Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Madame Nadine Wulffius and the Ballet

File:Enchanted Forest -Ilka -Maria Anderson -1892.JPG
Maria Anderson (a teacher of Baroness Nadine Wulffius) in the Ballet "The Enchanted Forest" 1887

Recently I visited the State Library to read the interview with my step-grandmother  Nadine Wulffius (known as Madame Nadine to her students and Nana Wuffa to her family) and also two interviews of Madame Kira Bousloff the Founder of the Western Australian Ballet Company. Kira states that in the early days of the Western Australian State Ballet Company that she was assisted by Madame Nadine who was one of four Russians that she was involved with in those days. She mentions that Madame Nadine was one of her closest friends and the only one in later years that she still spoke Russian with. She also mentioned that it was the documents and papers organised by Madame Nadine that at that time she referred to for her interviews. Baroness Nadine herself states in her interview with Margita Chudziak that a later artistic director in the early 1970's burnt all the early records and minutes of the WA Ballet Company. While Madame Kira seemed to gloss over problems with anyone it is clear from Madame Nadine's interview that there was some friction in those days and power plays.

I do remember as a child the formidable triad of Madame Kira, Madame Nadine (who I called Nana Wuffa) and Madame Gundi (Mrs Ferris) looming large in our lives. As a child they all seemed to be very strict and terrifying Ballet people who one crossed at their own peril. Baroness Nadine ran her Ballet School in Maddington for about 7 years before handing it over to her friend Madame Gundi Ferris. My older sister Tamara and my girl cousins all learnt ballet as children at Madame Nadine's school. Tamara also knew Madame Kira and Madame Gundi and our grandmother's Ballet friends much more than I did. From the age of 14 I spent many hours over many years in deep conversations with Nana Wuffa so I often heard all about the Ballet and the names associated with it such as Terri Charlesworth and Irina and Margita Chudziak (I was later friendly with her daughter Simone at University who often drove me home) and two men called Gilchrist. I also attended a number of Ballets and love Ballet until this day. In fact one of the last things I did with my mother before she died in 2005 was to attend the Ballet with her and my cousin Gaye and her daughter. My mother had been very involved in attending the Ballets with her mother-in-law in the early days of the Ballet in Western Australia.


Baroness Nadine also told us and claimed to be the first President of the WA Ballet Company followed by Mr Eddie Edwards two years later. In the interview with Mrs Chudziak she states this again. Others claim that Douglas Gilchrist was the first President in 1953. It would seem that in fact Baroness Nadine Wulffius was the first President when the WA Ballet Company was registered or incorporated and when Lady Gairdner the wife of the Governor became patron. In her interview Madame Nadine believes this occurred in 1957 and she mentions that Lady Gairdner was the Patron- the WA Ballet site mentions this as occurring in 1959. Madame Kira herself is totally vague on dates and timings and doesn't seem to be concerned with them in her recorded interviews.


In Kira's interview with Michelle Potter in 1990 she mentions with affection her Russian friend Madame Nadine. She says; "...Yes , I have a couple of very friendly friends. Madame Nadine is one, which is a very special one (Madame Wulffius really)...First, I thought I'll read you something that I wrote for Madame Nadine, because she is also from the old days of Russia, like my parents, and brings me lots of memories. So this is to Madame Nadine, the date probably was the 1st June, 1983:


We were dreaming, the air was pure, the sun warm. We were dreaming aloud, sitting in the shade. Two generations from a lost country, where King, tradition were gone for ever.


The day you go, those dreams will go with you, and alone I will try to remember and dreams on dreams will grow. They will winding and untwine together, like birds in the wind, and suddenly they will rest beside me. I will remember those dreams we dreamt together, with smile and laughter- never with tears.


The past, the present, the moment to us so dear, will turn its pages as a fairy book where all is beautiful and good. Around us the magic moment will happen, and the ghost of memory will come to us with love and gentleness. We will feel the warmth in our heart, and closeness that nothing could tear apart..."  


