Performing Arts Collection
Ballets Russes in Australia
Ballets Russes in Australia


In 1936 Australian audiences witnessed firsthand the spectacle of the Ballets Russes, with the arrival of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet.  This company, lead by Colonel Wassily De Basil, was one of a number of Ballets Russes companies that were formed in the wake of the dissolution of Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russe following his death in 1929.  This first tour concluded in 1937 and was followed by two more tours by de Basil's Ballets Russes companies, the Covent Garden Russian Ballet in 1938-1939 and Original Ballet Russe in1939-1940.  Theatrical managers J.C. Williamson Pty Ltd brought all three companies to Australia.

The spectacle of choreography, music and design presented by the Ballets Russes companies was of a level not previously seen in Australia.  Amongst the forty-four works presented over the three tours were productions from the Diaghilev repertoire, such as Scheherazade and Le Spectre de la Rose, as well as those that post-dated the Diaghilev era, including Les Presages and Cotillon.  The tours were also notable for the world premieres of five ballets, including David Lichine's Graduation Ball, and the commissioning of Sidney Nolan to design Serge Lifar's Icare (1940).

The influence of the Ballets Russes on Australian audiences, artists and designers was profound, complex and long lasting.  While the heightening of audience interest in dance was one of the most immediate impacts, the tours also inspired a number of Australian artists to sketch and create works about the companies, including Daryl Lindsay, Grace Cossington-Smith, Roy Hodgkinson, and Loudon Sainthill.  However, the longest lasting impact of the Ballets Russes tours on Australian dance was the decision by a number of dancers to stay in Australia.  This notably included Edouard Borovansky, Helene Kirsova, Kira and Serge Bousloff, Tamara Tchinarova, and a group of Polish dancers - Raisse Kouznetsova, Valery Shaievsky and Edouard Sobishevsky.  Kirsova founded the Kirsova Ballet, Borovansky the Borovansky Ballet, Bousloff the West Australian Ballet and Kouznetsova and her colleagues the Polish Australian Ballet / Kouznetsova Ballet.  In the post war period, the Borovansky Ballet and Ballet Guild in Melbourne were two Australian dance companies that continued the legacy of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.  An example of which can be seen in the work of Norwegian-born artist Harald Vike, whose designs for the 1946 Ballet Guild production of Ruritaniana referenced Alexandre Benois' designs for Petrouchka in their stylistic folk imagery and fauvist influence.

Collection holdings

The Performing Arts Collection holds extensive material relating to the Ballets Russes in Australia. Material appears in the following collections; The Australian Ballet, Daryl Lindsay, Ben Arnott , J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. Collection, Lady Viola Tait, Borovansky Ballet, Phyllis M. Gutridge, Lynne Golding, Alan Charleston, Haydn Beck, Barbara Calton, and Nairn Taylor.

Notable items relating to the Ballets Russes include business records and correspondence; extensive holdings of artworks depicting dancers; extensive photographic holdings; the most extensive programme holdings in Australia; and comprehensive official and personal scrapbooks relating to each tour.  In addition, the Performing Arts Collection holds extensive collection of programmes relating to the Ballets Russes in England.

Date Range: 1936 - 1940

View catalogue records related to the Ballets Russes

Borovansky, Edouard
Borovansky Ballet
Lindsay, Daryl
Ballet Guild / Ballet Victoria