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Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, Saturday 20 October 2012 – Sunday 28 April 2013

Entering the galleries of the Justice and Police Museum late on a quiet Saturday afternoon for ‘Wicked Women’, is like walking onto a 1950s pulp fiction film noir set, and being surrounded by high profile female actresses in character, poised in fiercely provocative poses of femme fatales. The Valadon’s 17 portraits of high profile professional women like Tara Moss, Rachel Ward, Skye Leckie, Imogen Kelly, Sonia Kruger, Ros Reines, Larissa Behrendt, Antonella Gambotto-Burke, Margaret Cunneen, Essie Davis, Annette Shun Wah andKara Shead, are imposing and larger-than-life in both size and scale.

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The portraits, painted in oil are unframed, hung and arranged at eye level against a dark royal blue background, beautifully complementing the artist’s chiaroscuro technique and rich but luminous palette of racy reds and devilish greens . Each portrait is lit by spotlights, giving the flesh of Valadon’s figures a life-like iridescent glow . Valadon’s lush brushwork and evocative palette creates excitement and danger, while the textures and luxuriant surfaces of paint and colour prompt the eye to linger slowly across the canvas . In the quietness of the galleries, the paintings seem to come alive with a strange and seductive feminine power, imbuing the space with a highly dramatic, sexually charged and theatrical atmosphere.

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Each painting has a label next to it with brief description, or quote by the sitter, and the corresponding title and image of the pulp fiction novel or film poster on which it is based. This effectively allows the viewer to compare the original image with Valadon’s re-production. The labels are informative and engaging without being over-burdened with detail. The paintings are grouped wall by wall under a theme indicated by gilt inscriptions above them. For example, underneath the wall with ‘With a Gun in Her Hand she was Slaughter in Satin’ are the portraits of gun wielding Essie Davis and Sonia Kruger, and satin adorned killer looks of Skye Leckie and Imogen Kelly.

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The main gallery also has objects from the Justice and Police Museum collection such as hand-guns and poison bottle on display in cases in the middle of the main gallery. There is also a small exhibition space with 30 drawings documenting the artist’s creative process arranged in a sporadic, cluttered fashion against a dark red wall. In the centre of the room, there is a resting space where visitors can watch documentary film containing interviews with artist Rosemary Valadon and her sitters.

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Rosemary Valadon (1947-), is an award winning Australian artist, with a career spanning 35 years. Her work is represented in major Australian collections , and private collections in Australia and overseas. From her early portraits to prize winning works through to her more recent interest in feminine rituals of identity, her work continues to be included in major art prize exhibitions . She is a regular finalist in the Archibald, Sulman, Blake, Portia Geach and Mosman prizes. Her body of work explores politics of gender and identity, the body and its representation in a playfully seductive, ribald and mysterious manner . Most recently, her interest has been in ‘feminine’ and depictions of women throughout the ages. Her representations of the feminine explore the power of sensuality and display an interest in psychological theories of the self, in particular Freudian theory, identity formation and gender, freedom and dependence, and issues of human development.

Valadon’s inspiration for the exhibition came from her time as artists-in-residence at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney in 2009, where she explored the Museum’s extensive collection, researching the history and depictions of women and crime. She also visited its Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal exhibition, where she was struck by the vast contrast between the glamorous depictions of women in the pulp fiction covers and the photographs of real-life female criminals from the 1920s and 1930s . At the height of its popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, pulp fiction books covers and film noir posters evoked the sexy, smoky underworld of the femme fatale, and female criminals of the ‘Razor Gang’ in the 1920s and 1930s like the notorious Tilly Devine, to seek widest possible circulation . The ‘bad girls’ of pulp fiction were portrayed, against the middle-class norms of the 1950s, as vixens, seducers, deceitful and untrustworthy women of a subculture, wielding knives and guns with masterful cunning, power and intelligence, trapping men with their highly sexualised and scantily clad provocative, yet passive poses .

Valadon’s portraits are a startling re-imagination of the history and depictions of women and crime, and the place of the ‘femme fatale’ in the art of early to mid-20th-century pulp fiction and film noir. By painting professional twenty first century women in the archetypes of pulp fiction and film noir femme fatales, showgirls, husband killers, and sirens in suggestive poses, guns, knives, and cigarettes, Valadon raises questions about women, their power, their humour and their femininity. This co-insides with contemporary commentary about the virulence not just of sexism but also of misogyny, particularly targeting successful, outspoken women . Valadon’s representation of women as trailblazers, all making a statement forging a career, in some ways celebrates the successes of women in a society whilst also highlighting their struggles, especially in professional sphere . Her portraits ask the viewer to consider who holds the power, the artists, the sitter or the viewer? That is, whether women depicted as individuals with their on their own identity or as objects subject to the male gaze.

