be sadly missed.

Originally from England, Taylor first came to Australia in 1975 at the invitation of leading Borovansky Ballet alumni Laurel Martyn (1916–2013) and Garth Welch to stage one of his works, Listen to the Music, and create a new one for Ballet Victoria. Martyn, Edouard Borovansky’s company’s first ballerina, left the company in the mid-1940s and went on to direct the (Victorian) Ballet Guild, which became Ballet Victoria in the late 1960s. Welch joined the Borovansky Ballet in the mid-1950s. Having risen through the company’s ranks, he became one of the three Australian founding principals—all of them ex-Borovansky— of The Australian Ballet when it was formed in 1962. In 1975, Garth Welch was artistic director of Ballet Victoria.

Inviting Jonathan Taylor to choreograph a work was an inspired move because it resulted in the creation of Star’s End, an important artistic and popular success. In fact, Taylor so impressed that when Adelaide’s Australian Dance Theatre was re-formed in 1976, the board invited him to direct it.

Pask Star's End

Star’s End review and photo from Edward H. Pask, Ballet in Australia—The Second Act 1940–1980 (OUP 1982)Baxter Star's End

Australian Dance Theatre was founded By Elizabeth Dalman and associate Leslie White in 1965 as a contemporary dance company and in its first decade achieved considerable recognition locally and abroad for the quality of its output, which encompassed both the creation of original work and the restaging of important modern dance works from overseas. Taylor’s brief as the new director was to revitalise the company and to generate box office. With the assistance of former Rambert colleagues Joe Scoglio as assistant artistic director and Julia Blakie as ballet mistress, both of whom initially also danced with the ADT, he auditioned dancers versatile enough to move between contemporary and neoclassical styles and introduced a repertoire of original new works as well as some restagings, which included pieces by noted choreographers such as Christopher Bruce and Norman Morrice. The range of Taylor’s own choreographic output was extremely broad. His comic ballets delighted audiences. Having a shrewd sense of humour and a keen eye for the ridiculous, he created a mini masterpiece in Flibbertijibbet (1977). Understanding popular culture and its taste for a dramatic attack on the senses, in association with Nigel Triffit he created Wildstars (1979), a theatrical extravaganza of dance immersed in amplified sound and bathed in lighting and special effects. But above all, his focus was on the essence of dance and this found its fullest expression in what is widely regarded as his masterwork: Transfigured Night (1980), a finely wrought meditation on love.ADT-5 named


After nearly a decade, Taylor met the same fate as his predecessor Elizabeth Dalman when he fell out with the ADT board, which intended to replace him so he resigned.

On taking up his appointment as Dean of Dance at the VCA (1988–1997), by coincidence he replaced Garth Welch, who brought him to Australia in the first place.

Like Edouard Borovansky, Jonathan Taylor relished the artistic opportunities Australia offered and like Borovansky, he resettled permanently and very happily, with his theatre director wife Ariette and their three children, in his adopted country. Also like Borovansky, he was able to excite people about dance and worked hard at building audiences. While Borovansky was intent on dragging the masses to the ballet, Taylor worked relentlessly to attract the crowds to contemporary dance. The ADT was then jointly funded by its home state South Australia and by neighbouring Victoria, with both states enjoying the company’s strong presence. An ADT season was an eagerly anticipated event accompanied by an excitement hard to imagine these days. The ADT also toured overseas, something it started successfully in Dalman’s day and continues into the present, appearing in New York (May 3–6, 2019) as part of the Australia Festival. Taylor’s ADT was the first Australian dance company to appear at the Edinburgh Festival (1980).

While solid indication of the Borovansky Ballet’s public presence on the arts scene can still be found in the press clippings of its day, by Taylor’s ADT era it was much harder to garner attention from the mainstream media so we don’t have this resource. Nevertheless, Taylor was as attuned to the usefulness of the media as Borovansky. In fact, he was a major supporter of the establishment of Dance Australia magazine, founded by editor and publisher Dally Messenger in 1980. Messenger, who was a pioneer of civil celebrancy in Australia and personally appointed as a celebrant by Attorney General Lionel Murphy, started the financially fragile venture in response to his own dance-obsessed family’s inspiration. The dance community unanimously agreed that it was needed and while Messenger put his own neck on the line financially, he managed to garner support from the professional dance sector in the form of paid advertising. Taylor’s ADT was prominently among those who responded to the call. This lead to a close, enduring personal friendship between the two men and it was only appropriate that Dally Messenger was the officiating celebrant at Taylor’s funeral.

