Catherine Bartho

The State Library of New South Wales’ recently digitalised photo of the dancer, Catherine Bartho, sent me back to the history books and to archived Australian newspapers online, to refresh my memory of her visit to Australia in 1893/4.

In delving further into her life, I found some remarkable film of Bartho who seems to twirl against the background of Niagara Falls while she coquettishly swishes her skirts. More of that later.

In a brief article in The Sydney Morning Herald I discovered that she did not leave Australia for Italy in February 1894, as previously written, but to the United States where, as Catarina Bartho, she became a burlesque dancer in New York.

On March 1, 1894, the Herald reported that ‘Mdlle Catherine Bartho will make five farewell appearances in Round the World, commencing on Saturday night. The fascinating Russian dancer will thereafter sail for America, in accordance with negotiations lately brought to a successful conclusion for her début in the United States.”

The announcement was made by the directors of the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney whose business manager was George Lewis Goodman. The State Library’s photograph of Bartho, taken in the Falk Studios of Sydney, is part of a collection of theatre portraits owned by Goodman and donated to the library in the 1920s. The photo is dedicated to Goodman by Bartho, and dated March 17, 1894.

The author, Lauren Rabinovitz, in her book For the Love of Pleasure, describes how Bartho performed as a burlesque dancer at Koster and Bial’s vaudeville theatre at West 34th Street and also at the popular roof top gardens until 1903.

The theatre’s previous incarnation was the Manhattan Opera House, operated by Oscar Hammerstein, from November 1892. When the opera seasons failed, management was transferred to John Koster and Albert Bial who also ran a successful music hall at 23rd Street.

Bartho danced a can can, what was then called “a toe dance”, and, at the roof gardens, she danced on top of the tables.

Remarkably, we can still see Bartho dancing in the film titled A Nymph of the Waves.

Directed by Frederick S. Armitage and filmed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, probably in 1900, this film superimposes footage of Bartho over an image of water shot earlier at Niagara Falls.

As Bartho holds her skirt to show her ankles and calves – and a brief glimpse of a garter – she pirouettes, dances a modest can can sequence ending in releves, and finally bourrees to a curtsy.

After a long search for any dancer of the period called Bartho, I found a reference in The Encyclopedia of Dance and Ballet, published in 1977. The editors of the encyclopedia, Mary Clarke and David Vaughan, spell her name as Katarina Bartho, born 1870, died 1943.

The English sounding surname came from her father, Richard Bartho a British manufacturer, who had settled in Moscow. The encylopedia names her sister as “Lydia Nelidova-Lupandina, orig. Bartho, graduated from Moscow Theatre School into Bolshoy [sic] Ballet 1884-97”.

When Lydia retired from the company, aged 34, she ran a private ballet school in Moscow. Eventually, her sister, Katarina, or Catarina, joined her as a teacher. Lydia’s daughter, also known as Lydia Nelidova, danced for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as the Goddess in Le Dieu Bleu and as the principal nymph in L’Après-Midi d’un faune.

For the Australian tour, Bartho and D’Argo were recruited by George Musgrove, who, along with his business partner, James Cassius Williamson, put together the Grand Italian Opera Company (also called the Musgrove-Williamson Italian Opera Company) for a season of three operas – Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci, L’Amico Fritz, and one new ballet,Turquoisette, in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney

The tour began in Melbourne, at the Princess Theatre, on September 9, 1893, continued in Adelaide, at the Theatre Royal from October 21, and concluded at the Lyceum in Sydney from November 6.

Australian newspapers, such as the South Australian Register, reported that Bartho and D’Argo were “supported by a bevy of ballerinas from the Empire and Alhambra Theatres in London”. (October 14, 1893).

Supporting the principals in Turquoisette, subtitled A Study in Blue, were eight dancers with English sounding names – Clara Symonds, Adelina Hartley, Maud Dysart, Lottie Dickens, Rose Edwards, Alice Collins, Lena Edwards, and Annie Valitaine.

They joined 80 local dancers who were all coached in Melbourne by the English ballet mistress, Rosalie Philippini, who directed a troupe called The Royal Ballerinas for Musgrove and Williamson.

The dancers wore dresses in many shades of blue, from “pale turquoise to deep ultra marine” as the South Australian Register reported. The haze of blue was “relieved by a number of ladies in pearly white, in golden amber, and in the pleasant green of early springtime”.

It appears that Bartho had not danced in England before she came to Australia, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 10, 1894, that she was negotiating with London managers to make her English debut.

The report explained that Bartho, “accompanied by her friend, Mdlle Wollog, is to appear at the Opera House, Chicago, on 10 May”. They were to sail the following Saturday, that is March 17, to Vancouver on the liner Arawa.

On exactly the same day, Bartho dedicated her photo to Goodman.

© Valerie Lawson, February 16, 2011

Catherine Bartho 1894

Catherine Bartho 1894