Ballet Memories at The Grand Theatre

By Karen Downham, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

One of the best things about working in Local and Family History is the wide variety of topics that we can deal with, and not knowing what you will be asked on a day to day basis. It is always rewarding to help people find what they are looking for, and solve a few mysteries, and the story below is definitely one of those occasions! It’s a particularly nice enquiry that links together a personal story, Leeds history, and development of dance.

We were contacted by a gentleman who, whilst moving his mother-in-law, Margaret, age 91, to a care home, came across a charcoal sketch drawn by her whilst a 19 year old art student at Wakefield Art College. The students were on a trip to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to make sketches of rehearsals by the Ballet Jooss.   Margaret gave us a short account of her visit, and asked us if it was possible to find out more information. Margaret’s sketch and account are shown below:

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I was a student studying painting at Wakefield College of Art and in 1944, aged 19, we were fortunate that our tutor Mr Bland, was an ardent follower of ballet. He arranged a visit to the Grand Theatre, Leeds, with permission for a small party of students to sketch backstage during rehearsal.  A party of 12 were taken to the Grand on the bus and we were given a small area backstage in the wings. We didn’t communicate with anyone. Kurt Jooss was seated in the stall directing. Hans Zullig is the main figure in the sketch. I have no idea which ballet it was but we had 2 hours there and there and it was a wonderful experience. The water colour was added later at college.

As a result of this visit, Mr Bland and a close friend of mine, Roland Strange, left the college to try their luck in London. Roland was a dancer and Mr Bland did stage design. Roland had a successful career and appeared in the 1948 film “The Red Shoes”. There is a shot of him coming out with the other dancers as Moira Shearer is going in for her first interview.

Margaret Downhill (now Oakes) 7th November 2016.

We were of course delighted to let them know that we do indeed hold programmes for the Grand Theatre for that period, and were able to send scans of these to Margaret. The programme of 15th May 1944 gives details of next weeks’ performances on the front and back of the programme, and showing a very full schedule for the dance company, including Jooss’ popular work The Green Table, and his other works The Big City and Company at the Manor on contemporary themes.

Programme for The Grand Theatre, advertising Ballets Jooss.

Programme for The Grand Theatre, advertising Ballets Jooss.

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The above list shows what a full performance schedule the company were set to perform.

It is interesting to note the section on the front about Air Raid Precautions – especially the Red and Green “Alert” and “Raiders Passed” signs at the side of the stage, and if the request was made for people to leave the theatre this would have been accompanied by the warning “Don’t leave your gas mask behind on leaving the theatre”!

The Grand continued to open with business as usual throughout the War, and indeed benefitted from wartime theatre restrictions in London, when a number of productions were forced to transfer from the West End to Leeds.

The extracts below, from the inside and back of the programme, show the cast lists for each production. In The Green Table, Hans Züllig, the dancer in the centre of Margaret’s drawing, is dancing the part of The Profiteer.

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At this point we thought it might be interesting to find out more about the ballet company and the productions they were rehearsing during Margaret’s visit.

Ballet Jooss

Ballet Jooss was one of the dance companies set up by Kurt Jooss, famous ballet dancer and choreographer, and widely regarded as the founder of dance theatre, or German Tanztheater, expressive dance dramas combining modern dance movements with fundamental ballet techniques.

Jooss was born in Germany in 1901, and in 1920 studied under Rudolf von Laban, developer of dance theory. Jooss further developed the work of Laban, forming the dance company DieNeue Tanzbühne. At this time he also met Fritz Cohen, the Jewish composer, who worked with him on much of his famous pieces.

In 1925 he joined with Sigurd Leeder, the German dancer and choreographer to produce the ballet Dance of Death, criticised at the time for being too avant-garde. He became Director of the Essen Folkwang School of Music in 1927, and Ballet Master at Essen Opera House in 1930.

Kurt Jooss liked to work with themes addressing moral issues, using naturalistic movement and characterisations, and this can be seen in his most well-known work, The Green Table. The ballet won first prize in an international competition held by the Archives Internationales de la Danse in Paris in 1932, with a strong anti-war statement, just one year before Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933. The group became known as Ballet Jooss at this point, and embarked on a world tour during 1933/34.

In 1933 Jooss was forced to flee Germany, along with Leeder, Cohen and others, after refusing to dismiss Jews from his company. They fled to the Netherlands before resettling in England, and opening a dance school at Dartington in Devon. During this time new works were added to the repertoire, including Pandora in 1944, with disturbing images of human tragedy and disaster.

Jooss returned in 1949 to Essen, where he taught and choreographed for 19 years until his retirement in 1968. He died in 1979 aged 78. His works are still performed by many companies today, including the Joffrey Ballet, with his daughter Anna Markard supervising performances until her death in 2010.

The Green Table

This ballet is Jooss’ enduring masterpiece on the futility of war, especially the peace negotiations of the 1930s. It comprises eight scenes of stark images, opening with The Gentlemen in Black, a group of politicians debating heatedly around a table covered with a green cloth, and at the end of the scene, war is declared.

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The ballet then progresses with six scenes – The Farewells, The Battle, The Partisan, The Refugees, The Brothel, & The Aftermath, featuring soldiers, women, profiteers and patriots. All fall prey to the Death character, who enters each scene, quickly claiming a life, and not caring which life is taken.

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The final scene returns to the politicians around the table again, continuing in their arguments and negotiations, signifying the futility of war.

We can only imaging the impact this must have had on audiences, being performed in Leeds whilst the Second World War was in its’ final stages.

Hans Züllig

Hans Züllig was born in Switzerland, and was an actor-dancer of distinction, taking on many leading roles in Ballets Jooss. He studied with Kurt Jooss and Sigurd Leeder, and became Jooss’ favourite dancer, with an ability to interpret him easily. He danced the part of The Young Soldier in the 1929 production of The Green Table. Züllig was said to be small and with a compact build, and able to transform himself into any character.

In 1943 he began rehearsals with Jooss in Cambridge, and in 1944 toured the provinces with a repertoire including Prodigal Son, The Big City, Spring Tale, and Company at the Manor – the ballets they would have been rehearing when Margaret made her visit to The Grand Theatre. After the war he returned to Germany, teaching and performing at Essen, Zurich. and Dusseldorf. After a short period during 1956-61 at the Chilean University in Santiago, Züllig returned to Essen, where he continued to teach right up to his death in 1992.

Sigurd Leeder

Sigurd Leeder was a German dancer, choreographer and educationalist, born in Hamburg in 1902, He worked with visual artist Rudolph Laban in 1923, and with Kurt Jooss in 1924, developing a close collaboration with Jooss that was to last 23 years. Whilst teaching in Paris in 1935, he was invited with others to England,  where the Leeder-Jooss School of Dance was formed in Dartington, Devon. Leeder was interned in the early part of the war, but in 1940 was involved in the re-forming of the Jooss-Leeder Dance Studio in Cambridge. In 1947 he moved to London to set up his own company.

From 1959 to 1965 he directed the dance department at the University of Santiago, Chile, then taught at the Grete Muller school in Herisau, Switzerland,  from 1965 until his death in 1981.

The Grand Theatre

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The Grand in 1936, http://www.leodis.net

The Grand Theatre is situated on New Briggate, and was designed by George Corson, the architect who also designed the Municipal Buildings, now Leeds Central Library. It opened on 18th November  1878, having cost £21,102, with facilities including an assembly room seating  1,200 people, in addition to 2,600 in the auditorium.

The Theatre underwent extensive refurbishment in two phases between 2005 and 2008. It now boasts two large rehearsal rooms in addition to an improve interior, and connects to the Opera North building next door. The Assembly Rooms, closed since 1985, are now reopened and in use by Opera North. The venue is now capable of holding large shows and West end musicals. You can find out more about the history of Leeds Theatres on our Discovering Leeds pages.

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Recent photograph of the Grand Theatre lit up at night, http://www.leodis.net

References

  • The Grand Theatre – The first 100 years – Wilkinson. LQ 792 WIL
  • Grand Memories – The Life & Times of the Grand Theatre & Opera House, Leeds – Patricia Lennon & David Joy. L725.8
  • Ballet Guide – Walter Terry, Music Library, W 792.8 TER
  • International Dictionary of Ballet, Vol 1, Music Library, WQ 792.8 INT
  • Modern Ballet – John Percival, Information & Research, 792.8 PER
  • History of Ballet & Modern Dance – Judith Steeh, Music Library, 792.8

Sweeping Through Time

  • Two weeks ago, we let you in on some of the secrets of the Henry Collection in Oliver Twist with a Twist. This week it’s over to our two experts on the subject, Jonathan and Natascha, to share a few of their favourite finds.

