Valentin Zeglovsky: on stage, backstage and at the studio of Max Dupain

Max Dupain photographed many dancers in his Sydney studio, not only those who toured to Australia with the Ballets Russes’ companies.

Among his subjects were the dancers who worked with Gertrud Bodenwieser, Helene Kirsova and, much later, Graeme Murphy.

But one of his least known sessions took place in 1947 when Dupain photographed Valentin Zeglovsky, who had settled in Australia in April 1939, at the end of the second Ballets Russes tour.

In a comprehensive and reliable list of the nationality of the Ballets Russes’ dancers who came to Australia, the National Library of Australia lists his nationality Latvian, although Zeglovsky wrote in his memoir, Ballet Crusade, that he was born in Kharkov, in the Ukraine.

In any case, neither Kharkov nor Latvia were the safest places to be just a few months before the Second World War began in September 1939.

That year, Zeglovsky established a school in Sydney, before dancing with professional companies throughout Australia in the 1940s, then returning to Europe in 1949 or soon after.

But first, more on the Dupain photos.

The negatives of Zeglovsky’s portrait and dance poses taken at Dupain’s studio were donated to the State Library of New South Wales in 2002, along with many other Dupain negatives of the Ballets Russes, Kirsova Ballet, Bodenwieser dance company, and Sydney Dance Company.

But unlike the Ballets Russes and Bodenwieser negatives, the Zeglovsky negatives have rarely, if ever, been seen as photoprints in the last several decades.

I was able to photograph the negatives with the approval of the library and Jill White, who was bequeathed the Max Dupain Exhibition Negative Archive by Dupain, kindly agreed to my posting Dupain photographs on this website.

When the Zeglovsky negatives were given to the library, they were identified as photographs taken in 1947. Two years later, Zeglovsky married Pamela Bromley-Smith, a dancer and actress.

The blonde woman who shared the Dupain studio shoot is not identified in the material at the State Library of NSW but it’s possible she is Bromley-Smith. (NB: After this article was first posted, she was identified as Bromley-Smith by her son, Leo.)

Snippets of Zeglovsky’s early life can be found in Ballet Crusade, first published by Reed & Harris, Adelaide, in 1943 in which he tells how he joined an athletic club in Riga where he took up boxing. With the aim of improving his footwork, he began ballet lessons and dance became his new obsession.

As an apprentice at the National Riga Opera, he was coached by the former ballerina of the Mariinsky Theatre, Alexandra Fedorova, (also known as Fyodorova), sister in law of the choreographer, Michel Fokine.

Subsequently Zeglovsky danced throughout Europe and Asia before joining a Ballets Russes’ tour of the United States, then sailing to Australia in 1938 with the Ballets Russes. Fokine was a member of the touring party that year.

If, as he wrote in his memoir, Ballet Crusade, Zeglovsky was born in 1908, he was already 30 years old, although he looks much younger in the photos taken of him by the Sydney photographer, Sam Hood. (see left, below)

Zeglovsky’s decade as a performer with Australian companies began in June 1939, when he danced with Tamara Tchinarova and Kira Abricossova in a benefit performance organised by Edouard Borovansky, at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne

Publicising the event, the three dancers and Borovansky were photographed by The Argus newspaper, rehearsing for the performance. (The Argus, 2 June, 1939.)

Tchinarova, Abricossova, and Borovansky were three others who also remained in Australia after the second Ballets Russes’ tour.

By September 1939, Zeglovsky had established a school in Sydney.

Sam Hood’s photos were taken the following month at Zeglovsky’s studio, possibly to promote a forthcoming performance of Les Sylphides.

The school was still a going concern a year later when Woman magazine devoted a page to dance studios in Sydney under the headline “Society Puts on Dancing Shoes”. One of the society figures was Joan Spiller-Brandon, a “dancer and balletomane” whose “present teacher” was Zeglovsky. (Woman, 9 September, 1940).

In 1939 and 1940, Zeglovsky appeared with a small troupe of former Ballets Russes’ dancers in various provincial towns, but the venture collapsed mainly due to financial troubles. (In her memoir, Dancing Into the Unknown, Tamara Tchinarova, gives much more detail on this little group).

In the early 1940s, ballet dancers in Australia had two main options if they wanted to dance with a professional company – the Kirsova Ballet or the Borovansky Ballet. Zeglovsky danced with both.

In Peter Bellew’s book on Kirsova’s company, Pioneering Ballet in Australia, Zeglovsky is pictured dancing in Kirsova’s ballet, A Dream and a Fairy Tale, with Raissa Kouznetzova and Henry Legerton. These photos were taken during a performance at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in 1942.

In July that year, Zeglovsky also performed during a four evening engagement with the Borovansky Ballet at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, and was paid a fee (22 pounds and 17 shillings) to do so by Borovansky. (Alan Brissenden, The Ballets Russes in Australia and Beyond, p275, quoting an article by Judy Bartram: Edouard Borovansky: Repertoire and Dancers 1939-43, Brolga, 1 (1994), p31.)

Back in Sydney, in February 1943, he was dancing with the Kirsova Ballet in the mazurka in Les Sylphides and in the role of the Gigolo in Kirsova’s ballet, The Revolution of the Umbrellas.

The performance in aid of the Legacy War Orphans Appeal, took place at the Conservatorium in Sydney.

A review in The Sydney Morning Herald mentions the “majestic adagio in the second act in which Miss [Peggy] Sager and Valentin Zeglovsky last night made a deep impression”. (10 February, 1943).

Very soon, Zeglovsky was back with the Borovansky Ballet at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, during an April 1943 season of Les Sylphides, Vlatava, Fantasy on Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor, and Façade. His name is shown in a cast list of a program for the season, catalogued by National Library of Australia.

Once again in Sydney, he partnered Kirsova in Vieux Paris at the Conservatorium (The Sydney Morning Herald, December 25, 1943) and danced with her company again in Adelaide the following year. (The Mail, Adelaide, 12 February 1944)

In her valuable research work on Zeglovsky’s life, the historian, Michelle Potter, has written of the puzzling nature of his name changes over the years.

His real name appears to be Valentins Zeglovskis, although an online record of the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages shows that “Valentinis Zegloviskis” married Pamela Nell Bromley-Smith in Sydney in 1949.

Two years earlier, the 19-year-old Bromley-Smith was the runner-up in the Miss New South Wales contest, sponsored by the Independent Theatre, where she had performed. (West Australian newspaper, 21 November, 1947).

The pretty blonde had also performed that year in the musical, Follow the Girls, in Sydney.

The final mention of her name in the Australian press came in February 1951, when the Sunday Herald reported: “After l8 months in England, Sydney actress-dancer Pamela Bromley (known here as Bromley Smith) has landed a dancing part in the London production of Cole Porter’s musical fantasy on The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate. The show opens next March”.

Records of a London school, Holland Park School, show that the parents of two of their students, Mark and Paul Zeglovskis, were Bromley Smith and Zeglovsky.

And there the trail of Dupain’s subjects goes cold except for Wikipedia that tells us that Zeglovsky died in 1985. (The date of death was later confirmed by his son, Leo).