Dancers and dogs all at sea

Trawling through digitised Australian newspapers from the 1930s, I came across an article about the various souvenirs bought by or given to dancers in the touring companies of Col de Basil’s Ballets Russes.

Apart from the usual koalas and the more unusual choice of Aboriginal artefacts by the dancer, Algeranoff, there was the gift given to Kyra Abricossova by Tamara Grigorieva – a Scotch terrier. The caption to the photo in The Sydney Morning Herald in January said that Abricossova was taking the dog with her.

Just where she was taking the dog is unclear but it seems she planned to sail from Australia with the terrier at the end of the second Ballets Russes’ tour in April 1939. Instead, Abricossova settled in Melbourne (before moving much later to Perth) so the dog must have travelled with her by train.

Dogs and dancers made for a perfect photo opportunity in those times but the photos seem more remarkable now for the apparent absence of any quarantine regulations.

As a dog lover myself, I would love to travel anywhere with my dog but the Australian quarantine authorities have other ideas.

Early in 1938, the Danish ballerina, Helene Kirsova, sailed into Fremantle on the Strathnaver on her way to Sydney where she was to marry the Danish vice-consul, Erik Fischer. She was photographed with an Airdale puppy, called Winkie, brought with her on board from Europe as a gift for her husband to be.

Maybe Winkie was trashed as a name or maybe she bought another pet, as one year later, Kirsova’s dog was called Pjok (which means “softy” in Danish). She liked to take him to visit the Ballets Russes’ dancers backstage during the third tour of Australia at Sydney’s Theatre Royal.

Kirsova was also photographed holding a dog on her first visit to Australia with the Ballets Russes in 1937.

When that troupe sailed to New Zealand from Australia in March 1937 “a new member of the company went with them”, reported the Adelaide newspaper, The Mail.

“He is, without a doubt, the most popular member of the company. And his name is Aspa. He is only a tiny dog, but he is the inseparable pal of Alexis Frank and Betty Souvorova, who picked him up starving on the streets of King’s Cross.

“As he stepped from a shop one night Mr Frank stepped on a dog, which limped off licking a damaged paw. Miss Souvorova consoled the dog with a piece of chicken. Since then he has rarely been apart from his master and mistress who, in reality, are Mr and Mrs Frank.

“He goes to every ballet and never misses a party with his master and mistress. The name Aspa which they gave him, is the Russian equivalent of ‘Fido’. The whole company co-operated to keep Aspa with them while they toured New Zealand”.

In her letters home to her mother in England, Betty referred to the dog as Apsia, not Apsa, and wrote of how much she cried when she left him with the Allen family (of the law firm, Allen, Allen & Hemsley) when the Australasian tour finally ended in July.

Although Edouard Borovansky and his wife were photographed with their pets, and later, a Russian troupe was photographed admiring a hound in the early 1960s, the love affair betweeen the press and dancers-with-dogs seems to have ended.

Today, a dancer holding a dog would be far too cheesy. These days, dancers pose in studios like fashion models. If they did pose with a dog it would be, perhaps, an afghan hound, blow dried.