Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rex Reid - My Teacher at the Australian Dance Theatre School


Quite by chance in London a few years back, I came across some photos of Rex Reid in a pile being discarded at the Australian High Commission where I was working.

Rex had been a dance teacher of mine at the Australian Dance Theatre School in Adelaide.

He had gone to the British capital as a prodigy, like Robert Helpmann, but in the 1950's. After dancing with Festival Ballet and Ballet Rambert (second shot below - the non-partnering dancer on the left), he formed a company in South Africa with Princess Natasha Watchinadze, a Georgian who had fled the USSR with George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova in the 1920's.

Princess Natasha Watchinadze, the 'Black Garbo'

I knew Natasha from dinner parties at Rex's in Adelaide. Where she always used to refer to me as the 'person who speaks French'. Natasha would come into the room in a green Chinese silk jacket and gold Arabian pantaloons, preceded by a long and very Auntie Mame-ish cigarette holder, belching smoke from her Gitane. Her face would be whitened and her lips made blood red, the colour to match long fingernail claws.

Natasha would tell of knowing Cocteau, Nijinska (whom she nursed in her final illness) and dancers of the Ballets Russes, and many luminaries of the artistic world of the period.

She was also a friend of Picasso, having a table napkin in which the artist had sketched her then extraordinary almond-shaped green eyes and incribed with the sentence 'I have been seduced by your eyes' (in French). I particularly remember a story of her time in Berlin in the 1930's. Deitrich had commented on the the princess's beautiful bone structure and Natasha told her she had achieved this by having her back teeth removed. Apparently Deitrich followed suite. At which point in the story, Natasha would open her mouth to show a full set of teeth accompanied by roars of laughter.

Rex Reid came from the old school of dance instruction where, with a rapier slashing tongue, the pedagogue would bully students into progress. I recall him correcting a port de bras - 'looks as though you are wearing earrings!!!' - the shoulders were too lifted up and tense.

The last (small) photo is of Rex at the time I knew him. He died only a few years back.



10 comments:

nickwallacesmith said...

hey everyone

just came across an interview with rex reid that can be ordered as an audio tape (probably now as a DVD) from the national libary of australia - http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn288026

the intro to the audio says:

"Rex Reid summarises Kirsta's early life in Russia before and during the 1917 Revolution. Her life in Vienna is discussed, including her life with second husband George Kirsta and friends Victor Gsovsky, George Balanchine and Tamara Geva. Reid discusses Kirsta's move to Berlin to direct Gsovsky's ballet school and Kirsta's establishment of a ballet company with Gsovsky called Ballet Kirsta, members of which included Lesley Caron, Brigitte Bardot and Roland Petit. Kirsta's friendship with Jean Cocteau and Misha Sert is discussed. Reid discusses Kirsta's move to Australia and her friendships with the Stravinskys, Arthur Rubinstein, Richard Meale, Marlene Dietrich, Abby Simon, Lila Kedrova and Yul Brynner. Kirsta's influence on Barry Moreland and Les Sinclair is discussed, as is Kirsta's admiration for Reid. Reid discusses Kirsta's love of Australia, her pride in becoming an Australian citizen, and her close friendships with Kathleen Gorham, Ann Church, John Gielgud, Phillip Jones, Barry Reid, Nadia Nerina and Rudolf Nureyev. Natasha's knowledge of art, ballet, ballet history, music knowledge and talent for painting is discussed. Reid comments on her friendship with Katia, Ludmilla and Luba Crassine and the vast amount of correspondence Kirsta kept. He highlights Kirsta's influence on his dance studio in Adelaide, her brilliant business skills and her influence on young dancers. He recalls that many people were nervous of Kirsta and did not understand her, citing Peggy Van Praagh as an example. Reid then discusses the lead up to Kirsta's death, the circumstances surrounding Kirsta's death and the people he notified, including Lila Kedrova and Marcel Marceau who were great friends of Natasha Kirsta."

barry said...

