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

“Winter Is Coming”: Game of Thrones and the Leeds Libraries’ Collections

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Join us tomorrow for a chance to see, handle, explore and discuss specially-curated items from the Central Library Collections. These books will all relate to the real-life history, culture and mythology behind George R.R. Martin’s immersive fantasy world, as enjoyed by millions of readers and TV viewers.

This will be a rare opportunity to see some of the rarest and most interesting books in our collections, including a signed copy of Maurice Druon’s The Iron King (the “original Game of Thrones“, in Martin’s own words) and a manuscript copy of E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. Other books on display will range from a 17th-century look at fantastical creatures, through to 20th-century academic scholarship on medieval warfare; all will illuminate some aspect of the Game of Thrones world, helping you to appreciate the people, places and events of Westeros with added depth.

This is a drop-in event and there is no need to book. Everyone is welcome, but some of the Game of Thrones content may not be suitable for younger people. Please be advised that the exhibition will contain significant SPOILERS for both the written and the visual editions of the series…

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“Abysmal Performance of Depravity Rock”: The Sex Pistols in Leeds, December 1976

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

Forty-years ago this week, the Sex Pistols finally began their 1976 UK tour. “Finally,” because – as the BBC has remembered this week – all but three of the projected dates on that tour were cancelled following the band’s notorious TV appearance on Bill Grundy’s Today show.

Those cancellations included the intended first show, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, meaning that the actual first performance took place at Leeds Polytechnic on the 6th of December. The Pistols’ reputation for ‘bad’ language followed them to Leeds, where – as the Yorkshire Evening Post reported – college officials and local Councillors expressed serious reservations about the group’s arrival in the city:

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It’s probably no surprise to hear that the band didn’t keep to those demands that they cut out the swearing while playing at the Polytechnic, as this review of the gig made clear (also from the YEP):

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Strong words, indeed – “a vile, disgusting show”; “crude, mindless”; “abysmal performance of depravity rock”; “musically bereft, verbally moronic and crude”; “an abomination of bawled revolution” – the language of a cultural war fought with the kind of venom and ferocity that has only now returned to public discourse.

You can judge for yourself whether the Pistols’ performance matched or exceeded the spectacularly low levels described in the YEP by listening to the full concert: the first time, indeed, that ‘God Save The Queen’ – that “abomination of bawled revolution” – was heard by a live audience; a transmission from an era distant past and yet also now, perhaps, all our tomorrows.

The newspaper articles seen here were found using the newspaper archive available in the Local and Family History department of the Central LibraryA complete guide to all our newspaper holdings is available. Contact us on 0113 37 86982 for more details.

 

Stories, Songs and Proclamations

By Karen Downham, Local & Family History Library

This week in the blog we will be looking at Broadsides, and exploring some of those in the Local & Family History Collection.

A broadside, in its simplest definition, is a sheet of paper printed only on one side. They were often posters announcing events, proclamations, and advertisements, sometimes with a song, rhyme, or news.

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They may sometimes have had woodcut illustrations, but were mostly textual, and were printed to be read unfolded or posted in public places, although they could also be cut in half lengthways, making a ‘broadslip’, or folded to make  something called a ‘chapbook’.

For early, primitive printing presses, it was easiest and cheapest to print a single sheet of paper, and these could be sold for as little as a penny. They were designed to be a temporary document for a particular purpose, and intended to be thrown away after use. These broadsides were one of the most common forms of printed material in Britain & Ireland.

Huge numbers of broadsides were produced in England & Ireland, particularly with the mechanisation of the printing industry at the start of the 19th century, and many were sold by travelling chapmen (traders or itinerant pedlars) or balladeers in the streets and at fairs. The balladeers would sing the songs printed on their broadsides, hoping to attract customers.

In the times before newspapers, and before the internet and 24 hour news channels, the public had to look to street literature to find out what was happening.  For some 300 years, the broadsides were the most popular form of street literature – in a way the tabloid newspapers of their day. They were sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses.  In later years they were used for political agitation, and also for scaffold speeches.  Broadside were often sold at public executions, and would feature a crude image of the crime or criminal, an account of the crime and trial, and sometimes a confession of guilt. There was often some sort of verse warning others not to follow the same course  and suffer the same fate!

By the middle of the 19th century the broadside began to be taken over by the cheap newspapers and by sensational novels known as ‘penny dreadfuls’, and by 1850 the penny used to buy a broadside ballad could buy part of a novel, or a cheap newspaper or magazine.

Examples of collections of Broadsides are those held by the National Library of Scotland and by the Bodleian Library in Oxford

In the collections here at Local & Family History we have a small amount of broadside material, the main item being the collection of Leeds Printed Broadsides, collected by the Leeds song collector, historian & author Frank Kidson. They contain a selection of sheets, printed in Leeds, and covering items of local and national interest, and are held in a volume fully indexed by title and first line. There are news reports, poems, and songs, some of which are still well known today. A selection of them have been highlighted here:

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A New Song on the Queen’s Visit To Leeds, describes the visit of Queen Victoria to Leeds on 7th September 1858 to open the new Leeds Town Hall. The competition to win the commission to design & build the Town Hall was won by Hull architect Cuthbert Broderick.

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“A New Song on the Leeds Election; Vote For Barran” concerns the Leeds North by-election on 29th July 1902, caused by the sitting MP William Jackson  being elevated to the peerage.  Jackson had held the seat since 1885. The candidates were Sir Arthur Lawson, businessman and President of Leeds Conservative Association, and Rowland Hirst Barran, prominent in a local clothing manufacturing firm, and son of Sir John Barran, former MP for Leeds. Barran won the by-election, turning a Tory majority of 2,517 to a Liberal majority of 758. He held the seat until 1918 when he stood down from Parliament.

