Madame Larose in her underground treasure cave

As a postscript to the mystery man of Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes, Otis Pearce, this is the much briefer story of the backstage woman, Olga Larose.

Listed in the Ballets Russes’ personnel documents as “French/Russian” she was the wardrobe mistress who travelled with the company for the second and third tours to Australia.

Madame Larose, as she was known, was born Olga Bostrikoff Larose in 1896, which means she was 42 when she first came to Australia in 1938.

By chance, I’ve just found a photo of her taken by Norman Brown of The Sydney Morning Herald at the Theatre Royal in Sydney on 4 January 1940.

As you can see, Larose is seen with Anna Tchinarova, the mother of the dancer, Tamara Tchinarova. After the third tour both mother and daughter stayed in Australia where Tamara danced in the companies led by Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky.

Larose not only managed the wardrobe but also designed costumes as she did for Mikhail Obukhov’s production of Coppelia in Melbourne, when Tamara Toumanova danced as Swanilda.

In her book De Basil’s Ballets Russes, Kathrine Sorley Walker referred to Larose as “a great company personality”.

Once again, I would love to know more of a Ballets Russes’ traveller who was seldom in the spotlight except for the following article in the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, on 30 March 1940.

The unnamed journalist went backstage at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, “along dimly lit passages beneath the stage…to rooms resplendent with multi-coloured costumes.

“Those who can say ‘Open Sesame’ to these treasure caves will find Madame Olga Larose, wardrobe mistress of the Russian ballet, and her assistant, Madame Tchinarova.

“These women work among gay costumes from Prince Igor, the principal frocks of Les Presages and the modern Grecian gowns of Protee. They spend the day mending adjusting or making the costumes that give colour and character to the ballets.

“Here also are some of the costumes of the new ballet Cimarosiana one of which Madame Larose made herself. It is a chic little costume in bright blue and rose with intricate braiding. It is made on a hoop, very short, with little petals and the little cap is crowned with a very long feather.

“Near by hundreds of trunks are hidden with their treasures of costumes. Some of the trunks are flat but most open upright and have racks in them so that dresses can be hung.

“The crinolines are put in flat boxes. Shoes are carried in another and undergarments in yet others. The trunks are all numbered so that when Madame Larose wants the costumes for, say, Les Presages she orders the trunk number.

“There are between two and three thousand costumes. Lying about are several lengths of striped silk material which will be made up for coming ballets.

“Some of the fabrics of real silk have as many as four designs running through them. One has yellow and black stripes then goes into red and black stripes and from then to a Roman scroll design and back to diagonal stripes.

Some frocks have a hand-painted design on them while others are made from rich and heavy silks brocaded or leather trimmed. There is no fake [sic] about ballet costumes.

“Passing back through the passages of trunks and going up a few stairs the visitor comes to the dressing-rooms of the smaller girls of the ballet.

“In the corridor outside hang the costumes the girls wear at the present performance, the white stiffened skirts of Swan Like contrasting with the more sombre robes of Francesca Da Rimini.

“At one side of the stage is a room stacked with scenery.

“Shoes play the most important part in the ballerina’s life, and the toes are darned by each one according to her taste. A pair of shoes lasts one prima ballerina for about four or five ballets.

“A member of the corps de ballet will dance 10 ballets in one pair”.

How could a dancer make her pointe shoes last for so long? Perhaps they had to. After all de Basil was one of the stingiest men in the business.

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Olga Larose and Anna Tchinarova backstage at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, January 1940, photo © Norman Brown

Tamara Tchinarova in Les Presages, photo © Max Dupain