Rex was my ballet teacher and mentor, both he and Natsha had a great influence on my life. Rex arranged 2 auditions with Betty Pounder for My Fair lady for me . I joined the second MFL company in Melbourne. Rex,s school was in lt Lonsdales Street. I toured with MFL for 21/2 yrs. Joined Sadlers wells opera ballet and then OS. for a mil yrs. Barry Kennedy

nickwallacesmith said...

hi barry

how extraordinary to find someone who worked with / knew rex - i knew him socially after ADT days - i didn't know he'd had a spell in melbourne - he and natasha had set up a school in south africa (johanesburg?) before they came to australia - and i think they did something similar in perth before coming east tho i'm not so sure about this - he certainly moved around.

Alix said...

Hi
I just came across this site, what a wonderful surprise. I am the daughter of the artist George Kirsta, Natasha Kirsta's second husband. They met in Russia when he was in his teens, soon after the revolution in 1917. She helped him to escape and they went to live for a while in Berlin , then he moved to Vienna, where he established his name as a painter and theatrical designer - and where he met my Viennese mother, with whom he moved to London in 1938. Several years ago I visited the Russian Orthodox church in Vienna where Natasha and George married.
I met Natasha a few times as a small child: she used to visit us at our home in Chelsea, and I recall her bright red lipstick and long, deep crimson talons. She was a very colourful, expansive woman,warm and outgoing. I was starting to study ballet (though I then fell in love with jazz dance and went into the commercial theatre, TV and films, before becoming a writer which is what I am now) and she was always interested in what I was doing. She was very sad when my father died, and I believe she was one of the very few people from his early past who understood his Russian soul, and knew how he suffered and how much he had lost when fleeing his homeland and leaving his mother behind. I would love to hear from anyone else who knew her. I talked to Rex shortly before he died - he was planning to send me some papers and diaries etc belonging to Natasha,because I was planning to write a memoir, but it never came to pass, alas. Rex too knew my father well.
Alix
www.alixkirsta.com

nickwallacesmith said...

hello alix

lovely to hear from you - and extraordinary to have someone talk about Natasha after all these years! i was very interested to hear of your relationship with her - i have often googled the theatre designs of George Kirsta - so very nice to have heard from you, his daughter!

Natasha was such a vivid and powerful presence in my early life - a connection in Australia with the wider world of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, Berlin of the '30s and so on. she told extraordinary stories of Bronislava Nijinska and Marlene Dietrich - which of course would have had a great effect on any young person.

the first time i met her (as i've mentioned on my blog) was through the retired dancer and choreographer rex reid - she entered the room sporting a long gold cigarette holder, and was wearing a green chinese silk jacket and golden harem pants. something to remember for life.

i also recall her beautiful deep voice ... made all the more husky by years of Gitanes!

she could never remember my name and always referred to me as 'the boy who speaks french' - she was in her 80s at the time and i was pleased to be remembered in any way.

like you, i began in dance (Australian Dance Theatre) and then moved (far) away to eventually become an academic in semiotic theory - i lectured on a masters program at NSW uni here in sydney - and took very early retirement (bone lazy person, as you will correctly surmise!) to be able to travel more - being away last year for 7 months

again, lovely to hear from you and hope to again

best, nick

Simon said...

I just stumbled on this site, looking for info on Natasha Kirsta. Natasha was a great friend of my mother (the dancer Sally Gilmour) and father (Allan Wynn). She spent many evenings with us when I was growing up in Melbourne, and used to come almost every Sunday night for a couple of hours to help me with my French - "dollinck, your pronounce is terrible. Terrible! They don't teach you nothing in that school?"
She often spoke of her friendships with the luminaries mentioned by others on this site, but one I remember vividly is not discussed.
At the time, I was reading (in french) Saint-Exupery's "Little Prince." Natasha saw the book and became quite flustered and, for her, shy. I was intrigued by her reaction, and we talked about Saint-Exupery for quite a while - his disappearance while on a reconnaissance flight for the Free French forces in July 1944 is legendary. Natasha eventually blurted out that he was one of the loves of her life (in every sense of the phrase).
Natasha was a tiny old woman when I knew her, but what a presence she had. To see her highlighted on this site is wonderful.