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This question of female agency goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman and the problematic nature of representations of femininity. This dichotomous dilemma goes as far back as biblical stories of creation, and has persisted into and beyond the middle ages, Enlightenment and Victorian era with the patriarchal phallocentric ideas of thinkers like Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who categorised women as passive lesser versions of the whole more active and rational male . The idea that women are secondary to men in terms of artistic ability has also pervaded Australian art history, with many young Australian women artists of late 19th century and into the 20th century like Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith .

According to Valadon, her intention is to capture the look of the original artworks but add a vibrant and playful modern-day twist that reflects the sitter’s personality, and overthrows the sexist overtones of the original artworks . For Valadon, ‘sexual wickedness is all about suggestion and adventure, not porn’ . Her portraits reflect this, containing only a glimpse of skin through sensuous, rustling fabrics; full skirts, fitted bodices and waists. For Valadon, wicked women are those women who display ‘a lack of fear, curiosity, and refusal to obey certain rules’ especially where expressions of femininity, sensuality and sexuality are concerned .

The pulp fiction crime novels and posters the portraits are based on depict women as objects of lust and subjects of desire crafted by men’s fantasies . For me, Valadon’s skilled use of painterly conventions of oil painting imbues her female figures with a lush and sensuous power, which both conveys the beauty of the feminine and reasserts the power of seduction. Valadon’s preliminary drawings and final works show empowered women, unashamed of their sexualised identity and erotic relationships with others, a view or attitude which contradicts the ethos of 1950s Australia. The figures in the portraits exude sass, confidence and control. They are a celebration of the strength, style and dark side of successful, independent, unconventional women who have embraced the full power of their femininity in the professional realm. Valadon’s work, turns male gaze around, creating a space where women are actively in control and commanding their world, highlighting the seductive power of ‘the feminine’ to appeal to both men and women. Some men and women will be threatened by this exhibition. Others will fall in love with it. As Mae West also said: ‘When women go wrong, men go right after them’. I highly recommend this exhibition as an interesting and thought provoking experience which raises more questions than it answers. It prompts the viewer to question their ideas and assumptions about sexuality, crime, feminism and gender representation.

Bibliography:
Allen, T 2001, Cross-Currents in Contemporary Australian Art, Craftsman House, St Leonards, Sydney
Baudrillard, J 1990, Seduction, St Martin’s Press, New York
Cixous, H & Clement, C 1986, The Newly Born Woman, University of Minnesota Press, Mineeapolis
Behrendt, L 2012, Wicked Women Exhibition Opening Speech, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/wicked-women-exhibition-opening-speech/
Flax, J 1990, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West, University of California Press, California
Gambotto-Burke, A 2012, ‘Billion Dollar Bodies: The Rosemary Valadon Interview’, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/billion-dollar-bodies/
Gibson, P 2012, An Exhibition by Rosemary Valadon, viewed 17 May 2013 http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/an-exhibition-by-rosemary-valadon-by-prue-gibson/
Johnson-Woods, T 2004, Pulp : a collector’s book of Australian pulp fiction covers, National Library of Australia, Canberra
Matheson, M 2012, ‘Wicked girls love brush with infamy’, The Australian, October 19, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/wicked-girls-love-brush-with-infamy/story-e6frg6n6-1226498901476
Pattenden, R 2006, ‘The Textures of Desire’, viewed 17 May 2013 http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/the-textures-of-desire/
Slipp, S 1993, The Freudian Mystique: Freud, Women, and Feminism, New York University Press, New York
Taylor, A 2012, ‘Pulp depiction’, Sydney Morning Herald, October 13, viewed 17 May 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/pulp-depiction-20121011-27e64.html#ixzz2RFPzrbqN
Valadon, R 2006, The Divine Burlesque: That Art of Rosemary Valadon, Macquarie University, Sydney, and online at http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/essays/the-divine-burlesque-the-art-of-rosemary-valadon/
Valadon, R 2013, ‘Great time at WW panel discussion’, Rosemary Valadon’s blog, viewed 13 May 2013, http://www.rosemaryvaladon.com.au/blog/
‘Wicked Women’, Limelight Magazine (online), http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Event/319566,wicked-women.aspx
Young-Bruel, E 1990, Freud on Women, W.W. Northon & Co, New York

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The Paris of the 1920s-1930s, was ablaze with bright lights and the sound of jazz Paris. A city of the artistic avant-garde where movements such as Cubism, Surrealism and Dada had taken hold, attracting a host of international artists, writers and performers. In the early years of the 20th century, Australian artists living in Europe, were captivated by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. One such artist was John Wardell Power (1881-1943).

