“Seeing Pavlova was like hearing a great symphony—the more performances one attended the more was beauty revealed and art glorified’ (Dandré 1932, 378)
Pavlova’s second tour to Australia commenced in mid-March 1929. The company comprised approximately 42 dancers, and, with the inclusion of Australian extras, was larger than on her first tour in 1926. A larger repertoire was also performed. Maryinsky principal Pierre Vladimiroff was her partner, replacing Laurent Novikoff, Algeranoff returned and Edouard Borovansky made his first visit. Most of the ballets and nearly half the divertissements of the 1926 tour were repeated.
The company once again sailed to Australia, and when their boat arrived in Darwin, “a clutter of wooden houses with lots of Chinese” (Salter 1980, 37), they were advised not to disembark there so continued on to Townsville, as the early part of the tour was to include the North Queensland country towns of Rockhampton, Mackay and Bundaberg. These places were very proud to have the opportunity of Pavlova performing for them first. Two performances were given in Townsville, as the redecoration of a new theatre in Brisbane had not been completed in time. The Townsville theatre was outdoors, with sliding walls which let in the cool evening air, but otherwise did not appear like an outdoor theatre. The dancers’ hotel was opposite the sea, and they were surprised to learn that their drinking water came from rainwater tanks. The ‘locals’ didn’t know what to make of male ballet dancers, not to mention the fact that they had ‘tea’ at 11pm and didn’t want their early morning tea at 6am. The hotel manageress was hospitable, and took them for a drive to a “lake of blue water-hyacinths”, which from a distance looked like sky-blue fields surrounding a small island on which stood a huge gum tree full of sulphur-crested cockatoos.
In Bundaberg, a couple who lived on a sheep station said that they were so glad the company had come there to perform, as it had saved them traveling 300 miles to see the performance. In another country town the huge theatre they performed in was constructed of corrugated iron, and ‘the stalls’ were deck chairs.
They travelled by train to Brisbane—“a hot and dusty journey with nothing to look at but the dead gum-trees that so typified the Australian landscape” (Salter 1980, 37) and on the way they were surprised to find a Cossack farmers’ settlement. They were also surprised to discover in another small country town a close Russian community which included among others a doctor, architect, captain of cuirassiers, and a naval officer. Their wives ran dress shops. During the season all the men cut sugar cane for good money. Pavlova was impressed how they had adapted to the harsh conditions and, even with an ignorance of the English language, had brought up their children. Every one of them still had a love of their distant motherland. They warmly welcomed Pavlova and after her tour she received letters from them saying she had raised the prestige of the Russian nationality and that they being were treated with more consideration than before.
Pavlova’s main purpose was to reveal her art to the people of the world, and she made a point of dancing at every performance herself. She enjoyed going to small towns as performing in them let people normally unable to see her form of art, to see it. She wanted to show everyone in the world her dancing, regardless of the sort of theatre or orchestra. Many places she visited had never seen ballet before. “She was a missionary of the art of ballet dancing” (Hyden 1931, 145). She selected her ‘sentimental’ repertoire to please her audience. She loved romantic music which expressed the beautiful things in life, but was not fond of modern jazz music—“the jazz is too crude, and the crude surely is not beautiful”, she noted in a Daily Telegraph article on 17 April 1926 (p. 7). Her schedules were hectic. She often gave more than one performance in a day, and often travelled on to the next town the same day.
The new His Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane was the venue for performances from 30 March to 9 April. The stage had a squeaky board, however, which Pavlova found a little disconcerting. The opening program included Don Quixote, and the Brisbane Courier of 1 April wrote,
“When the world-renowned Pavlova made her first entry … she was greeted with a thunderous salvo of applause, an eloquent tribute to her popularity in Brisbane. She is indeed incomparable, and, after witnessing the wonderful performance, the claim that she is the greatest living dancer does not seem in the least degree exaggerated. (cited Pask 1979, 124).
Her popularity in Queensland certainly was immense.
In Brisbane, an enthusiast even built a room on to his house specially for her, but there were chickens which woke her too early in the morning, and she could not stay there. (Kerensky 1973, 49).