Alex de Ravin said...

hi simon

sorry to have taken so long to reply - spouses of relatives from russia and germany descended and took over for the past month or so

i have such extraordinary memories of Natasha Kirsta it's great to be in contact with someone who knew her too

and the speaking French connection too! you'll recall maybe she never remembered my name - i was just 'the boy who speaks french'

thanks for sharing the Saint-Exupery story - i had no idea of this side of her life - and it's great to hear of things other than the arts about her

i first met her at rex reid's (as i say on the blog) - her long cigarette gold coloured holder entered the room first, bearing a soubrani (black russian cigarette - spelling?) - she followed in harem pants and a green chinese jacket - as a teenager i couldn't have been more surprised

Alex said...

i studied with Rex Reid at his Lt Lonsdale St studios I had originally trained at the Borovansky Academy but when dancing in MFL,Camelot,Sutherland Opera Co,started lessons with Rex.finally training at his South Yarra studio.
Lonsdale St was a beautifull studio,light & airy.I was in my late teens & was fascinated by Madame Natasha"s demeanour,her generousity & her ,to my naive eye,glamour.Always with a cigarette clamped to her lips.I was under the influence of 60's European cinema,here was someone who to me had stepped out of a Fellini film.
She mispronounced my surname & it was only some years later,after a dear friend ,ROSEMARY MILDNER,told her my name,but in fact I did prefer her version.Classes were, always interesting.other students inc Robina Beard,Eileen Tasker,Jack Manuel,Laurie Bishop,Margaret Grey.
Iwould go to morning class & on Wednesday matinee days would have a class bewteen shows.Arriving always just after 1/2 hour & getting a scolding from stage manager.
teaching staff included Kathleen Gorham,Lynne Golding Ernie Parham.
During Camelot,Rex formed acompany,
Emerald Hill TheatreBallet Port Melbourne,which performed on Sunday afternoon &eveningRepertoire consisted ;Clowns{jack Manuel]Trois gymnopedie{rex reid]Nuit est une sorciere{Rex}Malcolm Arnold Suite English Dances{Beverly Richards}La Chambre {rex} & Negro rituals{Ernie Parham}
Quite a repertoire & on top of 8 performances of Camelot.
retiring from dancing & living in UK.I returned to Australia to work with Opera Australia as Wardrobe Director.
I reliase how blessed & influenced I was to have met thesewonderfull people.
Alex Burns

Alex said...

i studied with Rex Reid at his Lt Lonsdale St studios I had originally trained at the Borovansky Academy but when dancing in MFL,Camelot,Sutherland Opera Co,started lessons with Rex.finally training at his South Yarra studio.
Lonsdale St was a beautifull studio,light & airy.I was in my late teens & was fascinated by Madame Natasha"s demeanour,her generousity & her ,to my naive eye,glamour.Always with a cigarette clamped to her lips.I was under the influence of 60's European cinema,here was someone who to me had stepped out of a Fellini film.
She mispronounced my surname & it was only some years later,after a dear friend ,ROSEMARY MILDNER,told her my name,but in fact I did prefer her version.Classes were, always interesting.other students inc Robina Beard,Eileen Tasker,Jack Manuel,Laurie Bishop,Margaret Grey.
Iwould go to morning class & on Wednesday matinee days would have a class bewteen shows.Arriving always just after 1/2 hour & getting a scolding from stage manager.
teaching staff included Kathleen Gorham,Lynne Golding Ernie Parham.
During Camelot,Rex formed acompany,
Emerald Hill TheatreBallet Port Melbourne,which performed on Sunday afternoon &eveningRepertoire consisted ;Clowns{jack Manuel]Trois gymnopedie{rex reid]Nuit est une sorciere{Rex}Malcolm Arnold Suite English Dances{Beverly Richards}La Chambre {rex} & Negro rituals{Ernie Parham}
Quite a repertoire & on top of 8 performances of Camelot.
retiring from dancing & living in UK.I returned to Australia to work with Opera Australia as Wardrobe Director.
I reliase how blessed & influenced I was to have met thesewonderfull people.
Alex Burns

jud the ludd said...

I worked with Rex - in a design capacity - for the last 10 or so years of his life. His tales of Natasha, Ann Church, his experiences overseas, etc. etc. are legendary. His papers, photographs, letters and so on are all now with the Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne and the Australian National Library - except for the ballet material relating to the ballets he created for children from the late 1970s onwards. Sets, costumes and props also still exist....
Like others, I stumbled across this blog - I am delighted! and would be very pleased to keep in contact.
Judy Leech
jud.the.ludd@gmail.com