Image Borovansky Ballet's 'Terra Australis', 1946

TLF ID R3219

This is a 20.3 cm x 25.7 cm black-and-white photograph of a ballet performance on a split-level stage in front of a painted backdrop featuring a dead white tree trunk. A male and a female dancer are in the spotlight and two groups of dancers are in the shadowed foreground.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts part of a production by the Borovansky Ballet, the main Australian ballet company before the establishment of the Australian Ballet in 1962 - Czech-born ballet dancer Edouard Borovansky founded the company in 1939, producing ballets that he knew from his days as a dancer with Anna Pavlova’s company and the Covent Garden Russian Ballet; he also choreographed his own productions of works such as 'The Black Swan', 'The Outlaw' and 'Terra Australis'.
  • It provides a snapshot of Edouard Borovansky’s 'Terra Australis', which premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 25 May 1946 - considered the first all-Australian ballet, 'Terra Australis' had a libretto by Tom Rothfield, a score by Esther Rofe, and costumes designed by Eve Harris; the ballet dealt symbolically with tensions between Indigenous and European cultures with Australia represented as a young woman, the Spirit of Australia (Peggy Sager), who was initially courted by an Aboriginal lover (Vassilie Trunoff) and finally drawn to a white explorer (Martin Rubinstein).
  • It demonstrates Borovansky’s unique use of the stage’s space as a choreographic and dramatic tool, with the stage divided into two sections and a wide, raised platform running lengthwise across it - in 'Terra Australis' the three main characters played out their tragic story on the upper level while the corps de ballet danced and posed in groups in the foreground.
  • It includes New Zealand-born Peggy Sager, who trained as a ballet dancer in Sydney and became one of Australia’s best-known dancers of the 1940s and 50s - her strong stage presence and brilliant technique made her the idol of many young Australian dancers in the 1950s.
  • It includes Martin Rubinstein, who was born in Germany of Polish descent - Rubinstein started ballet lessons in Melbourne when he was 13 after his family had migrated to Australia and later joined the Borovansky Ballet, with which he danced throughout the 1940s.
  • It contains a costume that received harsh criticism for being unrepresentative of Australia - Peggy Sager appeared on stage as the Spirit of Australia in a pale green dress with a trail of purple flowers spilling down the front; one reviewer said that 'her garb suggested rural England rather than the robust Australian bush'.
  • It contains a backdrop showing the white trunk of a dead tree angling up between two bare hills or sand dunes - the painting reflects the connection between the outback and popular concepts of what it means to be 'Australian'.
  • It was taken by photographer Jean Stewart, who worked as a stage manager in Melbourne - a great supporter of ballet, Stewart photographed Borovansky Ballet productions during the mid-1940s; more than 60 of Stewart’s photos are held by the National Library of Australia and consist of portraits and shots of rehearsals and performances.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1946
  • Name: Jean Stewart
  • Remarks: photographer
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 30 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements