Remembering Edouard Borovansky and his company 1939 - 1959
AuthorCouper, Marie Ada
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Marie Ada Couper
This project sets out to establish that Edouard Borovansky, an ex-Ballets Russes danseur/ teacher/choreographer/producer, was ‘the father of Australian ballet’. With the backing of J. C. Williamson’s Theatres Limited, he created and maintained a professional ballet company which performed in commercial theatre for almost twenty years. This was a business arrangement, and he received no revenue from either government or private sources. The longevity of the Borovansky Australian Ballet company, under the direction of one person, was a remarkable achievement that has never been officially recognised. The principal intention of this undertaking is to define Borovansky’s proper place in the theatrical history of Australia. Although technically not the creator of the first Australian professional ballet company, the Borovansky Australian Ballet outlasted all its rivals until its transformation into the Australian Ballet in the early 1960s, with Borovansky remaining the sole person in charge until his death in 1959. In Australian theatre the 1930s was dominated by variety shows and musical comedies, which had replaced the pantomimes of the 19th century although the annual Christmas pantomime remained on the calendar for many years. Cinemas (referred to as ‘picture theatres’) had all but replaced live theatre as mass entertainment. The extremely rare event of a ballet performance was considered an exotic art reserved for the upper classes. ‘Culture’ was a word dismissed by many Australians as undefinable and generally unattainable because of our colonial heritage, which had long been the focus of English attitudes. Borovansky transformed the culture of ballet in Australia with business drive and artistic endeavours, aiming at the under-classed population but aware that all the audience must be considered. He was willing to entertain, encourage and educate if necessary, but always aware of the box office and an accepted standard of balletic ability. The Borovansky Australian Ballet performances were ‘ballet for the people’ in the same way as ‘music for the people’ was accepted. Borovansky challenged the well-entrenched national ‘cultural cringe’ in his own way. Borovansky was convinced that Australians could dance as well as if not better than overseas artists, if given the opportunity. He was aware of the strong, athletic bodies of young Australians but ignored the fact that these same bodies were deemed not quite up to world standards, particularly in theatrical circles. He set out to foster Australian dancers by opening a ballet school in Melbourne with his Russian-born and ballet-trained wife, Xenia, in charge. This enabled them to receive the correct training to become professional ballet dancers within their own country, although remaining at the will of theatrical entrepreneurs. After establishing the Borovansky Australian Ballet company, he created a ‘star’ system which made many of his dancers famous in Australia, New Zealand and overseas. While Borovansky was a visible presence within his company, explaining, demonstrating and exhorting, he was also known to theatre patrons through his stage speeches regarding government support for his company, as well as the many letters he wrote to his loyal supporters. Borovansky made it possible for Australians and New Zealanders to witness ballet performances as regularly as theatres could accommodate them, enhancing their enjoyment and understanding of this art form as it was absorbed into their theatrical culture. The Borovansky Australian Ballet became the precursor to the Australian Ballet, but his contribution to the theatrical and cultural history of Australia has never been granted official recognition.
Keywordsballet; dance; australian dance; Borovansky
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