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Archives of the Dance: Dance Archives in Australia: The Unique Material of the National

Author(s): Michelle Potter
Source: Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, Vol. 10, No. 2
(Autumn, 1992), pp. 109-120
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 11-02-2019 16:56 UTC

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Michelle Potter

In 1981, in the midst of a season in Melbourne, Victor

dancers of the Australian Ballet went on strike. The media
plunged gleefully into a series of speculations on the caus
artistic standards, working conditions, the power wielded by
administration? It was a momentous event which culminated not
so much in the eventual resumption of the season a few weeks
later, but in the existence a few years later of a company which was
virtually a totally new one.
Australia does not yet boast a Dance Collection in which future
historians might research the nature of, the reasons for, and the
implications of that 1981 strike. In Australia there is no discrete
body of material of assorted documentary genres relating to all
forms of dance, collected in a planned and unbiased fashion,
located in a professionally-run institution, cared for by qualified
staff, and accessible to the dance community. A number of institu-
tions, however, do have important dance material acquired as part
of a wider brief. Concerning the 1981 Australian Ballet strike, the
National Library of Australia, for example, holds oral history
interviews with three key figures: Marilyn Jones the artistic
director of the company in 1981, Noel Pelly the company's deputy
administrator at the time, and Kelvin Coe, the dancer who was the
spokesperson for the striking artists. All three frankly discuss their
views of, and role in, the strike. Future researchers wishing to
examine the 1981 Australian Ballet strike clearly could make a
start at the National Library.
The history of the National Library of Australia, located in
Canberra, the nation's capital, dates back to the early years of the
twentieth century, and one of its main functions has always been
the representation of Australia and its people through a diverse
range of documentary genres. For dance researchers in Australia
one of the great strengths of the National Library is the fact that its
collecting brief is not confined to printed material alone. In


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addition to books, the National Library acquires manus

archival materials, oral history recordings, pictorial ma
range of media, maps, music, and films and videos. Th
interviews with key figures in the Australian Ballet strike
of the National Library's growing and historically signif
history collection. Important dance material is also locat
other major collecting areas of the National Library: th
scripts and the pictorial collections. Each of these three
areas has a number of noteworthy dance items, each al
special contribution to make to dance research.

Oral History

Although the oral tradition is not a new concept, the deliberate

cultivation of an oral tradition in modern industrialised society,
and the recording of oral history interviews as a development and
extension of that tradition, is generally attributed to Professor
Allan Nevins of Columbia University in New York City. Nevins
established an oral history programme at Columbia in 1948,
prompted by his discovery, while working as a journalist in New
York City, that often the only record of achievements of many
people who had made distinguished contributions to their
particular field of endeavour was in their obituary. He was
alarmed that their personal insight, their thoughts, recollections,
and responses to their endeavours had been lost for ever.2 The
National Library of Australia's oral history programme began as a
planned operation in the 1970s and was modelled on the
programme established by Nevins. It aims to record and preserve
in archival conditions interviews with Australians in all walks of
life and, as a general principle, to transcribe the interviews,
although the oral recording is always regarded as the primary

The National Library currently holds about 200 in

Australian performing artists, approximately 3% o
history collection. There are about 45 with people f
community, past and present, making up about 2
forming arts collection and 0.7% of the total oral hist
These figures are, however, slightly misleading,
inter-relatedness between recordings in the vario


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arts. Conductors and composers, for example, frequen

their work with dance companies, and their recollectio
different, but equally valid, perspective on dance.
The National Library's performing arts materia
mented recently as a result of a special project fund
Australia Ltd and known as the Esso Performing Ar
History Archive Project. A significant component of
was the commissioning of oral history recordings, a
1988 and 1992 some 28 oral history interviews with
performing artists were recorded under the auspices
project, including 12 which had a significant dance
Oral history recordings with the dance community in
views with dancers, designers, administrators, teach
directors, and choreographers and, in addition to a co
of each artist's work and career, interviews generall
family and educational background, and formative ex
the artist's life. Interviews are subject to whatever
tions the interviewee might impose upon them, but a
either open for research use or available to researche
written permission from the interviewee is first obta
to any such restrictions, the interviews are available f
the oral history reading room at the National Library
other libraries in Australia with which the National
inter-library loan arrangements.
The earliest dance interview in the National Library
is one recorded in 1973 with Dame Peggy van Praagh
Praagh discusses both her own career as a dancer and
England and Europe in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and
the development of ballet in Australia. With reg
Australian career, Dame Peggy speaks of her arrival in
1960 to take up the leadership of the company
Edouard Borovansky, and discusses in some detail
founding artistic director of the Australian Ballet. The m
interview having a major dance component was condu
1992 with pianist and conductor Eric Clapham, w
extensively with the Borovansky Ballet during th
1950s. In between these two recordings particularly
items include a series of major biographical interview
in 1990 with some of Australia's leading choreog
contemporary dance including Nanette Hassall, Mery


