Editor: Leland Windreich
With a Preface by Karen Kain
Promptly at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 3, 1938, an American teacher of dancing brought three of her best pupils to the stage of the Beacon Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia, to audition before the the directors of a distinguished company known as Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe. The stage-hands were raising the brilliant Joan Miro backdrop for the opening ballet, "Jeux d'Enfants" and a cluster of Russian dancers in practice attire and dressing gowns stopped their warm-up to watch the brief demonstration.
The teacher was the 30-year-old Texan, June Roper, a protegé of Ernest Belcher in Hollywood, who had passed on to her his mastery of a strict Cecchetti technique. The pupils were Rosemary Deveson from Bowsman River, Manitoba, who had just turned 16, Patricia Denise Meyers and Rosemary Sankey, both Vancouver-born and 15 years of age. The adjudicators were Colonel Wassily de Basil, director of the Company, and David Lichine, principal dancer and resident choreographer.
Shortly after midnight the studios of the B.C. School of Dancing at 887 Seymour Street began to receive the celebrated visitors: Colonel de Basil, Lichine and his wife, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Yurek Shabelevsky, a principal dancer, and several curious Company soloists. Present also were the parents of the teen-aged hopefuls. By 5 a.m. preliminary contracts were drawn up and signed by Rosemary Deveson and Pat Meyers.
Early the next week the two girls left their homes in Vancouver to join the Company in Portland, Oregon, for an adventure which would take them over the next thirty months on eight sea voyages and performances in theatres on three continents. On the first day out from Portland, Rosemary began to record her impressions in a diary and started a correspondence with her parents which she approached dutifully and generously.
Oregon: February 9, (1938)
I am writing to you from Pendleton Hotel, and it is 4 o'clock--exactly eight hours since we said goodbye. Pat and I didn't cry at all, but I wish we had because it is much worse not to. Riabouchinska came up soon after the train started and we went with her to her seat. We sat and talked for a while, and Lichine told us we must try and learn one new thing each week. This week I must concentrate on my arms in pirouette. Then one of the ladies started to show us how to darn our toe-shoes, but I went back to my seat to get a magazine and I found one of the American girls sitting there. Her real name is Patsy - about 25 years old - from St. Louis, and has been with the ballet three years. [Patricia Thal, who danced under the name of Kira Strakhova.] She is very ordinary, not pretty, etc. She is evidently quite a hand at the stage business. She was very nice to me, but I can see no prospect of a friendship (close one, I mean) or advisor there.
After the show Lichine and Riabouchinska insisted on taking us out with them to eat. We both had milk shakes. We then had our first big laugh in watching them, particularly Lichine, eat. She (Riab.) had 3 chops, chips, toast and a huge glass of orange juice with ice cream in it, and a hamburger. Lichine had a huge salad, two glasses of beer, orange juice and ice cream, a double hamburger, 4 slices toast--and then, feeling hungry, 3 chops and chips. By that time he had the waitress weak at the knees, and I could hardly move from laughter. I think he had a couple of other things but I can't remember them. He got a great kick out of us laughing at him and said we hadn't seen anything yet. Riabouchinska said that when we go to Berlin and have a lesson, rehearsal morning and afternoon, and then an evening performance we will eat like that, too!
I'm having a pretty tough time with memory--made an awful bosh of "Sylphides" last night. David shrieked at me afterwards but later on he came up and patted me and said, "Don't worry, I'll scream at you for two years until you do it perfectly, and then we'll laugh at these bad times. But until then I'll still shriek!" It's a terrible hindrance, you know. Grigoriev, Fokine, etc., all know and are never surprised but always laugh because if anyone does it wrong it'll be me. But Fokine complimented me on my backbend toe runs yesterday. He'd seen me practicing them--sweet of him.
Nemchinova is a fine example of a hard worker, and she is dancing marvelously now that she is not so nervous as at first performances. She does "Swan Lake" marvelously, but I wouldn't and shouldn't do it the way she does it. I will do it my way someday. Meanwhile, I find it quite hard to remember the corps de ballet part.
On board ship from Australia to France
Lots of things seemed to have happened in the last two days. Quite nice, too! First, I was told I was to go to the rehearsal of "Carnaval." I'm not in it so I thought I would be taking Kyra's place, [Kira Abricossova] who stayed in Australia. Then I found out that someone else was, so I got a little nervous because I thought maybe I must be an old woman in it (there are two). It's the most degrading part to get (just a tradition, that's all) but poor Jacqueline had to do it, and you know how I can imagine things. Well, on the day of the rehearsal Grischa came up and said, "You know for whom you rehearse?" And I thought, "It's coming now, and I won't do it." And he said, "For Chiarina." (Tamara Grigorieva's part). Well, I was so surprised I just looked at him. David told me to watch it, but he said he didn't know when I would do it. Anyway, I was quite scared but I put on clean shorts and shirt, pinned my hair firmly, as has been hammered into me by David and Tania.
When I got there (First Class) Mr. Grigoriev said to look at the part Tamara was doing. He didn't know when I'd do it but this was just a small rehearsal. Then Mr. Fokine came up and asked why I was there (shaking knees!) and Grigoriev explained. Then they hum-hawed a bit, and Fokine said, "You don't know nothing of part, yes?" So I had to say I didn't. So I was left standing like a squashed banana!