Irina Baronova, billboard version, makes a second appearance – in Melbourne

First the State Library of New South Wales found a gigantic painting of Irina Baronova tucked away in the archives and now there’s another one.

A dancelines reader, the actor Kate Gorman, told me she owns a very similar painting of Baronova dressed in the same swan tutu as in the painting at the library but in this one, her arms are crossed at the wrists and pointing downwards.

The painting is obviously based on a photo by Maurice Seymour and is one of a number that were sent from London to J C Williamson Theatres, the firm that presented the three de Basil Ballets Russes companies in Australia.

Kate found the painting in a rubbish skip when she was in the chorus of the musical, Seven Little Australians, playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne in 1988.

At the time, the theatre was having a spring clean of all the paraphernalia under the stage.

How it got to the Comedy is a mystery as the Ballets Russes company in which Baronova toured to Australia in 1938/39 performed at His Majesty’s Theatre (now Her Majesty’s), in Exhibition Street. The theatre is in the same block as the Comedy but on the other side of the street.

The painting, hand coloured and lacquered, was clearly used as a freestanding billboard and is about 1.5 metres high.

Kate had never heard of Baronova back in 1988, but “a friend, who was a fly man at the Comedy, knowing I was a dancer and ballet lover, mentioned that the billboard was in the skip and offered to haul it out for me if I wanted it. I said ‘yes please’”.

Her mother, Judith Roberts, a dancer and actor who had trained with Edouard Borovansky, did know about Baronova and was very excited, Kate said.

“I have held onto the billboard ever since in the various houses as I moved around Melbourne and when I travel interstate or overseas Mum always looked after her”.

Baronova still hangs on the wall of Kate’s Melbourne home.