Royal Ballet’s Australian tour of 1958: an update

After a recent post on the Royal Ballet’s tour of Australia in 1958 I was pleased to hear from Carole Gable, the widow of Christopher Gable.

Carole, who danced as Carole Needham in the Royal Ballet, told me that a very young Christopher was on the tour.

This sent me in search of the Royal Ballet’s program for the Sydney season of 1958.

Among the ballets danced by the company, the touring arm of the Royal Ballet, were Swan Lake, Coppelia, Pineapple Poll and Andrée Howard’s 1953 ballet, Veneziana.

The program shows that Gable danced the pas de six in Act One of Swan Lake, that he was a peasant boy in Coppelia, one of the crew of the HMS Hot Cross Bun in Pineapple Poll, and a gondolier in Veneziana.

In 1961, not long after the tour, Gable became a principal of the Royal Ballet and danced with the company until he retired in 1967, when he became an actor then joint founder of the Central School of Ballet and artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre.

He died in his late 50s, in 1998.

The 1958 program lists many of the dancers on the tour. As well as the 21 dancers I named in my first post, the women included Elizabeth Anderton, Dorothy Anelay, Christine Anthony, Shirley Bishop, Joan Blakeney, Janet Burgess, Rita Evans, Sandra Hill, Sheila Humphries, Sylvia Michael, Pamela Moncur, Valerie Reece, Anitra Shore, Noreen Sopwith, Helen Starr, Valerie Taylor and Denise Thomas.

The male ranks included Alan Beale, Alexander Bennett, Ian Hamilton, David Howard, Robert Mead, Johaar Mosaval, Simon Mottram and Leslie White.

Today, when dancers of so many nationalities make up the ranks of most ballet companies, the names listed above are a reminder of how much has changed since 1958.

There’s an Anglo Saxon sameness about all the names except for one – Johaar Mosaval.

He was born in January 1928 in District Six, once an inner-city residential area of Cape Town.

In Bo-Kaap: Inside Cape Town’s Malay Quarter, a book by by Robyn Wilkinson and Astrid Kragolsen-Kille, Mosaval tells his story:

“I was the oldest of 10 children. While doing gymnastics I was discovered by Dulcie Howes who founded the University of Cape Town Ballet. It was the height of apartheid and there was no scope for me. She broke the race barrier by taking me to ballet classes…I had to stand at the back of the class.

“The other white boys in the class would give me sideways glances if I happened to grand jete myself to the front”.

Mosaval explains that the British dancers Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin attended one of the classes and “immediately decided that I had extraordinary talent. They paved the way for me to go to London.

“I was 19 and had never been out of Cape Town…very influential people in the arts had to persuade my parents; it wasn’t an acceptable thing to be doing, especially as a Muslim and the eldest son.

“I arrived at the Royal Ballet School in January. It was snowing and so miserable and cold. During a year at the school I passed all my exams with honours”.

He joined Sadlers Wells Theatre Ballet 1952 and became a soloist the following year, then joined the Royal Ballet where he danced until 1974.

“I was the first black to dance with the Royal Ballet and the first Muslim”.

His favourite roles were Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Neapolitan dance in Swan Lake and the Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty.

Mosaval returned to South Africa in 1975 and performed on stage and on TV. He taught dance and helped to promote the art form in South Africa.

Creating the role of Bootface in John Cranko’s ballet, The Lady and the Fool, Mosaval danced alongside Kenneth MacMillan as Moondog.

In her biography of MacMillan, Jann Parry recalls a review of The Lady and the Fool by Clive Barnes:

“MacMillan is essentially an intelligent dancer”, he wrote, “while Mosaval is an instinctive one.

“MacMillan’s brains practically tick on stage, as with careful brilliance he conveys his characterisation…with MacMillan one thinks ‘that’s clever’, with Mosaval ‘that’s right’”.