Along with their understanding of the value of media publicity, Borovansky and Taylor shared many other similarities, including their belief in developing Australian dancers as practitioner artists who performed with engaged understanding and commitment. Both also fostered supportive environments to encourage choreographers. Taylor did this at the ADT, at the VCA and for a time was even a committee member for Dance Creation, the ongoing chorepographer development initiative of the Australian Institute of Classical Dance, founded by Borovansky’s last ballerina and founding principal of The Australian Ballet Marilyn Jones.


Both Borovansky and Taylor inspired deep personal loyalty from their dancers. The Borovansky alumni network continues strongly, though with thinning ranks, over sixty years since Borovansky’s death. Taylor’s ADT dancers have their own Facebook page. Given that it is more than 30 years since the demise of Taylor’s ADT and given the tyranny of geography, a surprisingly large number made it to his funeral in Melbourne, where dancer Claire Stonier Kippen spoke as their representative.

While Borovansky worked within the strict confines of classical ballet, Taylor, a Genet medallist, who had studied with influential ballet teachers like Andrew Hardie and Stanislas Idzikowski, actually began his dance journey as a child tapper, something of which he was very proud and something that stood him in excellent stead when he worked in London’s West End, during the early ’70s, on the choreographic/direction side of theatre with the likes of stage and screen great John Mills, another tapper from way back. Taylor also studied with modern dance leaders like Anna Sokolow. One of his favourite quotes came from Sokolow: ‘If you don’t know why you’re moving, don’t!’ The quote was always delivered with acknowledgement of Sokolow and followed by a chuckle.

Like Borovansky, Taylor was a showman. Borovansky was famous for his curtain call speeches and while Taylor kept a low profile at ADT performances, he was also comfortable addressing audiences from a stage in other contexts. Only last July at the Cecchetti Annual Conference (Clock Tower Centre, Moonee Ponds, 8.7.2018) Taylor was one of an illustrious panel on Rambert featuring company veterans Audrey Nicholls, who is also a Borovansky ballet veteran, and Maggie Lorraine, as well as historian Dr Michelle Potter, Australia’s foremost authority on the Ballet Rambert Australian visit of 1947–49. Taylor rose to the occasion as its star. He brought to life his time with Ballet Rambert during its transition from a classical to a contemporary company. He vividly evoked Rambert’s steely personality with a range of memories, including his frustrated attempt to give his Albrecht a Bolshoi star flair in the manner of Fadeyechev’s dramatic conclusion to Giselle that had bedazzled British audiences during the historic 1956 Bolshoi Ballet visit. Taylor found Rambert’s ending very flat, so at one performance when he believed her to be absent, he fired things up dramatically, only to find himself ticked off by Rambert who was waiting for him off stage.

While Borovansky was notorious for his colourful, often insulting, sometimes cruel and abusive turn of phrase, particularly when correcting dancers in rehearsal, Taylor was low-key and considerate but didn’t refrain from offering his considered and plain speaking opinion on dance matters. Reflecting on one of my questions about the negativity surrounding the despair of young qualified dancers’ inability to find work locally, he shook his head thoughtfully and said, ‘If that was me, I’d be on the first cruise ship out of here.’

Haythorne Trib2015named

Jonathan Taylor, with daughter Juliet and flanked by Graeme Murphy, whose first ballet teacher was Borovansky veteran Kenneth Gillespie, his artistic associate Janet Vernon, and choreographer Barry Moreland, Borovansky veteran and founding member of The Australian Ballet. (In 2014, at the memorial for Harry Haythorne MBE, Taylor’s close friend since the 1950s and another fellow tap dancer, whom Murphy famously put on rollerskates in Tivoli when Haythorne was in his 70s.)

Interestingly, both Borovansky and Taylor relaxed with a recreational social sport very removed from the art of dance and its physical exertions. Borovansky was a keen angler whose fisherman mates knew him simply as ‘Ted’. Taylor was a dedicated lawn bowler. Both men also enjoyed getting away from the hurly burly of city life. Borovansky often escaped to what was then an isolated location on the Mornington Peninsula and Taylor loved the state forest at Taradale.

And so the threads of history are woven…

The Funeral

Jonathan Taylor was farewelled by family, friends and the dance community with a funeral at South Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 14 April, 2019, followed the next day by internment at Taradale where the Taylor family spend much recreational time at their off the grid house in the state forest.

The proceedings were lead by celebrant Dally Messenger and the order of service was framed by eulogies from Taylor’s three children: Juliet, Ingmar and Rebe. Each of them dealt with a period of Taylor’s life, demarcated by geography, and covered both the professional career and touchingly personal details and memories. First was ‘England’ which focused on the early years, growing up, becoming a professional dancer, joining Ballet Rambert and establishing himself as a choreographer and theatre director. ‘Adelaide’ dealt with Taylor’s years as artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre (1976–1985) and ‘Melbourne’ covered the subsequent years, which also included the numerous years as Dean of Dance at the School of Dance, Victorian College of the Arts. Other tributes from colleagues were interspersed among these and also referred to those specific periods.Taylor funeral-2

The flowers brought by most of the mourners to the funeral accompanied Jonathan Taylor’s coffin—decoratively painted by his grandson Harry, who was named in honour of the family’s great friend of nearly 60 years Harry Haythorne MBE (1926–2014)—to the graveside in Taradale’s historic cemetery, where Dally Messenger again officiated. He later described the burial as a very meaningful event, with the Thompson’s Foundry (brass) Band from nearby Castlemaine also in attendance.

Vale Jonathan.

Blazenka Brysha

Taylor interview 1989

The Sunday Herald was a separate operation to the daily Herald for which I worked in the late ’80s. The editor who commissioned this piece was not happy to get a serious article. In retrospect, I assume she wanted some celebrity fluff piece but had to fill the page so she ran a fair whack of what I wrote. However, in sub-editing something was scrambled and Taylor is named as a Ballet Guild ’emerging’ dancer (par 4)and his ‘broadest of dance backgrounds’ has lost its classical honing (par 5). Ever gracious, Jonathan took it all in his worldly stride when I apologised for what I regarded as a gross mess.

The Big Picture: Jean Stewart’s photo of Martin Rubinstein as Harlequin


If only one photograph was allowed to survive as a testament to mid-century Australian ballet, it would have to be Jean Stewart’s capture of Martin Rubinstein as Harlequin (Carnaval, as it was billed, Ballet Guild, 1949)—airborne, magnificent, a vision of joy in flight: Apollo taking respite in a moment of Dionysian abandon. And there the dancer hangs weightless in mid-air, perfectly composed, adorned by a delicate flourish of the arms and the parting of lips in a playful smile. Behind him is a rudimentary set consisting of a simple painted backdrop, a prop sofa dressed in a rather loose cover, and the very visible stage floorboards that complete the picture.


It tells the story of how aesthetic aspirations aligned with a grand tradition found their expression in energetic enthusiasm sustained by shoestring budgets. But that’s not all because this picture comes bursting at the seams with a big back story: the story of mid-century Australian ballet and Jean Stewart (1921–2017) was there photographically documenting big chunks of it.

The year is 1949. Martin Rubinstein (b 1924) is appearing as a guest artist with the Ballet Guild under the direction of Laurel Martyn (1916–2013). He is actually a guest star. Rubinstein is one of Borovansky Ballet’s biggest stars, hence drawcards, but the Borovansky Ballet is in recess. The mid-1940s saw it consolidate as a professional ballet company under the aegis of J. C. Williamson, Australia’s biggest theatrical entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

Actually, J. C. Williamson had offered the deal to Hélène Kirsova (1910–1962) and her Sydney-based Kirsova Ballet (1941–1944) first but she turned it down on grounds of artistic autonomy and integrity. Edouard Borovansky (1902–1959) was made of sterner stuff and not so fussy. He had toured with Pavlova, even coming to Australia for the first time with her in 1929. He had starved in Paris in the 1930s and returned to Australia with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet (Ballets Russes) tour in 1938. Like Kirsova he could sense the locals’ keenness for ballet and potential for recruitment as dedicated audiences. Like Kirsova he (with his wife Xenia) started a ballet school and worked hard towards establishing a ballet company.

Dancing Yearstxt

Borovansky’s contract with J. C. Williamson meant that Borovansky dancers were also recruited into JCW musicals such as The Dancing Years, Gay Rosalinda and Oklahoma! when the company was in recess.

Borovansky’s first Australian ballerina was Laurel Martyn. As a young ballet student she had been chosen to present Pavlova with flowers in Brisbane on the very tour that first brought Borovansky to Australia. At the time Martyn, 13, was a student of Marjorie Hollinshed, a dance teacher who turned her attention to ballet after seeing Pavlova dance on her first Australian tour, in 1926. J. C. Williamson had intended to bring Pavlova out much earlier, in fact, as a follow-up to presenting Adeline Genée—with her troupe billed as the Imperial Russian Ballet—in 1913, cashing in on the Ballets Russes mania that followed the Diaghilev company’s 1909 Paris première and accelerated the development of ballet as a sophisticated 20th century global art. War intervened.