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and Graeme Watson, interviews with some of Australia's

leading dancers such as Sir Robert Helpmann, Marily
Bryan Lawrence, and Garth Welch, and interviews with
directors of regional companies including Harold Collin
Queensland Ballet, Barry Moreland of the West Australia
and Graeme Murphy of the Sydney Dance Company.
The interview with Graeme Murphy, made in 1981, hi
one of the strengths of oral history: its ability to transmit
values. As well as providing significant informatio
Murphy's early works including his own, contemporary
ment of them, the interview also shows Murphy the A
committed both to his company and to developing an Au
dance idiom:

To me it is important that we don't follow trends simply because they've

been successful overseas. I've always felt that we're like an Australian plant
that grows in Australian soil and can survive the harshness of drought or
the extremes of temperatures. I've often felt that the imported rose garden
of culture that sometimes comes to Australia is a transitory thing that will
die in the first harsh attack of the elements. To me that's an important
difference. I want to be a much more hardy plant. And of course those
hardy plants are not always the delicate, beautiful things of the rose. They
are frequently less appealing immediately to look at. And then you look at
them in art, you look at them through the eyes of dance, and you can see
their depth, and their beauty and their resilience. And that's what I look for
in dance and that's what I try to create. Something that will be resilient,
that will reflect this country, that will excite our audiences.3

Dance so often leaves few tangible records and the National

Library's collection of oral history interviews with the dance
community is a major resource of outstanding research value.
Although its 45 interviews represent just a minute cross-section of
the Australian dance community, they also represent hundreds of
hours of invaluable recollections. In many instances the collection
provides not only information unavailable elsewhere but also
information which is simply not transmitted in other forms.


Letters, diaries, unpublished documents, and other personal

papers have always provided valuable primary source material for
researchers, and the National Library's manuscripts section has


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been collecting the personal papers of distinguished

and the administrative records of major organisatio
earliest days of its existence. The staff of the manuscrip
fact speaks 'in praise of attics', believing that in an age o
electronic means of communication, personal written
be greatly missed by future historians. The Nationa
manuscripts collection, consisting of over 16 mill
items, occupying about 7000 shelf metres, has particu
in the fields of politics and administration and Austr
ture, although music and theatre are also well repre
the oral history collection, manuscripts deposit
National Library may be subject to certain access
placed upon them by the donors during their lifeti
these restrictions the original material is available for st
manuscripts reading room and copies of some items m
able on inter-library loan.
The amount of dance material in the manuscripts se
National Library is not extensive compared with, say,
relating to other areas of the performing arts such a
music. Dancers, those peripatetic beings, tend not to
Even companies, especially smaller ones, tend to d
records, often when the company disbands or ac
leadership. One collection saved from just such a
administrative records of the Human Veins Dan
Canberra's first professional dance company. Human
its last performance in 1988 when its artistic director
resigned to take up a Churchill Fellowship. A chance
between Asker and the author elicited the fact that
about to burn the company records since he had
which to store them, and since there was to be no c
between Human Veins and the company followin
national capital the next year. Hasty negotiations
deposit of the Human Veins material in the Natio
where it now provides a fascinating record of the
running of a small regional dance company.
In contrast to the rather dramatic acquisition of t
Veins material, one major dance item consciously han
safe-keeping to the National Library is the administra
from 1962 to 1981, of the Australian Ballet. Thi
comprises a vast array of material relating to produ

I I3

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tours by the flagship company, as well as day to day co

ence, financial and publicity material, and documents re
the formation of the company in 1962.
Other significant dance items in the National Library'
scripts collection are the personal papers of Dame P
Praagh, including a large amount of material relating to

1. Tamara Tchinarova. Photograph dedicated to Edouard Boro

1939. [Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Geoffrey Ingram
Australian Ballet.]

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hood and early career, and the papers of Edouard Bo

rescued from under his house after the death of his
The correspondence preserved in the Borovansky co
particular interest, recording as it does the relations
Borovansky and his backers, the entrepreneurial org
J. C. Williamson Ltd. Some items also highlight some
personality of Borovansky, who at times could be
director. One letter, written in 1954, addressed to Borov
signed by various members of the corps de ballet is
We, the undersigned Corps-de-Ballet members of the Borovansky Ballet
Company, realize our gross error in demanding from the management of
J. C. Williamsons Theatres, through Actor's Equity, extra pay for parts in
different Ballets, which, by tradition in all Ballet Companies, are danced by
members of the Corps-de-Ballet. We want as well to express our absolute
trust in your leadership, and, as the creator of the Borovansky Australian
Ballet, we fully accept your sound judgement in all matters in which the
Corps-de-Ballet of the Borovansky Ballet Company might be concerned in
the future.
At the same time we apologise for all the troubles we might have caused
you through our hasty actions.4

Dance material in the National Library's manuscripts collections

also includes the cutting books of Sir Robert Helpmann, and the
personal papers of Harcourt Algeranoff Essex. Algeranoff toured
the world with Anna Pavlova's company and his papers include a
large collection of letters written from around the world to his
relatives back home in England. Meticulously preserved by his
mother, the letters provide an intimate view of life as a touring
dancer in the 1920s, a life of courage and tenacity which cannot fail
to stimulate the admiration of the researcher.
Despite some obvious gems, the paucity of manuscript material
relating to dance is very real. It is a situation which can be
explained not simply as a reflection of the notion that dancers tend
not to hoard material, but also as an echo of the widely held idea
that dance, that most ephemeral of arts, does not express itself in
words, and hence has no written documentation of value. But
precious items like the Algeranoff letters, like the Borovansky corps
de ballet's letter to their director, provide such a telling glimpse into
the world of dance that a search for, and the acquisition of, more
unique written material about dance needs to be given a high
priority by collecting institutions.


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The National Library's pictorial material has first and fo

documentary function aiming to represent, in a variety of
media, Australian men and women and people with c
torical ties to Australia. Pictorial materials, which run
thousands of individual items - over 40,000 original art
and over 500,000 photographs - are all available for stud
pictorial reading room, although most are in stora
requested by a user. Most items are also available for rep
after any necessary copyright clearance has been obtai
authors searching for illustrative material are among t
frequent visitors to the National Library's pictorial sectio
Photographs form the bulk of the dance material in the p
section. In addition to numerous individual items, such
hand-painted photographic portrait of nineteenth-centur
Lola Montez who thrilled diggers with her tours to the
goldfields, there are two major collections of dance mat
in the National Library's pictorial collection: a componen
Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australian Ballet, and a por
photographs of dancers taken by Sydney photograp
The Geoffrey Ingram Archive, which in addition to its pictorial
component also comprises a manuscript and theatre programmes
component, is made up of over 700 individual photographs, a
large proportion of which belonged originally to Edouard Boro-
vansky and his wife. The bulk of the material reflects Borovansky's
career both as a dancer and as a director of his own company, and
many of the items are autographed to him. The Borovansky
material includes a small collection of photographs of Anna
Pavlova, a large selection of photographs of Ballets Russes dan-
cers, and a substantial collection, dating from the 1940s and 1950s,
of photographs documenting productions by the Borovansky Bal-
let. A smaller component of the Ingram archive represents the
early productions of the Australian Ballet and was collected by
Ingram in his capacity as founding administrator of the Australian

The Max Dupain portfolio of 22 photographs, while of signifi-

cant documentary interest, is also a collection of exceptional

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2. Tamara Toumanova and Paul Petroff photographed by Max Dupain,

Frenchs Forest, Sydney, 1940. [Courtesy of National Library of Australia,
Esso Performing Arts Collection.]

artistic worth. Dupain, widely regarded as one of Australia's most

eminent photographers, was commissioned in the 1930s by
publisher and patron of the arts, Sydney Ure Smith, to photo-
graph the Ballets Russes dancers during their three visits to
Australia between 1936 and 1940. Smith subsequently published a
number of the photographs in his once highly popular but now
defunct monthly journal, The Home. Dupain was attracted in
particular to two dancers, Tamara Toumanova and Paul Petroff,


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and the National Library's portfolio includes a number

able studio shots of these two dancers, as well as two p
taken in an outdoor setting, juxtaposing these two ver
figures against a very Australian landscape.
Apart from the intrinsic worth, whether documentary
or both, of the dance photographs in the Nationa
pictorial section, this material also highlights the exte
the various collecting areas illuminate each other a
complex web of inter-relationships, ultimately buildin
overlay to basic facts. In areas where the National Libr
material has particular strengths, such as the Ballets R
the Borovansky era, and the development of the Austr
the pictorial component provides that vital visual
material of other documentary genres.