The closing night in Brisbane was an important landmark in Australian theatrical history, as it saw the presentation of Giselle, which had not been performed here for 69 years. Dance historian Edward Pask has commented, “Pavlova’s intense and joyous portrayal of the title role still stands to this day among the truly great performances in twentieth-century ballet” (Pask 1979, 124). The Brisbane Courier reported:
The crowning triumph of a brilliant season was produced at His Majesty’s Theatre last night, when the inimitable Pavlova presented a program which will live long in the memory of those fortunate enough to secure seats. The accommodation was hopelessly unequal to the demand, and many hundreds were reluctantly denied admission.
The audience was enthusiastic to the verge of frenzy, and seldom has any artist received such an ovation as did Pavlova after dancing Gavotte Pavlova with Mr Hitchens. Thunderous applause held up the performance for fully fifteen minutes as Pavlova and her partner bowed their acknowledgements, but the famous danseuse could not be prevailed upon to give an encore (cited Pask 1979, 124).
The company left on the Brisbane Express, continuing on their journey for the Sydney season, which was to run at the Theatre Royal 13 April – 22 May. They arrived in Sydney on 11 April and the Daily Telegraph Pictorial of 13 April published a photograph of the company in rehearsal, which as usual had begun immediately. Pavlova and other members of the company were also photographed ‘rehearsing’ outdoors.
Pavlova believed that to be successful, dancers must sacrifice themselves to the art. To preserve what they had acquired, idleness was never possible, and practice was essential every day to master technique. Concentration also had to be given to expression, to give life to the dance. The reward: the endowment to help people forget the monotony and sadnesses of life for a while. She said,
‘To attend, unfailingly, unflinchingly towards a goal, is the secret of success. But success? What exactly is success? For me it is to be found not in applause, but in the satisfaction of feeling that one is realising one’s ideal. When a small child, I thought that success spelt happiness. I was wrong. Happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away. (Svetloff 1974, 130)
Pavlova, once again, wasted no time in expressing her point of view on the necessity for a state or subsidised theatre. In an interview with a reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald, published on 12 April (p. 11), she declared,
This is a beautiful country and its people are delightful—so natural, so hospitable. They have gifts at their command: they have wonderful resources—and all these evidences of prosperity naturally lead one to ask 'Why are they not doing more for art?' They have great talents and these talents should be developed … You have a Conservatorium of Music, have you not? Is it not subsidised by the Government? Very well. What opportunities there are, then, for the treatment of the arts in their harmonious relation with each other.
She went on to say that it was not sufficient to establish schools of art:
There must be also theatres in which the students would have an opportunity of employing their gifts after their course of training in the schools. Otherwise, they must go abroad, and thus their talents were lost to their own country … Art must mean more to the people than a mere search for amusement or mere experiments to new forms: and our duty is to preserve the pure standards of art, and the sincerity of art. Therefore, the new forms must be proved.
Her views were also expressed in an article entitled “Test Tours for Ballet ‘Babies’—Pavlova’s Idea for Our Beautiful Girls”, published in the Daily Telegraph Pictorial on 12 April (p. 12).
Giselle opened the Sydney season, and delighted the audience, as the press duly reported:
Pavlova has danced again, and among those who were transported to fairyland … were the Governor-General and the Governor and suites … the great dancer showed that she still has the secret of perpetual youth and natural charm. Every action … is a joy to behold. (Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 15 April, 10).
Vivid imagery, delicate subtlety, lyrical beauty, magnetic charm, perfect virtuosity—all these belong to the matchless art of Pavlova … [who] gave so eloquent a meaning to the art of the ballet upon her first visit to Sydney. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 April, 7).
With the change of program,
Chopiniana [also] impressed the large audience … Pavlova’s dancing in this ballet is memorable in its refinement and exquisite grace, and is justly regarded as among her most superb achievements. (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April, 12)
Some works new to Australia were also performed. These included dances based on India and Japan—Oriental Impressions—which the Sydney Morning Herald described as being “a weird exotic ballet”, commenting that the audience had “murmured in astonishment at the ballets instead of being whole-heartedly carried away by them” (22 April, 6), but Don Quixote was “decidedly one of the most attractive ballets the great dancer has presented in Sydney” (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April, 7).