In the troubled times that followed both ballet and fascination with it continued to grow. Touring was not only an economic imperative but an artistic necessity as performers needed to find audiences. The evolution of ballet has always been the story of a migratory art. Teachers crossed borders to find students and vice versa.

Martyn furthered her training in England under Phyllis Bedells, who with Genée was among the founders of what became the Royal Academy of Dancing. She then honed her technique in Paris under Egorova and Kchessinska and was the first Australian woman in the Vic-Wells Ballet, the first male being Robert Helpmann. With war looming in the late 1930s, Martyn returned to Australia where she found work teaching ballet under draconian conditions for Jennie Brenan, who had encouraged her to go to England in the first place and whose school was a major supplier of dancers for J.C. Williamson. Among her charges at the school Martyn taught a promising student Martin Rubinstein. Not surprisingly, he was selected to demonstrate in a coaching session by Anton Dolin, also a member of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet tour in 1938.


Borovansky was quick to recruit Martyn and Rubinstein for his enterprise. Martyn brought instant critical recognition as a dancer and as a choreographer. She also worked as Borovansky’s ballet mistress and assistant. Rubinstein developed quickly into a dance artist of note. They all worked on through the tough war years.

The Borovansky Ballet had only been a professional company briefly when Tamara Tchinarova, Borovansky’s colleague from the Covent Garden Russian Ballet tour, joined the company as dancer and artistic associate. Having settled in Sydney, she had worked with the Kirsova Ballet. After that company folded, she contacted Borovansky who eventually called her to join him after Martyn was injured.

Ever mindful of box office, J.C. Williamson wanted more Ballets Russes content in Borovansky productions. The company was already performing the ubiquitous universal favourite Les Sylphides and Le Spectre de La Rose, as well as Giselle, a work popularised by the Ballets Russes. The Borovansky Ballet was the first Australian company to mount Giselle and it was with Martyn in the lead.


Thanks to Tchinarova’s comprehensive knowledge, the Borovansky Ballet added Le Carnaval (Fokine) and Le Beau Danube (Massine) in 1945 and Schéhérazade (Fokine) in 1946.

Le Carnaval BorovanskyBtxt

Edouard Borovansky as Pierrot, Strelsa Heckelman as Columbine, Martin Rubinstein as Harlequin and Tamara Tchinarova as Chiarina

All three works were guaranteed audience pleasers and had a stage history in Australia. The role of Columbine in Le Carnaval had the distinction of first being performed in Australia by the great ballerina Olga Spessivtseva with the Dandre-Levitoff Russian Ballet in 1934. It was also a role that brought acclaim for Kirsova when she first came to Australia with the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet in 1936.

Borovansky danced Pierrot in the première cast of Le Carnaval,  Laurel Martyn danced Columbine and although it was Edouard Sobishevsky who partnered her as Harlequin, Martin Rubinstein went on to attain much success in all three ballets but especially Schéhérazade in which he danced the Golden Slave to Tchinarova’s Zobeide. The latter partnership was incendiary according to Tchinarova and brought huge acclaim. According to Valda Jack who danced in the production but also with Ballet Guild, Rubinstein’s death leap as the Golden Slave ‘brought the house down,’ as did his final leap through the window in Le Spectre de la Rose.


That incendiary partnership

Although Borovansky had performed Pierrot, the Chief Eunuch (Schéhérazade) and the Strong Man (Le Beau Danube) with the Ballets Russes to acclaim which grew with Tchinarova’s revivals, he did not know the rest of Tchinarova’s three additions in detail. In a letter to Barry Kitcher (reproduced in the digital edition of his memoir From Gaolbird to Lyrebird, BryshaWilson Press, 2016), she states: ‘Bousloff did not remember much, and Boro, of course knew his roles well but was vague about others. A favourite pastime of de Basil dancers in between appearances on stage was dressing room cards playing.


Like Borovansky, Serge Bousloff had come to Australia with the Covent Garden tour. As Fokine was also on that tour and personally mounted Le Carnaval, there had been opportunity to learn for those interested. While Bousloff, like Borovansky, may have been remiss in that area, he provided the Borovansky Ballet with a principal of note, famed for his stage presence and bearing if not his technique. A sample of his dancing can be seen in the Youtube snippets of the Borovansky Ballet’s Swan Lake Act II in which he partners Edna Busse, the first Australian ballet star produced by the Borovansky Ballet Academy under the guidance of Xenia Borovansky.