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The broadside titled Terrible Accident at Bradford is bringing news of the Newlands Mill Disaster on 28th December 1882, when a chimney of one of the large factories owned by the late Sir Henry William Ripley, fell without any warning, killing and injuring many. In total 54 workpeople were killed, 26 of them being below the age of 16, and the youngest only 8 years old.

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Another disaster broadcast by broadside, but further afield this time, was the Abergele Rail Disaster, on the coast of North Wales, and at the time the worst railway disaster in Britain. On the 20th August 1868, The Irish Mail train, bound for Holyhead, and also pulling passenger carriages, crashed into runaway goods wagons carrying wooden barrels of paraffin oil, and derailed the engine, tended and guard’s van. The resulting  fire from some of the barrels breaking up in the collision prevented any attempts to rescue people in the carriages and added further to the death toll.

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Death of the Prince Imperial – Prince Louis Napoleon was killed in the Anglo-Zulu War, on 1st June 1879. After taking charge of a scouting party, without full escort or lookouts, the Prince was charged and fired at by a group of Zulus. He was trampled beneath his horse, and suffered eighteen wounds from assegais (Zulu spears), one of which burst his eye. His death caused something of an international sensation with a variety of rumours abounding as to the cause of his death.

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The Soldiers Prayer Book is a song concerning a soldier playing cards in church, and popularised in Country and Popular music in the 1940s. It first became a hit in the U.S. with the recording The Deck of Cards by T.Texas Tyler. The story is in fact much older than that, the earliest known reference being in a book belonging to Mary Bacon, a British farmer’s wife in 1762, and later recorded in a the 19th century British publication The Soldier’s Almanack, Bible and Prayer Book.

The two broadsides below contain two songs which are well known today – Oh Susannah, and The Wild Rover. The song sheets show how the broadsides may have been folded lengthways down the middle, to make a Chapbook with a different song on each side.

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 We also hold copies of Broadsides printed at Jacobs printers of Halifax, in a book of notes from Bankfield Museum, Halifax, in the chapter War Ballads and Broadsides of Previous Wars, 1779 – 1795. A few examples are shown below.

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The two proclamations show support for, and feeling against, William Pitt the Younger, during the period of constitutional crisis when King George III was suffering a temporary but incapacitating mental disorder , requiring Parliament to appoint a regent to rule in his place.

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The third broadside here would seem to be announcing a meeting concerned with raising a local fund to help families affected by war.

 

Linking in with this topic, the Leeds-based Commoners Choir will be performing in Leeds Central Library on Sunday 13th November in an event titled “Literacy, Books and the Print Revolution”. There will be a free concert and exhibition with a hand-printed souvenir for all who attend. More details and ticket booking are available on  the Leeds Inspired website.

 

References:

  • Roth, Henry Ling, 1855-1925. . – Bankfield museum notes ;, second series, no. 1-11 . – Halifax : Bankfield Museum, 1912
  • Kidson, Frank – Leeds Printed Broadsides – collection of Leeds Street Literature
  • Henderson, William, writer on ballads . – Victorian street ballads : a selection of popular ballads sold in the street . – London : Country Life, 1937

 

 

Illuminating the Rich History of “Light Night” in Leeds

by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

No doubt most readers of our blog will be spending this evening enjoying one of the many wonderful art events happening around the city centre as part of the annual Light Night celebrations. And most readers will probably already be aware of how those celebrations started – in 2005, as part of the launch of the region-wide Illuminate Cultural Festival, itself based on the French model of the Nuit Blanche: an annual all-night or night-time arts festival. Twelve-years later – showing every sign of continual and vibrant growth – Light Night remains a highlight of Leeds’ cultural year.

But what few visitors to those spectacular displays of ‘light’ in a myriad of weird and wonderful locations and forms will know, is that Leeds has something of a long history when it comes to such things. These ‘Illuminations’, as they were known, were social events involving the whole town and held to celebrate major occasions such as British victory in war. As David Thornton writes in his superb reference work Leeds: A Historical Dictionary (2015) –

At a given time in the evening set by the Mayor, the windows of all the houses in the town would be lit with candles and shops would present illuminated displays…[C]rowds,, who were used to darkened streets with little illumination, wandered around the town enjoying the glittering spectacle.

– which certainly sounds familiar! We wanted to find out more about these intriguing (mainly 19th-century) events – so, using the free access enjoyed by all users of the Leeds Library Service to the British Library’s 19th-century Newspapers Online, we did a quick search of the Leeds Mercury to discover more.

The first Illumination we found occurred in 1820 and was in celebration of the government’s withdrawal of the extremely controversial Pains and Penalties Bill. This is how the Mercury reported the events in Leeds and Hunslet:

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And here is how the Mercury reported on the spectacular array of illuminations on September 18, 1855, to celebrate the ending of the Crimean War (in part, at least – the full article can be read via the aforementioned 19th-century Newspapers Online resource):

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So, while you’re enjoying tonight’s wonderful selection of displays, just remember that you’re part of a rich tradition stretching back over 200-years. Remember also that, as always, the Central Library is playing host to its usual weird and wonderful installations and exhibitions; all themed around the ‘elements’ and our collections. We look forward to welcoming you this evening!

To get in the ‘light’ mood, why not read last year’s Light Night article, on Joseph Priestley and his writings on the subject? There’s also a research guide highlighting some of the most interesting light-based books from around the Central Library’s specialist departments.