Did you know that Leeds Central Library holds extensive collections on the English Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement, and the lives of chimney sweeps? Among its treasure trove of old maps, newspapers and microfilms are several boxes containing material collected in the early 20th century by Dr Sydney Henry: part of his renowned ‘sweepiana’ collection concerning all things chimney-sweep-related. At this cold time of year, when the hearth becomes once again a central feature in our home life, we want to bring this collection further into the public light…

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Our names are Jonathan Wright and Natascha Allen-Smith; we are both history students at the University of Leeds. At the beginning of this academic year we were tasked with collating and analysing the Henry Collection in the Leeds Central Library. With the ambition of constructing an exhibition, we compared and contrasted the lives of chimney sweeps and their representations in literature. The 1,500-item collection is spread across Leeds Central Library and the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, as well as the Leeds Art Gallery. The biggest work of the future is to digitise all of the collection to make it more accessible.

Over the next few weeks, Natascha and I want to take you through our favourite discoveries so far. First up is a famous author with a lesser-known work: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. It is a charming and romantic story about two dolls wanting to explore the wider world. Situated in books after The Ugly Duckling, the tale tells how the two lovers climb the chimney and witness a spectacular view of the world. However, this is all too much for the Shepherdess who has to return with the Chimney Sweep to their home. The significance of the work is that it shows how the idea of chimney sweeps could be bright. Also, the positive portrayal of the Chimney Sweep came at a time of generally negative portrayals in the Victorian era. 1845 was also 19 years before proper regulations for the use of chimney boys became law and it can be seen that progressive depictions such as this were helpful in changing the public and political mind-set.

One of the oldest items in the collection is a 17th century comedic play entitled The London Cuckolds. In this pre-industrial era, chimney sweeps were not yet the miserable, overworked, black-suited Victorian figures we most commonly associate with the title. This can be seen in the play’s depiction of them as rude, comical thieves and pranksters, making crude observations like “Oh I am damnably full of wind”.

In one scene, two sweeps trick a foolish gentleman into losing his wig and hat, blacking his face with soot in the process. Here, the play shares a theme with almost all the works in the collection, whether their portrayals of sweeps are positive or negative: ordinary people avoid going near them due to their filthy state, and when accidental contact is made, clean skin and clothing is instantly dirtied. Climbing boys were allowed to wash once a week at most, and consequently faced great alienation from their peers, particularly from richer children who could afford to attend school.

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A feature that runs through the entire collection is the handwritten notes, letters and bookmarks left by Dr Henry himself, which are scattered within the volumes. Henry scribbled page references in red ink on nearly all the books in the collection (for which we are extremely grateful, as most contain only one or two fleeting references to chimney sweeps). But working through the boxes in more detail means that you also stumble across folded-up sheets cut from 1950s newspapers, old pieces of paper on which Henry jotted down research notes, and even a typewritten card addressed to him by another well-known sweep enthusiast, Dr George Phillips.

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There are also occasional letters or inscriptions written by entirely different people, each giving another clue about how the book in question entered Henry’s possession and who may have owned it first.

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In our next piece, we’ll be taking a look at an item from the collection by a very famous writer, featuring some beautiful artwork that contrasts sharply with the often dark subject-matter described…

New Research Guide: Game of Thrones

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

Following on from our recent stock pop-up based on the Game of Thrones series and some of the real-world history that inspired its author, George R.R. Martin, we present the latest in our Research and Collection Guides series. Entitled ‘Tomes of Thrones’, this guide lists many of the books used to create that exhibition and is designed to give the interested reader a solid starting point for delving deeper. Click on the image at the end of this article to view the full collection.

The exhibition was intended to connect Martin’s influences and sources to the remixed forms they take in his writing, as well as the subsequent TV series based on that work. One example of this process is maps.

Maps are an essential part of the Game of Thrones experience, central to the books and the opening credits of the TV series. And rightly so; for an invented world to be truly immersive, it requires the reader or viewer to have a realistic sense of the geography that the people, places and events are situated within.

