Ballets Russes is a generic name given to a succession of ballet companies which emerged in Europe after the demise of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1929. These companies were founded and managed by Colonel Wassily de Basil and Renee Blum, either jointly or separately. They continued the Diaghilev tradition performing much of his repertoire and using some dancers from the Diaghilev companies.
During the 1930s and 1940s there were several Ballets Russes companies which toured throughout Europe, the Americas and to Australasia. Three Ballets Russes companies were formed for touring to Australia between 1936 and 1940. Two of these tours, in 1936/37 and 1938/39, included New Zealand. All three Australasian tours were entrepreneured by J.C. Williamson.
Audiences in Australia had previously seen a sampling of the Diaghilev tradition through earlier tours by companies built around prominent ballerinas. In 1913, Adeline Genee toured to Australia with members of the Imperial Russian Ballet. Anna Pavlova toured to Australia twice with her own companies in 1926 and 1929.
In 1934, the Dandre-Levitoff Russian Ballet company toured to Australia, headed by the famous Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtzeva. These companies had strong links to each other, eg. Victor Dandre was Pavlova's Manager. As well, dancers such as Algeranoff came to Australia with Pavlova in 1926 and 1929, and later returned with the Ballets Russes.
[NB. The National Library holds collections of programs for each of these earlier visiting companies]
Names used by the ballet company
The various companies formed by de Basil and Blum tended to use parts of each other's names, which can lead to confusion.
For the Australasian tours the first company in 1936/37 was called Colonel W. de Basil's Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, sometimes abbreviated to The Monte Carlo Russian Ballet.
The second company in 1938/39 was called the Covent Garden Russian Ballet.
For the third company touring in 1939/40 three names were used - Colonel W. de Basil's Covent Garden Ballet, Colonel W. de Basil's Ballet Company and finally The Original Ballet Russe.
[Further details on the companies' lineages are given in various references such as Walker, Pask and Cargher - see the Bibliography]
A caution about Russian names which can vary greatly. Spelling used in this Ballets Russes holdings list is based on that commonly used in the programs and cast lists published during the tours.