Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Russian Ballet in Australia in the 1930's

Tamara Toumanova dancing at Bungan Beach, one of Sydney's Northern Beaches (1939-40)

Serge de Diaghilev died in 1929 and his famed Ballet Russe company dissipated. But it was soon re-constructed in a number of new companies, each claiming to the carriers of the legendary tradition.

Three of these companies toured Australia during the 1930’s: '(Colonel W. de Basil's) Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' (1936-7), 'Covent Garden Russian Ballet, presented by Educational Ballets Ltd' (1938-9) and 'The Original Ballet Russe' (1939-40). All were under the aegis of Colonel W. de Basil.

A number of the performances, informal practice sessions and general horsing round during these tours were recorded as home movies by Ewan Murray-Will ...

... notably (in the 1938-39 tour) Tamara Toumanova (the 'Black Pearl' of the Baby Ballerinas) playing at practising at Bungan Beach, one of Sydney's northern beaches ...

... Tamara Toumanova and Serge Lifar similarly practising in a garden ...

... and an unidentified male dancer having (mostly) fun at the water's edge ...

These legendary dancers suddenly seem more real - away from the stage and being informal and silly ... and in my own back yard!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Your Periodic Dose of Levity - To Keep You 'Regular'


It was mealtime during a flight on a British Airways plane:

'Would you like dinner?' the flight attendant asked the man seated in the front row.

'What are my choices?' the man asked.

'Yes or no,' she replied.


A flight attendant was stationed at the departure gate to check tickets.

As a man approached, she extended her hand for the ticket and he opened his trench coat and flashed her.

Without blinking an eyelid she said, 'Sir, I need to see your ticket - not your stub.'


A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at a branch of Sainsbury's but she couldn't find one big enough for her family.

She asked a passing assistant, 'Do these turkeys get any bigger?'

The assistant replied, 'I'm afraid not, they're dead.'


The policeman got out of his car and approached the boy racer he stopped for speeding.

'I've been waiting for you all day,' the bobby said.

The kid replied, 'Yes, well I got here as fast as I could.'

When the policeman finally stopped laughing, he sent the kid on his way without a ticket.


A lorry driver was driving along on a country road.

A sign came up that read 'Low Bridge Ahead.'

Before he realized it, the bridge was directly ahead and he got stuck under it.

Cars are backed up for miles.

Finally, a police car comes up.

The policeman got out of his car and walked to the lorry's cab

And said to the driver, 'Got stuck, eh?'

The lorry driver said, 'No, I was delivering this bridge and ran out of petrol!'


A teacher at a polytechnic college reminded her pupils of tomorrow's final exam.

'Now listen to me, I won't tolerate any excuses for you not being here tomorrow

I might consider a nuclear attack or a serious personal injury, illness, or a death in your immediate family, but that's it, no other excuses whatsoever!'

A smart-arsed guy at the back of the room raised his hand and asked, 'What would happen if I came in tomorrow suffering from complete and utter sexual exhaustion?'

The entire class was reduced to laughter and sniggering.

When silence was restored, the teacher smiled knowingly at the student, shook her head and sweetly said, 'Well, I suppose you'd have to write with your other hand'.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Liberace (1919-1987) - Too Much Of A Good Thing ... Is Wonderful!!!

For reasons not completely apparent at the time, I watched some old footage of Liberace this morning.

As you probably know, he was a child prodigy who, as a young man, toured the Mid-West of the States as a classical pianist.

He began working in Las Vagas in 1944, playing the Persian Room from 1945 on. And then expanded into television in the 1950s, with his repertoire of classical music ...

... mixed with modern styles - Latin, boogie woogie and whatever ...

Noel Coward said of criticisms of Marlene Dietrich's more hard-edged and brassy performances of the 1960s that the singer had simply and astutely read the shift in the times and changed her performances accordingly. And so avoided becoming a creaky museum piece.

And I think Liberace had a somewhat similar insight - realizing that he couldn't just do the tux and candelabra thing, straight, as he moved into the 1960's and beyond. That he had to take the show somewhere new. And so he took the direct route to the highest 'camp' - a Carmen Miranda of the piano! Coming out in every sense but name. For anyone with eyes and a brain of course. I don't think he was in any way doing this for gay liberation but I admire him being his gay self (and a bit more!) in the most public way - rather than shrinking into the darkest corners of the closet as so many well-known performers did at the time. Liberace seemed to say 'I'm like this and here with you'.

Watching snippets of TV shows posted on YouTube, I was amazed how extraordinarily funny Liberace could be. His self-deprecation and subtle innuendo (with the imperceptibly raised eyebrow) - all with F A B timing - are perfectly illustrated in this clip ...

... which had me rolling with laughter - WITH rather than AT him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Adelina Patti (1843-1919) - Famed C19 Opera Star and Larger-Than-Life Character

Adelina Patti in 1863 (aged 20) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Adelina Patti was one of the most famous opera singers of the C19, with an extraordinary bel canto technique.

Born in Madrid, she moved to America with her family as a child.

She made her operatic debut in the title role of Donizetti's 'Lucia di Lammermoor' at the age of 16 at the Academy of Music in New York.

Following this with the technically difficult role of Amina in Bellini's 'La Somnambula' at 17 ...

Adelina Patti as Amina in Bellini's 'La Somnambula' at 17

... then many other major roles ...

