A treasure trove of ballet signatures from the ’40s

My recent post about the artist, Phyllis McLachlan, led me to the website of Douglas Stewart Fine Books in Melbourne and from there to a fascinating find.

The bookseller recently sold two books, both by Cyril B Beaumont and both first edition – Complete Book of Ballets: a guide to the principal ballets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. London, Putnam, 1937 and Supplement to the Complete Book of Ballets. London, 1942.

But the books themselves had added value – a lot of added value – as both were autographed by numerous dancers who visited Australia in the 1940s, the first by dancers of Col de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe and the second by the dancers of Ballet Rambert, and by famous dance names in England, also in the 1940s.

The signatures were collected by an Adelaide ballet lover, Wesley Hooper, whose name is not familiar to me from all the published lists of balletomanes who hovered around the Ballets Russes’ tours of Australia from 1936-40.

Hooper was the son of a Mr A F Hooper and his wife of Toorak, Melbourne. He worked for Goldsbrough Mort in Adelaide in the late 1930s and after his marriage in 1940, returned to live in Melbourne.

Among the signatures and those who wrote personal messages to Hooper in the first book are Lydia Couprina, Anna Volkova, Alexandra Denisova, Alberto Alonso, Natasha Sobinova, Paul Petroff, Lorand Andahazy, Lara Obidenna, Marjan Ladre, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Ludmila Lvova, Vera Nelidova, Nina Verchinina, Kira Bounina, Tamara Toumanova, Harcourt Algeranoff, Victoria Simon, Anton Vlassof, Roman Jasinsky, Yura Lazovsky, David Lichine and Lubov Tchernicheva. Paul Petroff signed as well, and described Hooper as ‘a true balletomane’.

Signatures on the second book include those who were on the Rambert tour of 1947/8 and those gathered in London when Hooper was visiting the city in 1942. They include Marie Rambert, Margaret Scott, Peggy van Praagh, Moyra Fraser, Joy Newton, Mavis Jackson, Patricia Garnett, Wenda Horsburgh, Celia Franca, Jean Bedells, Eileen Ward, Sylvia Brien, John Gilpin, Barbara Grimes, Pamela Vincent, Belinda Wright, John Paget, Margaret Hill, Palma Nye, Elisabeth Kennedy, Marita Lowdon, Ninette de Valois, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Rose McLaren, Pamela May and Constant Lambert.

On the rear endpaper is an inscription from Arnold Haskell, the author and critic who accompanied Col de Basil’s first tour of Australia in 1936/7. It reads: “Dear Wesley. We should have met at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, supped at the South Australian, had breakfast or a Chinese dinner at Arthur Campbell’s. Instead, we met in wartime Bournemouth and saw the [Sadler’s] Wells [Ballet] together at the New. However, I feel we have done all those Adelaide things together & some day we shall in reality. All the best, Arnold, June 1942”.

Douglas Stewart told me his firm acquired the books at auction and that they were recently sold to “a fellow rare book seller in the United Kingdom”.

Such a pity that such a collection, largely gathered in Australia, has left Australia.