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the amazing Anna Pavlova in Australia - 1926 and 1929

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) was initially believed to be too tall and not athletic enough to succeed at ballet, yet still graduated from the Imperial Theatre School in St Petersburg in 1899. In 1906 she was promoted to prima ballerina. Although she performed in the opening season of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris in 1909, she did not join the avant-garde outfit. Instead, in 1911, she form her own company which toured until her death in 1931. This star had my three most important qualities, being Russian, a great artist and an independent, strong woman.

Pavlova and her own company of dancers made two tours to  Australia in 1926 and 1929 when they toured for the famous JC Williamson organisation. During her first tour in 1926 Pavlova and her 45 dan­cers visited Melbourne where His Majesty’s Theatre was the venue for the first season. Pavlova and her own company of dancers made two tours to  Australia in 1926 and 1929 when they toured for the famous JC Williamson organisation.

During her first tour in 1926 Pavlova and her 45 dan­cers visited Melbourne where His Majesty’s Theatre was the venue for the first season. Her partners were Laurent Novikoff and Algeranoff. The debut performance attracted a packed audience of thousands. The Fairy Doll was to be performed first. Algeranoff recalled that while climbing the steps to take up her position as the Fairy Doll, Pavlova said to him, “Perhaps they like, perhaps not, who can tell?” And he recalled that friends of his in the audience told him that people were bewildered because, at first, she merely stood still: but from the time she started dancing, the success was amazing. The Melbourne Argus (15th March 1926) noted in its massive, enthusiastic two column review that Australians had never seen such art.

Anna Pavlova
by Harold Cazneaux,  March 1926
gelatin silver photograph, 20.4 x 15.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

The final night in Melbourne surprised the company with an Australian custom, the throwing of paper streamers, which flowed from every part of the theatre. The success of the Melbourne season had been beyond all expectations. Australasia Films had planned to make a movie of the company while they were in Melbourne, and a number of short films were made in the grounds of Sir George Tallis’ home in Toorak. The stills were printed in newspapers and magazines.

Anna Pavlova at Central Railway Station Sydney, April 1926. 
From left: Laurent Novikoff, Victor Dandré, Lucien Wurmser (musical director), J.C. Williamson rep
National Library of Australia

So famous was she that ten thousand people welcomed her on arrival by train at Sydney's main railway station. [No-one other than King George V himself received such large and welcoming crowds]. Later they presented about 15 ballets and 39 divertissements (short pieces like The Dragonfly and The Swan, for which she was particularly renowned). She presented 15 ballets where a teenage Robert Helpmann (1909–86) was one of the extra Australian dancers, hired for the event. Finally she continued on this section of the company’s world tour in Brisbane, Adelaide and New Zealand, again to rapt acclaim.

For her second Australian tour in 1929, Pavlova travelled thousands of ks in Queensland, on a special train that was proudly provided by the Queensland state government. They visited the rural cities of Rockhampton, Mackay and Bundaberg prior to her Brisbane opening in the newly completed His Majesty’s Theatre. This was followed by more star appearances in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

Who did the photography? Harold Cazneaux (1878–1953) came to Australia from his native New Zealand when he was 11. The family settled in Adelaide, where Harold began working as a photo retoucher in 1897. In 1904, he moved to Sydney; five years later he held his first solo photographic exhibition, which happened to be the first solo photographic exhibition in Australia. He was the leading photographer for the Home Magazine from the early 1920s onward, and his photographs of Sydney over a number of decades have become key images of aspects of Australian history.

Apart from Anna Pavlova, his portraits of other famous artists (eg Hans & Nora Heysen, Lionel and Norman Lindsay, Nellie Melba, Yehudi Menuhin, Margaret Preston) also became famous. National Library of Australia has c200 Cazneaux photos; National Gallery of Australia has c400.


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