Situated in the bohemian district on Montparnasse, Power found inspiration in the work of Picasso, Braque and the Cubist artists, and developed his own ideas on picture composition based on geometry. A cosmopolitan modernist steeped in the Parisian avant-garde, Power was interested in the relationship between colour and music and also drew inspiration from the stage, screen and popular entertainment. For example, Power’s ‘Danseurs à l’accordéon (Dancers with accordion), 1929’.

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‘ Art is the mythical expression (or statement) of feeling. Plastic art is the rhythmical expression of a plastic experience. No rhythm no art. No feeling no art’ – John Wardell Power (1881-1943).

Hanging in a prominent position near the entry to the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library at the University of Sydney, this artwork features a pair of entangled dancing cowboy puppets in ten gallon hats and tiny boots, with cubist panels of accordion keys against a Spanish mission set. Although it has a strong highly formalised geometric structure, the interwoven curved lines created by the two central figures evoke a sense of rhythm and movement. Painted in the cubist style, this artwork combines abstract and surrealist elements, evoking the modernity of the 1920s. In a similar vein to Picasso’s American manager in cowboy boots design for the Ballet Russes ‘Parade’ (1917), this work displays an ironic and playful approach to the Parisian avant-garde’s flirtation with American popular culture and the cowboy myth. It is an artwork which challenges our ideas about art, popular cultures and modes of cultural consumption, their role in a postmodern society, and the established practices of art-making.

The current exhibition showing at the University Art Gallery, ‘Atelier Paris: The Power Studio’, celebrates the 50th anniversary of J.W. Power’s bequest to the University of Sydney which enabled the establishment of the first international residency for Australian artists in Paris. However, Power’s image as a generous benefactor, travelling émigré and expatriot artist has obscured his own artistic achievements as one of the most important post-cubist Australian artists and participant in the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century.

After leaving Sydney in 1906 as a young medical graduate he undertook further studies in London, later serving in World War 1 before renouncing his profession at the age of thirty-eight to study art in Paris. During the interwar years 1920s-1930s, Power moved freely between London, Paris and Brussels in, immersing himself in contemporary and international avant-garde movement. The career of an artist like Power, who left Australia and settled abroad to pursue an artistic career, has left him estranged from nationalist art historical narratives. Works such as ‘Danseurs à l’accordéon’ in the University of Sydney’s collection are an important illustration of the intercultural exchange between Sydney and Paris and France and Australia which took place in the early part of the 20th Century. They provide proof the plurality of global manifestations of modernism, and force the viewer to broaden their cultural perspective of Australian modernism beyond the confines of the nation state.

By Stephanie Volkens

References:
Bouvet, V & Durozoi, G. 2010, Paris between the Wars: Arts, Style and Glamour in the Crazy Years, Thames and Hudson, London
Carroll, M. 2011, The Ballet Russes in Australia and Beyond, Wakefield Press, South Australia
Donaldson, A.D. & Stephen, A. J.W. 2012, Power Abstraction-Creation Paris 1939, University Art Gallery, Sydney
Howell, C. 2010 ‘Changing Perspectives on Modernism in Australia: Cubism and Australian Art’, Modernism/modernity, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp. 925-933.
Stephen, A. 2013, ‘Atelier Paris: the Power Studio’, MUSE, Issue 4, March 2013, pp. 6-8

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Title:

‘Music made visible’: Salome’s dance, Ballet Russe & Orientalism at the turn of the 20th century –  The Modern Shock of an Unlikely Feminism!

See mock-up on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/svolkens/

Anchor Work:

Rupert Bunny, Salome, circa 1919, Oil on canvas 81 x 65.5cm, The Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney. Purchased 1968 (Australia, France) http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/work/OA21.1968/

Art Gallery of NSW

Salome / Rupert Bunny ca. 1919,        Art Gallery of NSW

CURATORS INTRODUCTION

The initial idea for this exhibition began with the discovery of painting by Rupert Bunny which grabbed my attention whilst roaming, flaneur like through the Australian 20th Century galleries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The work, Salome painted by Bunny circa 1919, a brilliant harmonisation of riotous colour, dramatic movement, rhythm, fantasy, theatre and Orientalist elements[i], creates a feeling of music and movement[ii]. Its exuberant mixtures of patterns, colours and textures drawn from a variety of sources (Persian, Turkish and Indian), evokes a non-specific orient of voluptuous excess, Bakstian costume and scenic design[iii]. Salome is depicted in mid dance, with open bodice and stylised Nijinsky-like gestures. The serpentine counter-movement of her feather headdress and the silks that swirl and spiral around her evoke Isadora Duncan who Bunny met in Paris[iv]. Her asymmetrical position, bending forward with pelvic movement while torso leans back and her head tilts forward evokes Ballet Russe choreography[v].

This encounter with Bunny’s Salome, was followed soon after, an article was brought to my attention by a colleague at work on the acquisition of two watercolours of dancers by illustrator Phyllis McLachlan, both dated Paris, 1925[vi]. Another McLachlan work entitled ‘Ballet 1926’ is mentioned. It depicts scene of six dancers dressed in Russian costume[vii], some of whom have their breasts exposed[viii]. This brought to mind Toni Bentley’s book the Sisters of Salome, which I had begun to read. I wonder if the exposed breasts of McLachlan were an example of the Salomania phenomenon at work, I wrote to Valerie, it may well be possible she replied. An interesting angle for an exhibition I thought.

Choreographer George Balanchine is famously quoted as saying ‘Dancing is music made visible’ Exploring the interplay between music, movement and art has long been an interest of mine. ‘Music made visible’ seemed a perfect title to provide a focus for the exhibitions rationale and for the kind of exhibition I wanted to create. Indeed, the correlation between music and painting was a lifelong preoccupation for renowned Australian artist Rupert Bunny whose musical aesthete and talents were encouraged by his mother, a gifted musician[ix]. Bunny was very much a painter of his period with many of his works suggesting musical analogies, a type of painting flourished with 19th century Romantics and Symbolists in Europe and in early 20th century painting an art theory[x]. Indeed, it was writer and critic Walter Pater and artist James McNeil Whistler associated painting with music in the power of both to express emotions[xi]. Bunny’s art was influenced by diver musical influences and interconnectedness, including Diaghilev’s ballet Russes and interest in post 1933 music and dance[xii]

Salomania

The biblical myth of Salome portrayed in virtually every style of art Greek, Eastern, Byzantine, Gothic and Baroque and in every medium[xiii]. Middle ages she was an androgynous acrobat, Renaissance an exemplar of virgin beauty and to clerics throughout the centuries she demonstrated the evil that ensues from a woman who dances[xiv]. Salome was resurrected from the Old Testament and reborn on the modern stage in Oscar Wilde’s 1893 play Salome giving her voice and further popularised by Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera based on in which Salome witnesses the power of her own beauty over the King Herod[xv].

Salome and Wilde’s Dance of the Seven Veils, soon ‘captivated the popular imagination in performances on stages high and low, from the Metropolitan Opera to the Ziegfeld Follies’[xvi]. At the turn of twentieth century, the Salomania craze had begun and quickly spread throughout Europe and the United States, creating cultural phenomenon ‘Salomania’, reinventing the femme fatale, transforming the misogynist idea of a dangerously sexual woman into a form of personal liberation[xvii]. The real women who played her and performed her seductive dance: Maud Allan, a Canadian modern dancer; Mata Hari, a Dutch spy; Ida Rubinstein, a wealthy Russian theatrical diva; and French novelist Colette, influenced the beginnings of modern dance, and striptease became an act of glamorous empowerment and unlikely feminism[xviii], or did it?

Orientalism:

The Salomania craze was inseparable from the prevailing passion for the Orient in late 19th century Europe[xix]. Australian awareness of Orientalism came from European knowledge and dissemination of cultural concepts thought empires channels of communication. Orientalist art and practice in Australian context dictated by European ideology of dominance, and demonstrates the way colonials embraced exotic subject matter as reflection  of cosmopolitan aesthetic aspirations[xx]. Oriental art produced by Australian artists like Rupert Bunny embodied encounters with people and places strange to them, filled with allure and resonance of myth, stereotypes and misconceptions about the Oriental ‘other’[xxi]. Oriental mirage (an optical phenomenon of the desert)  represents the impossibility of any artist obtaining full knowledge of the cultural other[xxii].