Sydney’s own Roseville Ballet, however, had been inspired by the ‘oriental’ and were preparing to perform ‘pretty numbers’ in The Geisha on 8 and 9 May. The ballet Champions saw Pavlova romp on “in modern tennis garb … looking like a girl of 18” (Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April, 10), and the “Pavlova-like Grace” was the focus for a photograph in the Daily Telegraph Pictorial on 16 May (p. 17).
The enthusiasm and excitement that Pavlova had once again aroused was to be seen far and wide—visitors from Melbourne and Moss Vale travelled to Sydney to see her performances, for instance, making their headquarters at the Hotel Wentworth and seeing each change of program.
A third prizewinner in Australia’s first lucrative art prize, the State Theatre Art Quest, which was held in 1929 to acquire decorations to adorn the magnificent new State Theatre, was William Dobell, with an oil painting of dancers entitled After the Matinee. Dobell, who shared third place with Mary Edwards, won 100 guineas ($210), became one of Australia’s most widely known artists, particularly when his winning the Archibald Prize in 1943 was challenged in court.
On Pavlova’s departure from Sydney the Daily Telegraph Pictorial for 23 May (p. 6) published a poem:
Light-footed, tireless, swift as birds
That poise and dip to meet the sea,
And, graceful as the cloud that floats
On far-off hills of Arcady,
Though from the boards your foot-steps pass,
And gone are all the gladsome train,
Our thoughts and wishes follow—they
Are wings to bear you back again!
She had made Sydney her home for the previous six weeks and, becoming tired of hotel life, had rented a house outside the city centre. It had a small garden, was in a nice spot on the shores of Sydney Harbour and only 20 minutes by car from the theatre. Some days she had to attend the theatre twice, but said she did not feel fatigued because she loved the ‘home life’. Sundays were spent going for picnics to places such as Bulli, and Govett’s Leap in the Blue Mountains. She had even employed her own shoemaker.
She and her manager (who was also possibly her husband), Victor Dandré, settled in well with their servants, belongings and birds. Pavlova had, as previously, collected birds from every country she had visited and carried them with her on tour (Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 13 April, 7). Export of birds from Australia at that time was, however, restricted and when the authorities became aware that she had the birds, they sent someone to inspect. Worried that her favourite birds would be confiscated, she hid them in a food box so they would not be found.
She particularly loved painted and diamond finches, and was given permission to buy 20 – 30 pairs. Every day she would let her favourite bird outside to fly and it always came back. On one occasion, it had not come back before she went to the theatre, and she was very distressed. Early the following morning, when she found it had returned, she was so happy that she took it to bed with her, and it must also have been happy, because it purred.
After the Sydney season, Pavlova travelled on to Melbourne, and again rented a house. She also commissioned from an 18-year-old Melbourne artist, Stanley Parker, a series of sketches/studies of the dancers, and was so delighted with them that she purchased the whole collection.
The Melbourne season at His Majesty’s Theatre ran 25 May – 24 June. A number of the performances were filmed, the idea being that it would assist the dancers to view them. (It would appear that, unfortunately, none of the films survive.) Autumn Leaves was this time included in the repertoire, having only been performed once in Melbourne in 1926, for a charity performance. Table Talk for 20 June reported
Pavlova, as the last chrysanthemum, and the russet autumn leaves whirled hither and thither by the west wind, is an unforgettable spectacle … special praise is due to Mr Hitchins, whose agile long legs and streaming wind-blown hair impersonate a wild west wind that makes the audience shiver in their seats. (cited Pask 1979, 126).
After Melbourne, the company went to Adelaide, where the season at the Theatre Royal ran 26 June – 3 July. While there, some of the dancers went flying in a plane, but Pavlova did not go with them. It appears that she never flew in a plane at all. She did, however, visit the artist Hans Heysen at Ambleside (now Hahndorf) in the Adelaide Hills and wanted to buy a particular painting, a large still life. Heysen gently but firmly told her that it was not for sale, having been created especially for its position in the house, and offered to paint her another and send it to her in England. She paid a deposit and he produced a similar picture. When it arrived she did not care for it, so she returned it and he posted back the deposit amount. The painting Pavlova wished for still hangs in The Cedars, Heysen’s Hahndorf home.
From Adelaide the company sailed to Perth on the Majola, docking at Fremantle. From there, they were taken to Perth by a taxi full to bursting with Pavlova, Dandré, three cages of canaries, bouquets of flowers, luggage, and a reporter from the West Australian. The taxi detoured to King’s Park for the view over the city and river, with which Pavlova was enthralled. It appeared to the reporter, however, that she was even more enthralled watching the magpies there foraging for food.
She told the reporter that she thought that if Australians were enthusiastic enough, they could become an artistic nation, but they took things too much as they came. “Great art needs to be built up on fine ideals and nourished in the right atmosphere,” she said. “You must always be yourselves. Never pretend … do not wear a cloak. Be enthusiastic about it. Be earnest, sincere in good or bad. If the Australians lift themselves and drop their … ‘Laissez’—the artistic side will come. I’m sure it will” (West Australian, 10 July 1929, cited Lazzarini 1984, 139).
Performances in Perth were given to capacity crowds at His Majesty’s Theatre beginning on 9 July, and a number were also filmed. Unsurprisingly, the West Australian reported that Pavlova once again “delighted a large audience who broke time and again into rounds of applause” (cited Pask 1979, 127). It appears that Pavlova had also invariably delighted two girls who had followed her all over the country. They adored her, and cried after the final Australian performance in Perth on 20 July, thinking they might never see her dance again.
By the end of the 1929 Australian tour, the company had presented 120 performances over a period of four months. Pavlova, then aged 48, had danced in every single one of them.
As to her three large cages of Australian-bred canaries, they were discovered once again, by authorities in Perth, who were concerned she may have been taking them out of the country to re-sell. After assurances that the birds were solely for Pavlova’s own aviary, permission was given to export them and she used her bathroom on the ship as a temporary aviary.
She also took with her some plants bought on a visit to a nursery, among them pots of boronia and an enormous bush of ‘purple bells’ in a large pot. The plants survived and flowered in her London greenhouse. Of the 120 birds she took home, only five or six were lost on the journey. Her favourite bird died only two months before Anna Matveyevna Pavlova herself died on 23 January 1931 in The Hague.
She had once said “I am a sower, I am but scattering the seeds. If I should live to see the harvest of my work how happy I should be” (San Francisco Examiner, 4 February 1921, cited Lazzarini 1984, 145). She had scattered her seeds, but did not live to see the harvest of her work. That harvest she left as an enduring legacy for future generations of Australians and the world. Pavlova’s philosophy was that “The future of dance is its past; one must take something of yesterday, today, to build tomorrow” (The Australian National Theatre Ballet School 2003, p.3)
Dancing and theatre had always played a part in Australia’s past, even from the beginning of colonial life in convict times, and, according to Pask, the first ballet produced in Australia was The Fair Maid of Perth, or The Rival Lovers performed on 17 January 1835 at the Theatre Royal in Sydney (Pask 1979, 2). Later, visiting artists brought ballets of the romantic era, including Giselle, which had its first Australian performance in Melbourne on 25 October 1855.
After the sensational success of Diaghilev’s Russian ballet companies, beginning in Paris in 1909, J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd were not slow to bring to Australia a group led by the Danish ballerina Adeline Genée, grandly titled the Imperial Russian Ballet. The repertoire included Coppélia, Les Sylphides and divertissements. The company opened at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne on 21 June 1913 and went on to Adelaide, from 2 August, then Sydney from 16 August until 7 October.
Plans to bring Pavlova and her company the following year were thwarted by the outbreak of war, but when she did come, in 1926, she brought a new concept of ballet to the geographic isolation of Australia. She opened up an exotic and dazzling world and the population was mesmerised by her, even attracting people who had no particular interest in her art. After her tours interest in and public following for ballet in Australia increased enormously.
Pavlova used to her advantage, in specially chosen roles, her fragility, delicate movements, lightness, natural grace, emotion and passion to convey those roles to the audience and leave lasting memories with them. She cast an enchantment that left a deep and enduring impact felt in every part of the country, transforming the world of classical dance and ballet in Australia as she did elsewhere.
Regarding the 1929 Sydney season M.M.B. Wilson wrote in January 1931:
As we watched her we asked ourselves: Wherein lies the secret of the spell she weaves? Into what crock of fairy has she dipped her hands to scatter its gold dust upon the world? The only answer must be that the subtle secret lay within herself. Behind those shadowed eyes was something which was not of the world as we know the world. Something rarer and finer that made of her all her life an intangible elusive spirit … She lived beauty all her life, she created it in every movement, and now she has left us such a heritage of memories that we who knew her must surely live more beautifully, and so pass to generations yet unborn the magic of her spell. (cited Dandré 1932, 399)
Her style was in the best and purest traditions of the classical school, which she made appear so simple and natural. She possessed the gift of expression, and the ability to radiate complete harmony. One of the thousands of young people she inspired was Frederick Ashton, who later wrote,
I first saw [Pavlova] in Lima, Peru, as a small boy, and I immediately became infected by her. From that moment I never wished to do anything else but be connected with the dance. (Lazzarini 1984, 9).
In his introduction to Oleg Kerensky’s biography of Pavlova, Ashton had already written,
Anna Pavlova, like all great theatrical geniuses, had a mysterious, engimatic [sic], undefinable quality. There has never been a dancer like her. In performance she was disturbing; even if you did not take to her, you could not help but be aware of the force, strength and charm of her personality, and of the utter absorption and genius of her interpretations, whatever role she was dancing … Her impact was felt throughout the world … ‘the immortal swan’ injected a mere boy with her potent poison and he has never been the same since. (Kerensky 1973, ix)
In 1926, after seeing Pavlova dance, Marjorie Hollinshed’s life also changed forever. Hollinshed was a young Brisbane dancer and teacher of ‘fancy dancing’, who took two lessons with Laurent Novikoff, Pavlova’s partner, and appeared briefly onstage with the company. After these experiences she stopped teaching ‘fancy dancing’, concentrated on the techniques of classical ballet, and continued to learn everything she could about it.
In 1929, when Pavlova again came to Brisbane, some of her students were included as extras in performances. She became an influential teacher, and teaching standards and methods greatly benefited through her efforts. In December 1929, for instance, she arranged the first summer school of classical ballet in Australia. Several of her students became famous dancers, including Laurel Martyn (who as a young girl in 1929 was chosen to present Pavlova with a bouquet in Brisbane), who established the Victorian Ballet Guild in 1946.
During Pavlova’s Australian tour in 1926, Robert Helpmann’s father travelled to Melbourne from Adelaide and asked Pavlova to take his young son into her company. He was accepted. Her influence on him was immense, and his love of ballet deepened. He said,
To me she was a goddess....she was the greatest possible creature on the stage … she was just unbelievable, but I learnt from her ... She represented everything I wanted to be. She was the most important single influence on my life. (cited Bemrose 2008, 18).
Helpmann not only had practical lessons. Her magic was such, that he used to sit in the audience and he watched every performance she gave while on tour in Australia. He also used to watch her practice until 15 minutes before a performance. This made him realise that, to become great in ballet, you need to work every waking moment. When Don Quixote was performed in Sydney, he appeared as an extra, and at the end of the tour, Pavlova wanted to take him back to Europe with her. His parents did not agree as he was only seventeen, and his world evaporated—after being with her, everything was an anticlimax. Helpmann stayed in Australia and danced in musical comedies for J.C. Williamson until 1933, when he travelled to London, joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet and embarked on his unparalleled career in ballet, theatre and film.