Frederick Ashton was one of Laurel Martyn’s colleagues at the Sadler’s Wells

Considering that Serge Bousloff and Vera Nelidova are credited with staging Ballet Guild‘s Carnaval, it must be assumed that Bousloff was either reproducing Tchinarova’s revival or that Nelidova, who had also come with the Covent Garden company, did all the work. Another possibility is that Bousloff’s wife Kira, who had also come with the Covent Garden company under her maiden name Abricossova, also contributed because her staging of Prince Igor was included on the same programme and she also appeared as Chiarina in this Carnaval. Kira Bousloff went on to found the West Australian Ballet and become that state’s most esteemed ballet teacher.

But back to Laurel Martyn. From Borovansky Ballet’s earliest days she was a major player as can be deduced from the fact that when the Borovansky Ballet Company was registered (1940), she is named as one of the five directors. In 1946 when the Melbourne Ballet Club, which had given Borovansky significant support for his company’s gestation, re-formed as the Ballet Guild, Martyn was recruited as director. The Ballet Guild’s brief was to develop Australian ballet by training dancers and building an accomplished company performing a repertoire favouring original local works. This suited Martyn well and she left Borovansky taking other dancers with her.

The Ballet Guild’s 1949 season is given in the small theatre at its studio, St Patrick’s Hall, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Rubinstein has a bravura technique that includes breath-taking elevation, superb turns, good line, polished finish and a refined flash of theatricality. Eve King is his Columbine. The promise of a dazzling future for the young dancers and the development of their artform wafts and romps across the stage with them.

Indeed, contemporary to this was the advent of the National Theatre Ballet (1949–1955), an artistically and theatrically ambitious venture by Gertrude Johnson’s National Theatre Movement, under whose auspices Borovansky presented his own Australian dancers for the first time. That was in a programme called First Season of Ballet at the Princess Theatre (1939).

The National Theatre Ballet was initially directed by Joyce Graeme, who with a few others, notably Margaret Scott and Rex Reid, stayed behind after coming with the profoundly influential Ballet Rambert tour of 1947—1949. The company produced a range of local works including by Laurel Martyn and Louise Lightfoot (who staged the first local production of Le Carnaval, in 1937 on the First Australian Ballet Company which she co-directed with Mischa Burlakoff, a dancer who stayed behind from Pavlova’s 1926 tour). It also employed many local dancers and more than a few who had worked with Borovansky; Kira Bousloff was the régisseuse générale in 1952. The company even included Le Carnaval, staged by Valrene Tweedie, a student of Lightfoot and Burlakoff who joined the Ballets Russes and left Australia with them in 1940. Tweedie danced Columbine.


Giselle was one of the traditional favourites that the Ballet Rambert performed among all the very new works it brought on its historic tour to Australia.

Although the National Theatre Ballet was relatively short-lived and most notably remembered for mounting the historic first staging of the full Swan Lake in Australia (1951), its existence broadened local ballet horizons considerably and heralded possibilities that were more fully realised with the coming of The Australian Ballet in 1962, managed by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, an organisation formed in 1954 taking a lead from the National Theatre Movement’s vision for the arts and responding to a growing awareness of the need for a formal public channel for the presentation and administration of the performing arts at the national level in Australia.

Borovansky continued to hold studio performances during his company’s recess in the late 1940s then returned in 1951 with the Borovansky Jubilee Ballet. It was to open in Sydney with a programme featuring a première of Petrouchka. Rubinstein was to dance the title role.

Petrouchka Kitchertxt

The Borovansky Ballet staged Le Carnaval again in the 1950s, and Laurel Martyn also continued to mount it on the Ballet Guild in its various incarnations over the years while at the same time producing a variety of original local works.

But back to the picture…

Rubinstein makes his biggest mark in roles made famous by Diaghilev’s greatest star Vaslav Nijinsky: Le Spectre de la Rose, the Golden Slave in Schéhérazade, Harlequin and Pertouchka. But fate intervenes. Rubinstein suffers a leg injury before he can dazzle the public with his Petrouchka at the Borovansky Ballet’s premiere of the work (Sydney 6.4.1951) and then a double bout of TB sweeps him from the stage forever.

