Each tour of the Ballets Russes followed a familiar pattern of performing a large number of shorter ballets. None of the seasons included a program featuring just one full length ballet. Instead, there was an average of three ballets per program, sometimes up to five. In addition, programs changed frequently. The longest run of one program was for eight nights plus matinees, the shortest was for just one performance.
All these factors are common to any dance company, particularly a touring one. However with the Ballets Russes, the large number of ballets performed over a long period of time make for a particularly complex picture.
The publishing of programs
Beginning in the 1920s, the J. C. Williamson organisation [JCW] published a Magazine programme in cities with theatres operated by them, namely Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. These multi-purpose publications covered current and forthcoming attractions in JCW theatres in each of these cities for various periods.
The frequency of the Magazine programmes is difficult to accurately establish. Some assistance in dating is given on cast list pages announcing "Season commencing June 23 ... ". In some cities such as Melbourne and Sydney where JCW operated up to three theatres the issuing of a Magazine programme appears to have been relatively frequent (either weekly or fortnightly) and the publications themselves were larger, often over 50 pages.
In general, the covers of the Magazine programmes were the same for long periods of time and were usually used in all cities. However, for major attractions such as the Ballets Russes tours, some special covers were used at various times. These special covers are indicated in the chronological listings for each Ballets Russes tour.
The Magazine programmes included a large amount of advertising and publicity material for current and forthcoming attractions with biographies, portraits, scenes from attractions and reports from overseas featuring prominently. Much of this information was repeated or rearranged from issue to issue. Advance publicity increased in volume as the attraction drew nearer.
In relation to the Ballets Russes tours, Magazine programmes are particularly useful for the publicity surrounding the tours, articles by Arnold Haskell, biographies, and portraits of dancers, music staff and management. Product advertising using leading dancers is also of interest.
The combined publicity machines of de Basil and J. C. Williamson produced glossy Souvenir programmes for some of the seasons. Largely photographic in nature, they featured principal dancers of the company, scenes from some of the ballets performed, and leading personalities associated with the tour. These should not be confused with some issues of the routine Magazine programmes which have "Souvenir Programme" overprinted on the cover, but which contain nothing of a special nature.
Cast lists for musicals, variety shows, dramas and comedies were usually included in the text of the Magazine programme. However, for opera and ballet they were NOT included. Instead, separate four page folded Cast lists were published covering a season of a multiple bill, whether it was for one, three, five or eight nights duration.
It is important to note that two types of Cast lists occur indicating either repertoire or cast changes. These can appear to be duplicates but a careful internal examination of the text reveals changes. This is in spite of the same date span being stated, for example "Week commencing Saturday November 7, 1936". Evidence suggests that these weekly Cast lists were in some instances issued daily. The second smaller type are those where the specific performance date has been printed at the top of the Cast list, for example, "Wednesday evening, December 9". These subtle changes may reflect cast or repertoire changes from one night to the next, a factor of which the researcher needs to be aware. Differences in dating which occur on Cast lists have been noted in the list which follows.
The collecting and preserving of these loose Cast lists are particularly important as they represent the best available evidence of the repertoire actually performed and who performed it.
The Library has acquired Cast lists from many sources over the years. Some have come to the Library loosely inserted into an issue of a Magazine programme and these have been retained in situ as it is assumed that is the manner in which they were issued. Others have been acquired as individual items which might have been handed out to patrons at the performance in that form. On the other hand they might have become separated from a Magazine programme. Cast lists held as individual items form the bulk of the documentation of the Ballets Russes tours in the PROMPT Collection.
Some examples of Advertising ephemera such as brochures, booking forms, invitations, etc have survived and are noted under the relevant season.
Advertisements, reports, reviews and listings in newspapers can also be used as source material for documenting the Ballets Russes tours. However these sources have NOT been included in this Finding Aid.
The collection is available for reference.
Sources of the National Library's holdings
Over the years, the Library has acquired published material on the Ballets Russes tours from three sources - J. C. Williamson, Geoffrey Ingram, and through routine acquisitions of retrospective Australiana whether by gift or purchase.
When the firm of J. C. Williamson's closed in 1973, the Library acquired a significant collection of material from the Sydney office of the company (See the description in
The Russian Ballet in Australia 1936-1940 : sources for modernism in Australian art [manuscript]. Thesis (B.A.) - Australian National University, 1987 . nla.cat-vn2229366
.). Included in the large collection was a bound set of Magazine programmes and Cast lists which provide a near complete record of JCW theatres in Sydney from the 1920s to the late 1960s. It is thought that they were probably working copies for JCW office staff, as they are well used, indexed and occasionally annotated.
In some cases these bound volumes constitute the most complete holdings of Cast lists for certain portions of the three Ballets Russes tours. These are referred to in the listing as "JCW/BS Vol ...".
Individual Cast lists covering other portions of the tours were acquired from JCW and form part of the PROMPT holdings.These are referred to in the Finding Aid as separates.
Geoffrey Ingram was a former dancer with the Borovansky Ballet and founding administrator of the Australian Ballet, as well as being a collector of historical Australian dance material. The Library acquired a significant portion of his collection including substantial holdings of Magazine programmes and Cast lists for the Ballets Russes, particularly the Melbourne seasons. These have been integrated into the PROMPT collection.
The Library is actively filling in gaps in its Australiana collections. As such it acquires retrospective material, including published material relating to the Ballets Russes tours. These are integrated into the PROMPT collection.
With the compilation of this holdings list, the Library's holding of Ballets Russes programs and ephemera have been brought together for the first time to form a near complete record of these historic tours.
NB. JCW consistently used "programme" to refer to their Magazine programme. This meaning has been retained in this Finding Aid. To avoid confusion, the word "program" is used to refer to a ballet season.