Ballet Russe

The craze for Salome and the Orient also manifested itself in ballet and art. In 1909 Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes had come to Paris changing the face of dance and fashion with Orientalists ballets Cleopatre, followed by Scheherazade in 1910. Featuring dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, designs by artists such as Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, designer Leon Bakst, choreography by Michel Fokine and music by Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky – Toni Bentley, Sisters of Salome, New Haven and London, 2002, 108

After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, several new companies, including Colonel W. de Basil’s Russian Ballet, were formed. Using some original Diaghilev sets and costumes, de Basil’s company revived many of the productions. De Basil also commissioned new productions. The company toured Australia three times between 1936 and 1940. The tours had a tremendous impact and helped to found modern ballet in this country.

Australian artists in Belle Époque Paris

Belle Epoque an era of change as Europe moved closer to world war, social tensions grew, societal structure and art forms came under attack[xxiii]. This was epitomised by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, flamboyant, spectacular, mesmerising, enthralling, irresistible and intimidating to the ultra-conservative[xxiv]s.

By early 1900 there were a number of Australia artists working in Paris, among them[xxv] Rupert Bunny, on whom the Ballet Russe made a derivative impact[xxvi]. At that time Paris, a city of sexual freedom where the art of 20th century voyeurism was and in the Belle Époque age of risqué theatre and cabarets[xxvii]. The exoticism of the Ballet Russes 1909-1910 had a impact on painters, designers and world cultural community, sparking an artistic and cultural revolution in the art capital of the world[xxviii]. Australian artists Thea Proctor commented the Ballet Russe are ‘a blend of five elements – the art of the composer, the storyteller, the painter, the dancer and the producer’, having a great influence of art proving that there is no limit to colour and design, music and stage production[xxix]. Bunny’s paintings visually encapsulates the vibrancy of modern dance and the exotic splendour of France’s belle époque, as well as the brilliant and unconventional colour combinations used in the costumes and sets of the Ballets Russes


[i] Desmond MacAulay & Bettina MacAulay (eds), Singing in the heart : music and the art of Rupert Bunny, Rockhamption Art Gallery, Queensland, 2007, 89

[ii] In a similar way singer and musician Anna Calvi speaks of Turners ‘A wreck with fishing boats’ during a live performance in the galleries of Tate Britain.

This is Britain: Anna Calvi, TATE, video recording, viewed online 28/10/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FTPoPsnkYZM  –

[iii] Roger Benjamin (ed), Orientalism Delacroix to Klee, Sydney, 1997, 162-165

[iv] Ibid

[v] MacAulay, 2007, 89

[vi] Valerie Lawson 2011, ‘Phyllis McLachlan: from watercolours of dancers to life as a naval wife’, Dancelines (online), viewed 25 October 2012, http://dancelines.com.au/phyllis-mclachlan-watercolours-dancers-life-naval-wife/

[vii] Possibly inspired by Anna Pavlova’s visit to Australia in 1926. Pavlova wore a similar Russian headdress to the one worn by the figure in the red dress, at the lower right of her painting

[viii] Valerie Lawson 2011, ‘Phyllis McLachlan: from watercolours of dancers to life as a naval wife’, Dancelines (online), viewed 25 October 2012, http://dancelines.com.au/phyllis-mclachlan-watercolours-dancers-life-naval-wife/

[ix] MacAulay, 2007, vii

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] MacAulay, 2007, ix

[xiii] Toni Bentley, Sisters of Salome, New Haven and London, 2002, 19

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Toni Bentley, Sisters of Salome, New Haven and London, 2002, 20

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Ibid

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] Ibid, 23

[xx] Roger Benjamin (ed), Orientalism Delacroix to Klee, Sydney, 1997, 41

[xxi] Ibid, 7

[xxii] Ibid

[xxiii] Desmond MacAulay & Bettina MacAulay (eds), Singing in the heart : music and the art of Rupert Bunny, Rockhamption Art Gallery, Queensland, 2007, 69

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv] Roger Benjamin (ed), Orientalism Delacroix to Klee, Sydney, 1997, 47

[xxvi] Desmond MacAulay & Bettina MacAulay (eds), Singing in the heart : music and the art of Rupert Bunny, Rockhamption Art Gallery, Queensland, 2007, 69

[xxvii] Bentley, 2002

[xxviii] MacAulay, 2007, 71

[xxix] Ibid

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History of Spanish Dance in Australia

Contribution of the Spanish community to the cultural life of New South Wales, particularly in areas of leisure, music and dance in Sydney.