The legend of Nijinsky—whose performing career was also ended by illness—grew to mythical proportions, fuelling the rise of the Ballets Russes and inspiring the 20th century’s finest dancers, one of whom—Mikhail Baryshnikov, partnering Natalia Makarova— makes the second of his two ballet dancing Australian appearances for Ballet Victoria, Ballet Guild’s final incarnation, in 1975.

Even 30 years after Rubinstein took his final bow, those who had seen him dance still spoke of those performances with awe.

Unlike Nijinsky, Martin Rubinstein recovered from his illness and went on to have a long and fruitful career as a ballet teacher, beginning with the Borovansky academy, where he introduced the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus, having graded to the highest level in it while still with Jennie Brenan, who had a long-standing friendship with Adeline Genée, one of the founders of the RAD. By the late 1950s, Rubinstein was travelling internationally as a children’s examiner and in the early 1980s he was made a Dual Examiner which meant that he could examine up to the highest levels (ie professional) in the system. He was the first non-English appointee and at the time this was an extraordinary honour. Subsequently he was awarded a Fellowship of the RAD and an Order of Australia medal. His long teaching career was associated most prominently with the Eve King Audrey Nicholls School of Ballet. King and Nicholls were also Borovansky Ballet veterans.

In 1964 The Australian Ballet performed Carnaval (sic), staged by Peggy van Praagh (1910–1990), its artistic director. She had come to Australia after Borovansky’s death in 1959 to direct his company for J. C. Williamson. When The Australian Ballet was formed under her direction in 1962, all of its Australian principals and more than half of all its dancers, its music director, stage director, assistant ballet master and mistress were all Borovansky personnel.

In the years that follow, Borovansky isn’t given much credit for his contribution to what became Australia’s critically acclaimed ballet culture. Then in 1980 when Frank Salter’s Borovansky, the man who made Australian ballet (Wildcat Press, Sydney) is published to redress the balance, Jean Stewart’s photo of Rubinstein as Harlequin is included with no mention that this is from another company’s production and no acknowledgement of the photographer.

Although Stewart remembered this to the end of her life, the wrongs were righted in 1982 when the photo appeared fully documented in Edward H. Pask’s Ballet in Australia: the second act 1940–1980 (Oxford University Press). Finally, it gets a glorious incarnation as a full page in Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon’s Australia Dances: making Australian dance 1945–1965 (Wakefield Press, 2010). With these two books Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild starts to get some long-overdue attention. Because Martyn continued to work creatively well after the demise of Ballet Guild, the historic importance of Ballet Guild tended to be overshadowed by focus on her as a very highly regarded leading member of Australia’s dance community.

So a Ballet Guild performance was passed off as one by the Borovansky Ballet. Considering that the line-up of not only the local companies of that era, but even the Ballet Rambert on its 1947–1949 Australian tour was a case of musical chairs, this is not so much fraud as simply a hint about the complexity of that history and an indication of how much sorting of fact is still required.

And what of Le Carnaval? The Australian Ballet under Maina Gielgud’s direction gives it another go in 1991 and none other than Laurel Martyn is called upon to mount it. On opening night Harlequin is danced by principal David McAllister who becomes the company’s artistic director in 2001, and so the thread of history unravels…



Blazenka Brysha

Special thanks to Valda Jack (Lang), Barry Kitcher and Judy Leech for help with photos and information for this story.



Additional research of visuals: National Library of Australia, Victorian State Library and Melbourne Arts Centre dance collections

Principal texts about the era:

Edward H. Pask, Enter the Colonies, Dancing (Oxford, 1979); Ballet in Australia (Oxford, 1982)

Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon, Australia Dances: Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 (Wakefield Press, 2010)

Frank Salter, Borovansky: the man who made Australian ballet (Wildcat Press, 1980)

Barry Kitcher, From Gaolbird to Lyrebird: a life in Australian ballet (eBook, BryshaWilson Press, 2016)

Edith Pillsbury, Lynne Golding, Australian Ballerina (Allegro Publishing, 2008)

Michelle Potter, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance (The Text Publishing Company, 2014)

Charles Lisner, My Journey through Dance (UQP, 1979)

Frank Van Straten, Tivoli (Lothian Books, 2003)

Other additional sources for

Valda Jack, Borovansky dancer who also appeared with Ballet Guild: author interviews


Kirsova as Columbine

Louise Lightfoot Le Carnaval

Le Carnaval Australian context

Tchinarova NLA Michelle Potter interview

Rubinstein NLA Michelle Potter interview

Valrene Tweedie

Karsavina, Nijinsky & Bolm Library of Congress photo

National Theatre Ballet

Kira Bousloff

Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust