The story of the West Australian Ballet Company’s 1964 tour of the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia is taken from manuscript MS 1564 held in the National Library of Australia, Canberra. The provenance of the document is not clear but it is attributed to Kira Bousloff ‘as told to Val Green’ in 1964. It is reproduced with the kind permission of Kira Bousloff’s daughter, Dr Tamara Walters. As far as possible the original format of the manuscript has been maintained. It has been edited by Sally Clarke.
In 1961, the West Australia Ballet Company presented ballet to people in remote areas of the Northern Territory and the North-West of Western Australia. A second tour was arranged in 1964 and the visit included a season of ballet presented during the first City of Darwin Festival.
The dancers were accompanied by Founder-Director of the Company, Madame Kira Bousloff; President, Mr. H.W.F. Edwards; Vice-President and Wardrobe Mistress, Mrs. Dolores Clifton; and Pianist, Mr. Peter Sluik.
Travelling by MacRobertson Miller Airlines, the group left Perth Airport on Friday evening 24 July. During sixteen days on tour, the Company presented nineteen performances in nine different towns and a distance of more than four-and-a-half thousand miles was covered by air, bus and private transport.
MacRobertson Miller Airlines sponsored the tour and arranged air schedules to make this fantastic achievement possible. The wonderful co-operation of all their staff was much appreciated, particularly assistance given by Mr. J. Griffin, who travelled with the Company as MacRobertson Miller Airlines representative.
Dancers on tour
Miss Georgia Beall, Miss Terri Charlesworth, Miss Marouska Harmelin, Miss Sylvia Hickey, Miss Jenny Miller, Miss Colleen O’Sullivan, Miss Diana De Vos, Mr. Alec Gilchrist, Mr. Reg Whiteman, Mr. William Pepper
(with approx. distance from Perth)
- Wittenoom Gorge, WA 930 miles
- Derby, WA 1,515 miles
- Darwin, NT (3 times) 2,627 miles
- Batchelor, NT 61 miles south of Darwin
- Katherine, NT 195 miles south of Darwin
- Wyndham, WA 2,055 miles
- Kununurra, WA 2,082 miles
- Port Hedland, WA 1,061 miles
- Carnarvon, WA 600 miles
From Madame Bousloff's diary
We left Perth on Friday evening, 24 July. On arriving in Wittenoom Gorge at 2am the following morning, the entire countryside was simply a dark mass and we felt that we had been dropped at the end of the world. When we awoke some hours later, the view from the windows of the house we were staying in was absolutely breath-taking. In place of the darkness, we were amazed to see enormous rocks, like giant stairs, the changing colours, red, brown and blue-black of the asbestos for which this area is famous. The sky was a marvelous blue, but the town itself was hot, dusty and dry.
The hall caused another kind of breath-holding. There were no front curtains of any kind, a platform-type stage and no scenery. Fortunately, the company carried their own four spotlights, backdrops, cut-outs for Peter and the Wolf—the tree and fence, ‘legs’ and borders. With assistance from Mr. Edwards (Eddie) and some local helpers, I was able to erect some background curtains around the very small stage.
Our first performance began at 8pm. With no front curtains, the dancers had to enter during the introduction, pause and wait for their cue. Despite the difficulties, the audience were most receptive and appreciative.
Sunday was a day off. We were taken for a trip to those thrilling and exciting asbestos gorges and mines, before leaving at 10.30am for our second town, Derby. We arrived there at 2.15pm and the dancers had the rest of the day to relax. With some assistance from local people, Eddie and I worked on the stage floor until 10pm. The Derby Hall presented a terrific challenge, but we were able to overcome most difficulties. The dancers had a most enjoyable evening in a private home.
Monday 27 July Three performances — 9.30am (schools), 2pm and 8pm. Four hours sleep.
Tuesday 28 July Left Derby at 5.50am and arrived in Darwin at 11.30am (Central Time). Darwin Hall has proper stage curtains and lighting, so we were able to rehearse all ballets in the afternoon. First performance was at 8pm to a very appreciative audience.
Wednesday 29 July Performance Darwin 10am (schools) and 8pm
Thursday 30 July Performance Darwin 10am (schools) and 8pm.
During our stay in Darwin, Mr. Roger Nott, Administrator of the Northern Territory, and Mr. Alan Aitkins, Assistant Administrator, arranged for us to meet three different tribal groups of Aborigines and we were able to compare techniques. The Aboriginal dancers were bright and colourful in their various decorations, and some of the movements they showed us were very expressive.
Earlier in 1964, some of the men we met had been chosen by Stefan Haag, of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, to dance their original tribal dances in Melbourne and Sydney.
Members of the Company were all very interested in their Alligator and Kangaroo Dances. In turn they showed parts of the Black Swan ballet, the Blue Birds from Aurora’s Wedding and different ways of lifting each other.
This Ballet-Corroboree was a most exciting experience for the members of our company. We finished the visit by joining in and trying all the movements we had just seen, a sight I will never forget. The Aboriginal dancers came to our matinée and loved Peter and the Wolf.
In a film we have since received, the three groups of Aboriginal dancers appear to have distinctive movements, but all are strong, agile and apparently tireless. One scene shows young Jenny Miller balancing precariously on the shoulders of an elderly Aboriginal dancer, with Alec Gilchrist encouraging and advising, to the obvious enjoyment of Mme Bousloff, Company members and the Aboriginal dancers.
Friday 31 July Left Darwin by car and arrived at Batchelor later that afternoon. It was a pleasant surprise to find a good strong stage built on oil-drums, complete with curtains. The rehearsal was most enjoyable as there was a beautiful swimming pool. We all wore bathers and hopped in and out of the pool between times.
After the evening performance, Professor Baxter, of the Atomic Energy Commission, came on stage to thank members of the West Australian Ballet Company for coming to Batchelor. He assured the audience that the standard of Ballet was as good as any he had seen in Sydney. We returned to Darwin the same night.
Saturday 1 August Two performances 2pm and 8pm.
Sunday 2 August We were taken to Katherine by private cars. Performance at 8pm and stayed the night.
Monday 3 August Returned to Darwin. We had the rest of the day off and the townspeople gave a farewell barbecue for the Company that evening.
Tuesday 4 August Mrs. Roger Nott, wife of the Northern Territory Administrator, organised a picnic on the beach after which we went straight to the plane, leaving at 1.15pm. We arrived in Wyndham at 2pm, back to a difficult stage etc. Performance at 8pm.
Wednesday 5 August We left Wyndham for Kununurra, travelling by coach over very poor roads and amid clouds of dust. Even so, we persuaded the driver to travel over some side tracks to look for brolgas. We were fortunate to see hundreds of brolgas, in their natural surroundings. What a fabulous sight! There were cattle everywhere, the trees covered with white cockatoos like almond blossoms in the distance.
We arrived at Kununurra, hoping the stage had been improved since our last visit in 1961, but not so. There was one difference, this time the stage was set up inside the canteen. It consisted of petrol drums with planks across, supporting sheets of masonite. The canteen traded until six o’clock, so we were not able to begin cleaning up, or arranging the stage until after closing time.
One of the girls had a gastric infection and was sent to bed. The rehearsal, necessary for someone else to perform her roles, was held on the floor just in front of the stage, which meant dodging the chairs.
While the rehearsal was taking place, ten local boys were madly hammering the stage together, Eddie was trying to manage the curtains and the keenest members of our audience were already entering the hall to secure the best seats. Our pianist, Peter Sluik, played as loudly as possible to make his music heard above the hammering. My voice was hoarse from shouting directions above the noise and I must admit I had my first, and worst, moment of panic in the whole tour.
The audience consisted mainly of men, with a few wives. Our dancers had to change together in the canteen kitchen, or at the back of the makeshift stage, and take their places in the dark. When I went on stage to announce the performance, the noise was deafening, wolf whistles, cat-calls and weird cow-boy noises. The spotlight picked out the dancers, the audience gasped and then there was complete silence.
As the movement began—horrors!—Marouska Harmelin collapsed in a heap on the floor. She had slipped through a join in the masonite, there being no wood under that particular spot.
We watched in amazement as she struggled to rise. When she burst into tears, we realised her predicament. Alec Gilchrist, Reg Whiteman and I rushed to help her. Alec and Reg tore the masonite from around her leg.
I lost my temper and said “That's the end! Everyone go home!” The audience stood up and yelled their disappointment, begging for the show to go on. So, more hammering and noise for twenty minutes, while Peter Sluik tried to keep the audience entertained with his music.
Later, on a newly-built stage, with Marouska back in place, bruised but unharmed, the performance resumed. The audience showed their appreciation with great applause and many compliments on Marouska’s fortitude, rather remarkable in a seventeen year old girl.
In Kununurra, all the girls were billeted together in a private home which had been vacated by its owners for the night. We very much appreciated this. With their hospitality, this town, over two thousand miles from Perth, showed their gratitude to the West Australia Ballet Company, thanking us for the effort we had made to bring some entertainment to their outback home.
Thursday 6 August Left Kununurra for Port Hedland. After a performance at 8pm, we stayed the night.
Friday 7 August Left Port Hedland for Carnarvon. Three shows there, 8.30pm Friday; 9.30am and 2pm Saturday.
Sunday 9 August Travelled to Perth, arriving 5pm. I was so proud of my dancers when they arrived. They all looked as though they had just been on a leisurely cruise, so fit, happy and beautifully dressed. How they managed this last effort still puzzles me.
This tour was a most wonderful experience for all, the Director, President, Dancers and Wardrobe Mistress. We arrived home with a marvelous feeling of achievement, pioneers having taken Ballet to people who have no opportunity to see it otherwise and who had so deeply appreciated and encouraged our endeavours.
West Australian Ballet Company (Inc) 1952 – 1965
- 1952 company formed through public meeting (press ads); Ballet Gypsy Baron, His Majesty’s Theatre
- 1953 ballet season, His Majesty’s Theatre
- 1954 ballet season, Arts festival of Perth; Ballet season, His Majesty’s Theatre
- 1955 season at Festival of Perth; lecture/demonstrations at schools
- 1956 season, His Majesty’s Theatre
- 1957 season, University Arts Festival; public lecture/demonstrations on history of ballet by the company with Madame N.Wulffius from Leningrad Ballet School; company appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan presentation of The Balalaika
- 1958 season, Festival of Perth
- 1959 Her Excellency Lady Gairdner appointed Patroness of the company; season, Capitol Theatre
- 1960 season, Capitol Theatre; building Mary Miller, Aboriginal dancer
- 1961 season, Capitol Theatre; extended country tours; season - Darwin and north-west WA (£1,000 profit in Darwin). First visit of a ballet company to these areas.
- 1962 Paul Grinwis produced his ballets for a two week season and the Capitol Theatre under direction of Kira Bousloff
- 1963 Television and country tours; 6 week tour for Adult Education Board. (country tours always profitable)
- 1964 Television production and second tour of NT and north-west WA; season, Darwin during the first City of Darwin Festival
- 1965 Country tour to eleven towns 11 – 23 October, 15 performances
Established ballets performed
Graduation Ball; Prince lgor; Coppélia; Giselle; Swan Lake—Act II; La Boutique Fantasque; Aurora’s Wedding; Le Baiser de la Fée; Nutcracker (complete); Peter and the Wolf; Don Quixote—pas de deux and Grand Variation; Beau Danube; Les Sylphides; Petrouchka; La Fille Mal Gardée
Beach Inspector and the Mermaid; Kooree and the Mists; Fire at Ross’s Farm; Brolga (Winner of Ulanova Laureate, Moscow premiere (Terri Charlesworth, 1957); Woodara; Death of a Kangaroo Paw; Black Swan (Solo); The Party (Modern); The Surfers
Original ballets for and by the WABC
Moment Romantique (Chopin); Poème Symphonique (Liszt); Romane (folk); Little Symphony (Britten); Symphonic Variations (Franck); Song Cycle (Penberthy); Parasol (Schumann); Minuit Place Pagalle (trad.); Sunflower (Russion folk); Cinderella—3 acts (Penberthy); Moskowski Waltz (Moskowski); Les Chats (Ibert); Parades (Milhaud); Escenas Madrilenas 1900 (Spanish national music); The Party (modern) (Nelson)
Choreographers for productions in Perth
Marina Beresowska; Janina Cunovas; Edward Miller; Gerard Sibritt; Diana Robinson; Paul Grinwis; Yurek Shabelevsky; Kiril Vassilkovsky; Kira Bousloff; Cecilia Santos (Spanish); Robert Pomié; Terri Charlesworth
Aina Reega (National and Borovansky); Arvid Fibigs (National and Borovansky); Raymond Trickett (National and Borovansky); Yurek Shabelevsky (South America); Vassili Trunoff (Festival and Borovansky); Joan Potter (Festival and Borovansky); Robert Pomié (overseas, Borovansky and Australian Ballet Company — 3 times); Kathie Gorham (overseas, Borovansky and Australian Ballet Company); Helen Ffrance (Borovansky); Edward Miller (Royal Ballet); Paul Grinwis (Overseas and Borovansky); Christiane Hubert (overseas and Borovansky); Sylvia Palvolgyi (Robert Pomié’s Ballet Theatre le Français,soloist and co-star with Robert Pomie in his Gold Award-Winning television ballet — The Web 1963).
Dancers from the company to succeed elsewhere
Kevan Johnston (J.C. Williamson); Douglas Gilchrist (National, Prague and Australian Ballet Company); Julianna Webster (Marquis de Cuevas); Gerard Sibritt (Marquis de Cuevas and new London Ballet Dance Theatre); Christine Mearing (Marquis de Larraine and Australian Ballet Company); Reg Priestman (France, United States and Scandinavia); Norman Thorpe (France, United States and Scandinavia); Meree Inwood (Italy and Spain); Terri Charlesworth (Italy, Russia, China); Mary Miller (television etc. in the eastern states); Jenny Miller (noticed by companies in London, including Harlequin); Marouska Harmelin (Pretoria Ballet Company)
New ballets introduced during the 1965 season by Robert Pomie
Spanish Fantasy (Chabrier); Suite Classique (Bizet); The Web (Badings); Cain and Abel Television Award for 1963.
These are original Pomié ballets shown in Western Australia for the first time. (The other three ballets on his 1965 program, appear in the above lists—La Fille Mal Gardée (estab.); The Party (original) and The Surfers (Australian)
Australian Ballet School from WABC
Paula Duff (winner of Dame Margot Fonteyn scholarship); Margaret Mercer William Pepper (winner of one-year bursary).
Australian Ballet Company season—Festival of Perth 1965
At an open audition for this season, out of 70 or more dancers, 24 were chosen. The West Australia Ballet Company supplied more than half of those chosen.
Television appearances in full ballets—to December 1963
TVW 7, 6 appearances
ABW 2, 10 appearances
Country tours by WABC
Over seventy towns were visited between 1959 and 1964 with tours having been made each year during the six years. Districts visited were in all parts of Western Australia (North-West, South-West, Central South, Goldfields, Southern Agricultural and Northern Agricultural Divisions) and over a large area of the Northern Territory.
Ballet schools sprang up in the wake of many of these tours and, as a result of the high standard shown by the West Australia Ballet Company, interest in ballet was fostered in many parts of the two states.
The 1964 tour in the North West of Western Australia and the Northern Territory was the second visit made to those outback areas normally ignored by visiting and resident groups in Western Australia.
MacRobertson Miller Airlines sponsored the tour and, traveling in MacRobertson Miller Airlines aircraft, the company visited nine different towns, gave nineteen performances, and in the sixteen days of the tour, travelled more than four-and-a-half thousand miles.