Amateur filmmaker Ewan Murray-Will captured unique and candid images of one of the world’s greatest dance companies.
These films are from the Chesterman Collection at the NFSA, which includes 25 reels of colour and black-and-white 16mm film taken by Murray-Will between 1935 and 1940.
Murray-Will, a Sydney dermatologist, was reputedly a shy man but a select group of Ballets Russes dancers became like a family to him. His house at Bungan Beach was a weekend retreat for the dancers during their Sydney seasons.
It was also the setting for some of Murray-Will's slow-motion experiments with his hand-held camera as the dancers, often dressed in swimming costumes, performed improvised excerpts from their repertoire. He was also able to film impromptu scenes of the dancers relaxing.
This unique and candid home movie footage of members of the Ballets Russes company was taken at Sydney’s Bungan Beach in the late 1930s.
Wearing what looks to be Christmas decorations around her neck, a female dancer, crouched on a rock, alerts her sleeping friend to something out to sea. A man carrying an unconscious woman emerges from the waves. He tries to revive her, but unsuccessful, goes to get help. He welters under the heat and collapses. Meanwhile, the woman regains consciousness and after looking for the man, heads over to the rocks where the crouching enemy awaits to capture her. He springs out from the cover of the rocks, grabs her and carries her away.
A solo dancer performs a dramatic contemporary dance routine on the shoreline of Bungan Beach. His routine contains arm gestures and facial expressions as well as leaps and lunges. As he dances, the ocean water licks his feet. The clip ends with the dancer sprawled on the sand reaching to the camera.
Filmed in slow motion, Tamara Toumanova, wearing a green and black swimsuit, performs a series of leaps and poses on the sand at Bungan Beach. Summary by Poppy de Souza.
See more incredible footage from Ewan Murray-Will's home movies in the Ballet Russes collection.
A dancer wearing a beret and holding a makeshift cane draws a pipe from his pocket and puts it in his mouth. A wistful dance routine incorporating the props follows. The dancer completes a series of turns, leaps and poses. The camera films this at both normal speed and in slow motion. In the final seconds, the dancer appears without his props, and lunges towards the camera. He shares a warm smile and waves to the camera.
Filmed in slow motion, two women and a man (Paul Petroff) make human formations on the shoreline of the beach. A woman dressed in black swimwear runs towards Petroff and leaps into his arms. He holds her over his head before lowering her down. She gracefully arches back before circling outwards and balances herself against his weight where the two hold a pose.
Hélène Kirsova performs in this excerpt from the one-act ballet, Le Beau Danube. Ewan Murray-Will films the action from an elevated position left of the stage.
In a series of moving portraits, Ewan Murray-Will films Hélène Kirsova with friends and family at her wedding reception. In the first shot, Kirsova stands with her newly-wed husband, Danish Vice-Consul Erik Fischer, and a flower girl. In the following shots, Kirsova appears with various guests, mostly linked arm in arm, who descend the front steps and walk towards the camera. In a wider shot, more of the front porch of the house can be seen where Kirsova continues to pose for the camera. In the final shot, Kirsova is lifted into the air where she lightly kicks up her ballet feet.
In this brief colour sequence from the ballet Thamar, Thamar seduces a man whom she is going to lure to her castle before killing him.
In the final scenes from Léonide Massine’s symphonic ballet Les Presages, dancers from the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo move frenetically across the stage, performing a series of strange gestures and jutting arm movements as they go. The final curtain drops at the end of the performance.
Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe – shown here on tour in Australia during 1936-37 – revolutionised ballet by giving equal emphasis to dance, music, drama and design.
Three puppet figures – the Moor (Thadee Slavinsky), the Ballerina Doll (Helene Kirsova) and Petrouchka (Leon Woizikovsky) – suddenly come to life and dance onto the stage. They perform a Russian-style dance amongst the crowd at the fairground.
Amateur filmmaker Murray-Will’s acquaintance with Ballets Russes members allowed him to capture unique images of one of the world’s greatest dance companies.
In this clip, Tamara Toumanova, wearing a light coloured headpiece, lifts her head to camera. She and a male dancer together perform a brief routine on the grass outside of Murray-Will’s beach house. In a slow motion sequence, the pair continues their routine. The camera then frames the couple from the torso upward as it captures the final part of their dance again.