Even though Pavlova was often criticised for her conservative and old-fashioned views about music, decor and manners no other dancer inspired so many to want to dance. It was her influence that saw so many children enrolled in ballet schools, even half a century after her death, because their grandmothers or great-aunts had seen Pavlova dance, and the lives of generations of Australian dancers were transformed by seeing her. The German dance writer Horst Koegler attempted a summary:
her most impressive qualities were her unique lightness, grace, poetry, and spirituality; she became a legend and a household name in her own lifetime. (Koegler 1977, 407).
Pavlova’s untimely death in 1931 was a devastating loss. However, in 1934 a company formed by Dandré and Alexander Levitoff, followed by the de Basil Ballets Russes companies (1936 – 40) toured to Australia. Some of her dancers, including Borovansky and Algeranoff, along with a number from other companies, eventually remained, and many small ballet groups were established all over the country, bringing her art to a generation who only knew Anna Pavlova as a legend, and the greatest dancer in the world.
Pavlova’s legacy continues to linger in the scattered seeds that she began sowing so many decades ago. They have blossomed and flourished. She motivated the teaching of classical ballet and the establishment of classical ballet schools. She bestowed on Australia an avid ballet audience, an audience that developed an appreciation of excellence. The company created by Borovansky and presented by J.C. Williamson from 1944 – 1960 led to the foundation in 1961 of the Australian Ballet, which achieved international status early in its career and has become one of the busiest ballet companies in the world. It is in such demand that its 72 dancers present over 180 performances each year, both in Australia and overseas. As Pask succinctly commented over thirty years ago, “In the past Australia received the ballet … today she is giving the dance to audiences across the world” (Pask 1979, 169).
Pavlova has been described as ‘alluring’, ‘the enchantress’, ‘enticing’, ‘ethereal’, ‘immortal’, ‘incomparable’, ‘inimitable’, ‘superb’, ‘a veritable genius’, ‘vivacious’, ‘whimsical’, ‘the world’s greatest exponent of the art of the ballerina’, but, in the words of the Australian ballet photographer Hugh P. Hall, “It is impossible to describe or tabulate all the qualities and attributes of this consummate artist” (Hall 1948, 16).
The last word can go fittingly to Frederick Ashton, the thirteen-year-old boy she so inspired one evening in Lima:
“Her name can never die, and such a living and passionate spirit must continue to haunt the world to which she gave so much delight and inspiration” (Lazzarini 1984, 9).
- Anna Bemrose (2008), Robert Helpmann: Servant of art (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press).
- Victor Dandré (1932), Anna Pavlova in art & life (Sydney: Cassell).
- Hugh P. Hall (1948), Ballet in Australia (Melbourne: Georgian House).
- Walford Hyden (1931), Pavlova—the genius of dance (London: Constable).
- Oleg Kerensky (1973), Anna Pavlova (London: Hamish Hamilton).
- Horst Koegler (1977), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (London: Oxford University Press).
- Roberta and John Lazzarini, eds. (1984), Pavlova—impressions (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson).
- Edward Pask (1979), Enter the colonies dancing (Melbourne: Oxford University Press).
- Frank Salter (1980), Borovansky: The man who made Australian ballet (Sydney: Wildcat Press).
- Valerian Svetloff (1974), Anna Pavlova (New York: Dover Publications).
- Online publications: The Australian National Theatre Ballet School. 2003. History of the Ballet School.
- http://www.nationalthreatre.org.au (accessed April 10, 2003).
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Great dancer arrives. Art in Australia’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Test tours for ballet “babies”—Pavlova’s idea for our beautiful girls’, Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 12 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Lady of the birds’, Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 13 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova danced again—her eternal charm and perpetual youth’, Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 15 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova. A great welcome. Superb dancing.’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 April.
- Newspaper: (1926) ‘Pavlova—arrival yesterday—art and music’, Daily Telegraph, 17 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova. A fascinating figure. New ballet’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova. A weird exotic ballet. “Oriental impressions.”’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova. “The fairy doll.” A new ballet’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova. ‘“Don Quixote.”’ New divertissements’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘The voice of the city. Pavlova’, Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 23 May.
- Newspaper: (1929) ‘Pavlova sorry to leave Sydney. Many encores on last night of season’, Daily Telegraph Pictorial, 23 May.