Adelina Patti as Marguerite in Gounod's 'Faust'

Adelina Patti as Violetta in Verdi's 'La Traviata'

Adelina Patti as Esmeralda c1870

Adelina Patti as Marie in Donizetti's 'Daughter of the Regiment'

Apart from the great legend of her voice, Adelina Patti was a very much larger-than-life character ... and a very astute business woman.

As Anna Pavlova was later to do, she traveled the global for her work. But such travel then had it's hazards - not the least being the assurance of payment of a fee after a performance. For Patti, $5000 a night at the height of her powers.

The diva's solution was was novel and affective - that was to insist on her salary in gold before going on stage. Once, when offered only half before a performance, Patti put on one shoe and one foot on stage ... and declared she'd don on the other and begin the performance when the rest arrived. It did.

It was not uncommon in the C19 for singers to adapt their arias to best display their voices, particular techniques and individual sensibilities. After singing Rosita in Bellini's 'The Barber of Seville' with many of her own embellishments, the composer congratulated Patti with 'That was wonderful - who wrote it?'.

In what I imagine is a great urban myth about the singer, she is claimed to have trained a parrot to squawk 'Cash Cash' at particular points when negotiating an engagement.

Certainly Adelina Patti became very wealthy, purchasing Craig y Nos Castle in Wales in her mid 40s ...

Patti on a boat on the lake at Craig y Nos Castle

... where she had her very own opera house built ...

The diva often traveled in great, almost royal, style - in her own Pullman train carriage ...

Though this legend seems just out of our reach, there are some recordings of her singing.

The earliest was recently identified on a privately made brown wax cylinder of 1895 in which the diva is introduced as 'Patti' - with the aria following being 'The Laughing Song' from Auber's comic opera 'Manon' ...

The cylinder was discovered in the 1940's and transferred to an acetate 78 rpm disc by William Seltsam (1897-1968) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA.

The official canon has Patti first making recordings at her home Craig y Nos in 1905 with Landon Ronald at the piano ...

Adelina Patti 'Ah! non credea mirarti' from 'La Sonnambula' (1905)

Though the voice is much diminished, there's is still a thrill - particularly towards the end of the aria in the delicate pianissimo, the long even controlled trills, the attack and the florid almost wild coloratura runs.

There is also a record of Adelina Patti's speaking voice, made in 1905 but only issued in 1973 with her complete recordings. It is a message for her husband ...

... which is tender and heart-felt.

And which makes the legend real in a way that the singing voice does not.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Other Such Things

A father asked his 10-year old son 'Do you know about the birds and the bees?'

'I don't want to know' the child said, bursting into tears. 'Please promise me you won't tell me.'

Confused, the father asked 'Why, what's wrong?'

The boy sobbed 'When I was six, I got the 'There's no Easter Bunny' speech.'

'At seven, I got the 'There's no Tooth Fairy' speech.'

When I was eight, you hit me with the 'There's no Santa' speech.'

'If you're going to tell me that grown-ups don't root, I'll have nothing left to live for.'

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Our Winter Garden Bursts Into Life

It's winter here but the orchids are in vibrant full bloom in our fourth floor podium level tree-filled leafy garden.

Even the papayas are becoming more and more loaded down with their fruit.

And the bromeliads throwing out fresh new fans of leaves ...

... and crisp spiky flowers ...

What's going to be left for spring to do!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dueling and ... Ballet!

'Le duel a l'epee et au poignard' Jacques Callot (1621)

I suspect the last thing you (or I!) would expect on this blog would be footage of ... a real duel with epees in France in the mid C20.

But to begin at the beginning.

Once upon a time, there was a very hot ballet student named Serge Lifar who was studying at the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre in St Petersburg ...

... where he caught the 'eye' of Serge de Diaghilev ...

... who took the young man to Paris to join his Ballet Russe.

Mr Very Hottie subsequently created a number of important roles in works made for the famed ballet company ...

Serge Lifar in 'Zephir et Flore' (1925)

Serge Lifar Alice Nikitina 'Romeo and Juliet' (1926)

Serge Lifar Alexandra Danilova Apollon Musagete (1928)

Serge Lifar in 'Le fils prodigue' (Choreo: Balanchine/Music: Sergei Prokofiev (1929)

When the company dispersed on the death of Diaghilev in 1929, our boy joined the Paris Opera Ballet ...

Serge Lifar as Icarus in 'Icare' at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1930s

... and made friends with the rich and famous ...

Serge Lifar and Coco Chanel (1937)

He enjoyed an internationally successful career as a dancer and choreographer, with only the occasional blip - such as his duel in 1958 with the Marquis de Cuevas ...

... which was in fact a staged publicity thing, over the less-than-totally-fabulous mounting of one of his ballets by the Marquis.

As you will have observed, the choreographer did sustain a little and itsy bitsy scratch.

So it must be concluded that he lived on into old-ish age ...

... cos he gave up his somewhat new and dangerous 'hobby' of dueling!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Janis Joplin - 'Me and Bobby McGee'

Janis Joplin seems to embody the Counter Culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s - the clothes, beads, incense, drugs, sexual freedom ... real liberation from convention.

And 'Me and Bobby McGee' seems to catch its essence.

Wish I'd been part of it - rather than a kid wondering at it!

Anyone out there live through it?

What was it like?

Any stories would be good guys!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Bathtub Test

During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director how do you determine whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

"Well," said the Director, "we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub."

"Oh, I understand," said the visitor. "A normal person would use the bucket because it's bigger than the spoon or the teacup."

"No." said the Director, "A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?"