Spanish dance is said to have reached the Australian stage from the national and character dances of ballets of the Romantic era in Europe through a number of early influential pioneers who performed Spanish dance in the colonies and gold fields in the early and mid 19th century[i]. The history of which is documented in ‘Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia’, 2003.

The history of Spanish dance in Sydney, has its origins in founding and settlement of Australia, Pre World War 1 and Post World War 2 migration from Spain, immigration policy reform in the 1970s, to the present. According to Grassby, the links between Hispanic peoples and Australia can be best symbolised by the fact that the name ‘Australia’ was conceived and bestowed by Spanish navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who discovered and took possession of the southern continent in 1606[ii]. The Department of Immigration  and Citizenship (2012) dates Spain’s first significant contribution to Australia from the introduction of Spanish merino sheep to NSW in 1797 and the arrival of  first recorded Spanish free settler J.B.L. De Arrieta in 1821[iii]. The full history of this contribution is detailed in ‘Spanish in Australia’ by former Immigration Minister Al Grassby.

The foundation of the Spanish Club in 1962 took place in the context of the greatest number of migrants from Spain arrived in Australia at the end of the 1950’s and in the 1960’s, the post World War two period which saw changes to changes to Australia’s immigration policy through post-war reconstruction and expansion program[iv]. The advent of the Whitlam government in 1972, saw the introduction of changes and innovations such as the abolition of the White Australia policy, the abolition of discrimination and the introduction of a multi-cultural society[v]. The number of Spain-born in Australia reached a peak of 16 270 in 1986[vi]. This brought about significant changes to the attitudes of Australia society. Increasing numbers of Spaniards brought about distribution of Spanish good, Spanish newspapers and social organisations[vii].

Touring companies and artists

By 1958 the Spanish population was big enough to justify the cultural tours for J.C. Williamson’s  in 1958 (and later in 1962, 1967 and again in 1976) by the dance troupe Luisillo and his Spanish Dance Theatre[viii]. The dance group, performed shows around the country with a long stay in Sydney, with a program covering many forms of Spanish dance. The 1958 and 1976 programs both included Gigantes y Cabezudos, dances to music from the 1898 zarzuela by Manuel Fernandez Cabellero and finished with a jota aragonesa.[ix]The next major visiting Spanish company was ‘Jose Greco and his Gypsies’ in 1965. It performed mainly flamenco, but on a second tour in 1974 Greco and his wife Nana Lorca offered many styles of Spanish dance in its program[x]. In 1965, included renowned dancers, musicians and singers like Barrelito who was later foundation singer for Paco Pena[xi]. Paco Pena latter appeared as solo guitarist in five capital cities in July 1970 and has regularly returned to Australia with his flamenco dance company.  Recent performances by Paco Pena and his flamenco dance company at the Sydney Theatre include ‘Flamenco sin Fronteras – Flamenco without borders’ 2010,  ‘A Compas! To the Rhythm’ in 2008 and Art Y Pasion  in 2005. The Spanish dancer Antonio (Antonio Ruiz Soler) toured to Australia with his dance company, also known as Gran Antiono, in 1971. Tours of Luisillo and Greco are documented in the J.C. Williamson collections of the State Library of NSW.

Pioneers

Early touring companies inspired many young Australians to learn Spanish dance or flamenco guitar and lead to the establishment of Spanish dance schools[xii]. Some went abroad to study in the early 1960s and some became professional dancers working in Spanish dance companies. Some dancers and musicians from Luisillo’s tours stayed in Australia to teach. After touring with Luisillo in 1967, Luis Moreno returned to direct the West Australian Ballet in 1974-1976, creating Spanish inspired works for the company. Antonio Hernandez Sanchez, who came with Luisillo in 1967, taught flamenco, Spanish regional and classical dances at the Spanish Club in Melbourne from 1970 to 1973.