As I read this I shed a tear as it bought back to me all the special times I spent sitting in Nana's room talking of her life in Russia and every other topic under the sun. She sparked my interest in Russian History and the love of the study of religions, folklore and the role of dance among many other subjects. When she died in 1992 (6th of February) it was if the special door we had to Russia's past was closed. She was in Petersburg at the start of communism in 1917 and she lived to see its fall in 1991 on Television in the safety of  rural Western Australia. She rejoiced in the fall of a system that had consumed her husband, parents and brothers.



Madame Nadine says in her interview with Mrs Chudziak: "My first encounter with the WA Ballet Company was very early in 1953 the year I arrived in Perth. Perth was at this time a very distant and sleepy town with out the cultural life that we were used to in Europe. There was no permanent Theatre. There was no permanent Musical Society or other such cultural and artistic organisations. When in November my relations told me that there was a Western Australian Ballet Company and they were to have a performance I was very surprised. I certainly had to go. It was on 15th November 1953. I went to His Majesty's Theatre and there was the performance. It was called 'Graduation Ball' and in it were some gypsy dancers and scenes. I was very surprised to find in 'Graduation Ball' and some other selected small numbers great similarity to the kind of Ballet-style I was used to in Europe. The similarity of the choreography of this school to my own school was because the choreographer Mrs Bousloff had been taught by the same teacher as me Olga Preobrasjenska. Mrs Bousloff was firstly taught by Olga after I had finished being taught by her. So the age difference between us was very large. (Madame Nadine was 16 years older than Madame Kira). I was pleased to learn this about Mrs Bousloff and wanted to get acquainted with her.  After awhile I did go and make her aquaintance and we became friends.


I did not give regular lessons at her studio, but I helped her with advice and with the corrections of her productions. By the way she was an excellent producer. And the first one I worked with her on was "Cinderella" and the music was by James Penberthy...It was not a very big company but it was big enough to put on small ballets....We worked slowly with performances but the Company was not officially registered. It took us a few years until the Company became registered, which was in 1957. During this time the Company didn't have many performances because there was no government subsidy and all our dancers were working without a salary...".



Madame Kira Bousloff

Madame Nadine was a close advisor to Madame Kira from 1953 onwards and she was known for her beautiful milk white hands and arms that were like those of a young girl as were her legs. She prided herself on developing hand gestures or movements based on a mix of the Italian and Petersburg schools. Reading her interview brought back all the stories she told me but I had no idea who Marietta Balbo, Maria Anderson, Olga Preobrasjenska and Sergei Khudekov were -they were just names to me that meant nothing. After some research I realised that her first ballet teacher as a girl of 8 or 9 was Marietta Balbo who was famous in Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire) for her Ballet studio where she taught private students and she was influenced by the Italian Ballet. When Nadine joined the Imperial Ballet at the age of 12 or 13 around 1911-12 she was taught by Maria Anderson. Maria Anderson was one of the former great ballerinas of Russia who performed one of Tchaikovsky's Ballets and through this she met Tchaikovsky himself. In her later years Nadine was taught by Olga Preobrasjenska, another famous Russian ballerina, until 1921 when Olga left Russia and finally settled in Paris in 1923 where she was to become later the teacher of Madame Kira. Olga Preobrasjenska also taught at the Russian Choreography School of Akim Volynsky.


However Madame Nadine's favourite teacher was Sergei Khudekov who was a librettist and balletomane with the Imperial Ballet and he was also one of the great historians of the Imperial Russian Ballet. He taught Nadine the history and the theory of Dance and instilled in her a love of the history of dance. He also was friends with Tchaikovsky. Madame Nadine's formidable grandmother  (Nana  told me many stories about her) was also a friend of Tchaikovsky and was very influential as a former Lady in Waiting to the Empress. Her first husband had been the notorious homosexual Prince Vladimir Meshchersky (the marriage was believed to be annulled). The Czar arranged for her to remarry to a Count as she was a lover of the Czar who was believed to be the true father of her daughter Kladiya (Claudia) the mother of Madame Nadine. Prince Vladimir was a close friend of Tchaikovsky. Madame Nadine also told me that she danced in the Latvian Theatre under the name of Marceva (or possibly Maceva) which was taken from the surname of her first husband who was a Mountain Engineer and the son of the Greek ambassador.

Madame Nadine recalls: "... I was born in Riga Latvia in 1899. At this time Latvia was part of the Russian Empire. I am from Russian parents. My father was a botantist and historian of Moscow University and my mother was born Countess Alekseyeva Yaroslavskeya. (Her Christian name was Kladiya or Claudia) We lived not far from Riga on an estate and my childhood was most sunny if I can say so. We had governesses and teachers at home. My early childhood was in great surroundings. We had ponies, I rode and we had all that is needed for an ideal childhood. I remember an interesting way in which we were punished if we misbehaved. We had a large dining room with a big fireplace before which stood two great armchairs. At dinner time just before sweets (or dessert) the question was asked "Whoever is under punishment today sit in the chair". We then had to sit in the chair while everyone else ate sweets and nobody was allowed to take pity on us and give us some.


On weekends and on Holy Days (of the Church calendar) we were taken to the Theatre. I saw ballet at at very early age. We were also taken to the circus. We had a permanent circus in Riga. There were clowns and girl riders the so-called  circus ballerinas. This made a big impression on me especially the riding. I was a good horse rider and after this I started to stand on my horse without a saddle... I would stand on my feet on the horse and it would trot in what was called a roundell. As the horse picked up pace I leaned to the centre to keep balance and I found it was not so difficult to do. Certainly the horse wasn't in a gallop otherwise I would have fallen. So you can see I already as a child had good balance.


At the Theatre the first Ballet I saw was "Sleeping Beauty" but it was done in the German way, not the proper Ballet , not the Tchaikovsky ballet. Eventhough it was Germanised it nevertheless made a deep impression on me. So at a young age I started to ask, to beg in fact that I could have ballet lessons. My parents were very much against it and even more so my aristocratic maternal Grandmother. However after much pleading and begging I was at last permitted to have ballet lessons...My Grandmother thought that it was not suitable for a noble girl to do ballet. Eventhough I was not fully of noble birth as my father was of peasant stock (only my mother was a Countess) Grandmother still didn't like the idea . However she relented and I had my first ballet lesson. 


My first ballet teacher was Marietta Balbo. She was a retired prima ballerina of Riga's Opera Ballet. She had no school but she gave private lessons which was considered much more suitable by my parents.For a number of years I learnt ballet with her. Marietta was Italian but I must say that later I realised that there was not a big difference between the Italian and Russian schools of ballet at this time. So my first lesson was with Marietta Balbo but I was not very impressed with it but she understood what I was feeling and explained to me why and how it was necessary to start at the barre and why it was necessary to learn plie and stretching toes. She explained it to me in a very nice way and eventhough I was only 8 then,it dawned on me that she was right.  At that age I liked everything to be clear and logical. So I continued her lessons. The lessons should have been twice or thrice a week but it didn't always work out like that due to the distance between my home and the town. So my lessons were irregular with pauses but still they continued and I took a liking to them.


... After some years with Marietta Balbo I tried to persuade my parents to let me go to a proper ballet school. I wanted to go to the Maryinsky Theatre in Petersburg. It wasn't an easy thing to achieve but here my aristocratic Grandmother was helpful. After begging and pleading and promising my parents that I would be a good girl (and not the naughty tomboy I had been), my grandmother (Countess Anna Alekseyeva Yaroslavskeya) had a word to the Theatre where she was quite influential. It was a law in the Imperial theatre that only the children of peasant stock were to be admitted. From the beginning of the Russian Ballet that was the law. When it was founded it was for those of peasant stock. So fortunately I had the grounds to get there because my father (Theodore Krivko) came of peasant stock. Due to this I was finally allowed to get into the Ballet school. I was then between 12 and 13 years of age. I was accepted but with conditions which were out of the usual routine of the ballet school because I was not a regular boader. I came periodically and I stayed periodically there. So I did alot of travelling between Riga and Petersburg. I would stay at the ballet school sometimes for months and sometimes for only two weeks. When I was there I lived in the ballet boarding school but unlike the other students I often returned home due to the permission and influence of my Grandmother.. My teachers were Maria Anderson the ballerina that got burnt and in the older classes Olga Preobrasjenska. They were my practical teachers...