Film, Video, and Printed Materials

In addition to its representation in the National Libr

history, manuscript, and pictorial collections, dance is
sented in the Library's film and video lending collect
the Library's substantial holdings of printed material,
addition to books and serials, includes a large collection
programmes and clippings files. As its name implies, t
Library's film and video lending collection is not a
depository, this function having been handed over to t
Film and Sound Archive in 1984. The lending collectio
over 22,000 titles of which approximately 15% are
cassette. Items in the collection are for loan nationall
munity groups, and to educational and government in
By appointment they can also be viewed by individuals
section's small theatre. The titles are mostly of an edu
documentary nature.
Fewer than 1% of the titles are dance related and just
of these are Australian. The 175 or so dance items include a
number of American, Canadian, and British documentaries made
during the 1970s, and an assortment of works on multicultural
dance. There are also a few items relating to Australian theatrical
dance which are of exceptional historical significance. Perhaps the
most noteworthy of them is Another Beginning, which records

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something of the history of the Ballets Russes in Aus

film contains rare archival footage of performances by
Russes companies in Australia, footage taken by a Melb
specialist, balletomane, and amateur film-maker Dr. J
Anderson. Also of historical interest is The Australian Ballet:
Corroboree, a film made of a rehearsal of Corroboree, a work choreo-
graphed originally in 1950 and centring on a score by Australian
composerJohn Antill in which Antill sought to distil the essence of
the Aboriginal corroboree. Corroboree's success as a dance has been
questioned on a number of occasions and a second danced version
was made in 1954 for which greater anthropological authenticity
was claimed. The film provides primary source material for this
In its programmes and ephemera files on the performing arts
the National Library holds over 30,000 theatre programmes
dating back to the nineteenth century, all of which are available for
reference. Most current professional dance companies operating
in Australia are represented. The collecting policy also operates
retroactively and programmes of historical importance are actively
sought. The Library has a particularly strong collection of pro-
grammes from the Australian tours by the Ballets Russes in
Australia, part of the Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australian
Ballet. As part of the collections of two major entrepreneurial
organisations, J. C. Williamson Ltd and the Australian Elizabe-
than Theatre Trust, a comprehensive collection of programmes of
productions by Australian and overseas dance companies which
performed throughout the 1960s and 1970s is also available.
Printed dance material also includes reviews of dance per-
formances by major companies around Australia which are
clipped from daily newspapers for cutting files. Also clipped daily
are items of biographical interest and most of Australia's better
known dancers have a biographical file. Cuttings files, which date
back to the early 1970s, are available to researchers on request.
The National Library has by far the most comprehensive and
diverse collection of dance material in Australia. Its policy of
collecting a broad range of unique as well as printed materials is of
inestimable benefit to dance researchers. Not only does this policy
cater for the special needs of dance documentation, it also allows
for the establishment of a broad perspective on dance. The inter-
relationships between documentary genres at times produce


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unexpectedly rewarding outcomes. The dance mate

National Library suffers, however, from not being a
coordinated collection. The Library has no special
developing its documentation of dance in anything o
very general sense. Unique items are acquired in som
haphazard and random fashion and the Library's c
dance books has major omissions. Strengths and
which exist in particular collecting areas reflect an adm
framework with political and economic undertones, an
also the commitment of particular staff at a particular ti
itself is of interest and not, of course, confined to t
Library of Australia.
In a positive sense, what does emerge from an overv
kind and extent of the dance material in the National
that there is in place a framework to use as a mo
development of a focused collection. Perhaps the
Library's dance material is even an embryonic collecti
for further, planned development. The credibility of
institution and the existence of a strong infra-structu
major assets. In any case, the amount and variety
already acquired whether haphazard or not, is encoura


A full, descriptive listing of the unique dance material acquired by th

Library of Australia up to September 1990 is available in my publication A
The Esso Guide to the Performing Arts Collections of the National Library of
(Canberra, National Library of Australia, 1991).
2 Richard Lochead, 'Three approaches to Oral History: The Journa
Academic, and the Archival', Journal of the Canadian Oral History Association,
p. 5.
3 Graeme Murphy, Oral history interview conducted by Hazel de Berg, April 1981,
TRC 1222-3, National Library of Australia, Canberra.
4 Letter to Borovansky in the Geoffrey Ingram Archive of Australia Ballet, MS 7336,
National Library of Australia, Canberra.


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