Navy Night, Sydney, October 1913: Genée dances the hornpipe

For anyone who lives in Sydney, there’s no doubt that the fleet’s in town with round the clock news of the centenary celebrations marking the first entry to the harbour of the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet on 4 October 1913.

But something happened in 1913 that definitely isn’t happening in 2013 – a dance performance in which the most famous ballerina of her age danced a hornpipe in honour of the new Australian Navy.

On 7 October, 1913, the management of Her Majesty’s Theatre presented a Navy Night performance in which Adeline Genée danced her usual party piece from Coppelia, and then a hornpipe that she performed in front of a giant Australian flag as the backdrop.

Genée’s biographer, Ivor Guest, wrote that the hornpipe was a last minute suggestion by the theatre manager that she dance a “nautical number”.

The manager was the firm of J C Williamson Ltd – a company that never failed to grab every marketing opportunity.

Genée’s friend, D.G. MacLennan, an authority on British national dances, had taught her the hornpipe that she had previously performed, and on the Australian and New Zealand tour of 1913, she had brought her hornpipe costume with her.

J C Williamson Ltd’s directors were hard taskmasters. The company’s contract with GenĂ©e in 1913 was for a tour of Australia and New Zealand for a minimum of 20 weeks, with seven performances a week and payment of ÂŁ400 a week.

She sailed into Sydney Harbour on the liner Makura, on 6 June, 1913 and was greeted by cameramen taking news footage of her walking on the deck, and by reporters eager to catch a glimpse and perhaps interview the dancer billed by J C Williamson Ltd in newspaper advertising as “The Ideal of Our Age” and “The World’s Greatest Dancer”.

The Sydney Morning Herald published a two-column article on Genée on 9 June.

Headlined A Famous Dancer, the report by an unnamed reporter (no bylines in those days) described GenĂ©e as a “dainty little lady with a radiant smile and a rare charm of manner” who was cheered by a big crowd, then honoured at a supper at the city’s top restaurant, Paris House.

In the touring company, promoted as The Imperial Russian Ballet, Genée was partnered by Alexander Volinin.

The-16 week season in Australia (preceding the NZ tour) opened in Melbourne on 21 June 1913 with Coppelia. Genée danced the role of Swanilda, Volinin was Franz and Jan Zalewski was Dr Coppelius.

The only other dancers listed in the Melbourne program for Coppelia were Vlasta Novotna and Jan Kawecki dancing the Czardas.

The ballet followed The Secret of Suzanne, a one act operetta for two singers and a mime.

Ivor Guest also lists Halina Schmolz as one of the dancers on the tour.

Australian dancers from Jennie Brenan’s ballet school were recruited to make up the numbers.

At the end of the tour in Sydney, Genée was presented with a boomerang.

It was “inscribed with the hope that it might one day bring her back…”, Guest wrote, “and at a dinner given in her honour the rare compliment was paid her of naming a dish after her – Mousseline Genée Patisserie”.

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