... Later in repertoire and character classes we had male teachers. Music was an obligatory subject and we had quite a lot of theoretical subjects and we had marvellous theoretical teachers. The best of all was Khudekov and he taught the history of dance. The influence and memory of him goes through all my life and I am indebted to him for my understanding and  love I have for the ballet. For him ballet and dance in general was life lived on a higher level. He taught us to love ballet. He taught us to understand it. He taught us the knowledge we needed when we would come to teaching. That was all thanks to him. He was already very old when he became my teacher. He would have been in his seventies.... His motto was; " We have forgotten to pray to God with our feet. We have forgotten that once in the great past a divine being touched us and we were nearer to God. "...".



Sergei Khudekov

Note 1: Madame Nadine also held a personal family title of Princess Starodubov passed from mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter since the time of Ivan the Terrible when the females (Princess Marfa Starodubov and her five daughters) were saved by a miracle when the Princes Starodubovsky were exterminated by the secret police/army of Czar Ivan the Terrible. Nadine was the 13th Princess Starodubuv in her line from Princess Anna Starodubov. The title and ring are passed to the eldest daughter or granddaughter on her wedding day in a simple ceremony. Princess Marfa was said to be of Mongolian ancestry who married Prince Vassili Starodubovsky (died 1569) the son of Prince Ivan Bolshoi Morkhinya Starodubovski.  


Note 2: It would seem that Madame Nadine Wulffius was held in great respect by Madame Kira and the other Ballet people as they all referred to her as Madame Nadine whereas Madame Nadine always refers to Kira and Gundi as Mrs Bousloff  (or Mrs Penberthy) and Mrs Ferris.


see: The Wulffius Family of Latvia


A clip of the contemporary WA Ballet


Added June 2013: Thanks to Vera Vulfiuss-Bartosevska I learnt the spelling of Madame Nadine's dance name was Mirceva. She used this name in Latvia and her Ballet School in Daugavpils was N. Mircevas. She was known as Madame Mirceva. I have added the information to the Wikipedia article about her.



"...Her third husband was a Latvian-German Baron Alf-Paul Oscar Wulffius (Vulffius/ Vulfius[4]) of Salnavas, Latvia. He was killed by the Communists during the Second World War (1941).[5] At this time Wulffius was living in Daugavpils and according to her son Paul his father was living with a pianist who was his father's mistress. It seemed to be an amicable arrangement with Wulffius staying with them both when she was in Riga. This may be the Galina Vulfius (b.1812) mentioned as being taken by the communists with Alf-Paul in 1941.[6]
Wulffius also at this time (1941) had a Ballet School in Daugavpils, Latvia. Bernard Levinson mentions her under the name of Madam Mirceva in his article titled "August in Latvia (For Maja Abramowitch)" at the time of the German invasion of Latvia. He uses quotes from the book of a Holocaust survivor Maja Abramovitch titled "To Forgive but not to Forget" (2002).
My Mama teaches me to play the piano. She plays really well. I love sitting on the piano stool with her. Once a week I go with my cousin to Ballet school. It is run by Madam Mirceva. I’m afraid of her. Her hair is smoothed back into a tight ball. It pulls her eyes sideways. Sometimes she looks almost Chinese. She is very strict. My cousin and I are the dolls in the Ballet Coppelia. I love the costumes. Mama had them made especially for us. I am very small for my age. And thin. I think I look like a doll…[7]
Wulffius under the name of N.Mircevas is also mentioned in Daugavpils in 1936[8] and 1937 in regards to the Ballet[9] and she (as N. Mirceva) and her Ballet School performances is mentioned again in the same Journal in 1938[10] and 1939.[11]..."

This description by Maja Abramowitch is how I remember Nadine when she was teaching Ballet. She always wore her hair in a tight bun but when she let her hair down it went right down her back to her behind. After she moved to Dumbleyung my sister Tamara encouraged her to cut off her hair and she then wore it with a curly perm which softened her looks immensely.