The world created by Martin is no different – only, as always, the author has been very careful to connect that fantastical world to our very real one. One pleasure for keen followers of the series is the realisation that the continent of Westeros most obviously resembles that of Great Britain with Ireland turned upside down and placed at its most southerly end.

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From ‘Game of Thrones’ Westeros is Really Just Britain and An Inverted Ireland‘: http://brilliantmaps.com/westeros

None of this would have been possible without pioneers of the cartographic art, such as Matthew Paris’s 13th Century map of Great Britain and Christopher Saxton’s monumental Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales (1579) – the first Atlas ever produced. On display at the pop-up were a 1928 reproduction of Paris’ maps, a copy of the first map of Leeds, from 1560, and a 1936 facsimile of Saxton’s work (the library is additionally honoured to hold an original copy of Saxton’s Atlas, one of only a handful still in existence).

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Reproduction of one of the four Matthew Paris maps of Great Britain still in existence and held at the British Library

If the guide whets your appetite for more, keep your raven’s third-eye open for a full repeat of the event later in the year.

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It’s Oliver Twist… with a Twist

  • by Rhian Isaac, Collections Manager, Leeds Central Library

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be welcoming two new bloggers to the Secret Library. Natascha and Jonathan are students from the University of Leeds, who joined us on a Faculty of Arts Research Placement a few months ago to experience working with our collections and bringing them to a wider audience. They’ve been exploring and researching items from our Ernestine Henry Collection, all of which relate in some way to the subject of chimney sweeps (yes, you read that right!). In the Spring, we’ll be hosting an exhibition at Central Library curated by the students but, until then, look out for articles here on the blog showcasing some of their most interesting finds.

The Henry Collection itself is extremely varied, including such materials as ballad books, children’s literature, fairy tales, prints and sketches. A couple of really interesting and rare items, dating back to the 1830s, are plagiarised versions of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers.

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These were written by ‘Bos’ (a take-off of Dickens’ own pen name, Boz) who was believed to be Thomas Peckett Prest, a British hack writer, journalist and musician, and published by Edward Lloyd, who used these pirated editions to pioneer ‘penny issue’ fiction. Dickens’ early work fell victim to more plagiarism than any English literary work then or since. Cheap serialised editions based on his plots and characters were produced, and the language was adapted to suit the tastes of a rapidly expanding lower-class readership. This was an extremely lucrative venture, as the penny versions sold as many as 50,000 editions a week, probably outnumbering the sales of Dickens’ originals. The plagiarised versions came out at the height of The Pickwick Paper’s popularity, while Oliver Twist had not even finished running before the parody version, Oliver Twiss, began. They were sold weekly for a penny (as opposed to a shilling for a genuine Dickens) and came out on a Sunday, when working people weren’t at work, via small shops and tobacconists, meaning they could reach an untapped market of semi-literate readers not often accessed by middle-class booksellers.

The Pickwick Papers was a perfect target for plagiarists, as it was first conceived as an accompaniment to the comic sketchings of cockney life by Robert Seymour. There are lots of fantastic examples of Seymour’s work in this collection for anyone interested in illustration.

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Pickwick’s plump figure, green glasses and gaiters – no matter how crudely drawn – were instantly recognisable. The episodic plot offered few restrictions to plagiarists and they could adapt or reinvent for as long as they had the public’s interest. The Posthumourous Notes of the Pickwick Club, also called the Penny Pickwick, was the most successful of the plagiarised Pickwicks, and can be found in the Henry Collection.

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Oliver Twiss, the Workhouse Boy was the most celebrated piracy of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, exploiting the original’s links with popular traditions of Gothic melodrama, crime reporting and stage comedy, and running for 78 weeks.

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As you might imagine, Dickens was not pleased and, in 1837, he attempted to have Edward Lloyd’s publications terminated by legal means. But he failed in his suit when Lloyd argued that the unauthorised imitations were so bad no one could mistake them for the real thing – reputedly leading Dickens to comment: “I was made to feel like the robber instead of the robbed”. However, the famous author would get his own back on the ‘dishonest dullards’ (as he referred to Prest and Lloyd) by caricaturing them in his next novel, Nicholas Nickleby, which was serialised from 1838 to 1839. It is this and his many other classics that continue to attract hoards of enthusiastic readers almost two centuries later.

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