Early pioneer of flamenco in Australia, Antonio Vargas, formed his first company, The Antonio Vargas Flamenco Dance Theatre in 1962[xiii]. Today there are specialist flamenco teachers who have established flamenco dance schools, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Most of the current flamenco dancers and teachers in Australia can, first studied with Antonio Vargas and Diana Reyes at the Flour Mill Studios in Newtown.  Most capital cities have had Spanish dance schools for many years, catering mainly for non-Spanish Australians[xiv]. The 1990s saw a profusion of flamenco productions, with many Australian flamenco artists mounting major stage productions involving dancers, singers and guitarists[xv].Flamenco is currently taught by 12 teachers around Sydney[xvi]. It is because of these early influences, other visiting dancers, musicians and companies from Spain continue to regularly tour Australia, delivering workshops to flamenco schools and performing at various theatres and festivals[xvii]. Local flamenco artists in Sydney regularly perform in nightclubs, restaurants and bars comparable to the Spanish tablaos but the music and dance tend to be subsidiary to dining and the performers have minimal space[xviii].

 By Stephanie Volkens

(produced for Information an Collection Management Assisgnment, Sydney University, 2012)


[i] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), pp. 628-630

[ii] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 15

[iii] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Spain-born Community, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/comm-summ/textversion/spain.htm, viewed 11 April 2012

[iv] Carmen Castelo (ed), The Spanish Experience in Australia, (Canberra: Spanish Heritage Foundation, 1999), p. 6

[v] Carmen Castelo (ed), The Spanish Experience in Australia, (Canberra: Spanish Heritage Foundation, 1999), p. 16

[vi] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Spain-born Community, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/comm-summ/textversion/spain.htm, viewed 11 April 2012

[vii] Carmen Castelo (ed), The Spanish Experience in Australia, (Canberra: Spanish Heritage Foundation, 1999), p. 26

[viii] Mark D & Laila E, 2011 ‘Hola (Spanish) Sydney’, weblog post, 24 June, Scratching Sydney’s Surface, viewed 12 April 2012, http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/24-june-2011-hola-spanish-sydney/

[ix] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[x] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[xi] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[xii] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[xiii]Arts Management, ‘Antonio Vargas Choreographer’, created May 2009, http://www.artsmanagement.com.au/files/ava09_web.pdf, viewed 21 April 2012

[xiv] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 630

[xv] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 630

[xvi] See Flamenco Australia (.org), ‘Schools and Classes – Sydney’, Flamenco Australia Online Magazine, updated 2009, http://flamencoaustralia.org/schools-classes/, viewed 21 April 2012

[xvii] See Flamenco Australia (.org), ‘Events and Workshops’, Flamenco Australia Online Magazine, updated 2009 http://flamencoaustralia.org/events/, viewed 21 April 2012 and Flamenco Australia (.org), ‘Live Flamenco’, Flamenco Australia Online Magazine, updated 2009, http://flamencoaustralia.org/category/live/ , viewed 21 April 2012. Former principal dancer with both the Ballet Nacional de Espana and Nuevo Ballet Espanol, Paloma Gomez in 2010 and funded by the Ministerio de Cultura de España (Spanish Ministry of Culture), The Australian National University and Arts SA, Pepe Molina in 2011, Manuel Betanzos in 2011,  Angel Muoz principal dancer with Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company in 2010. Performances at the Sydney Opera House by Israel Gavin launch of the Spring Dance festival in  2011 with La Edad del Oro (The Golden Age), Eva Yerbabuena Sydney Opera House 2009, Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco ‘Sabores’ 2008, Soledad Barrio in Noche Flamenca’ 2009. In 1998 Joaquin Cortes’ performace at the Festival of Sydney modernised flamenco. The Royal National Ballet of Spain appeared in Melbourne Spoleto Festival of Three Worlds in 1986, Spanish lyric-dramatic genre zarzuela music by Nuevo Antologia de la Zarzuela at Brisbane’s World Expo in 1988 and in 1995 at the Festival of Sydney

[xviii]John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 630.

See Flamenco Australia (.org), ‘Flamenco in Sydney’, Flamenco Australia Online Magazine, updated 2009,  http://flamencoaustralia.org/sydney/#Flamenco%20Groups,%20Bands%20&%20Companies, viewed 21 April 2012.

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The history and activities of Spanish Club in Liverpool Street Sydney, forms part of an important historical narrative concerning the experience of refugee escape, immigration and settlement in Australia, and the influence of Spanish migrants on the cultural life of New South Wales, particularly in the history and development of music and dance. According to Grassby (1983), the energy and cultural initiatives of the Hispanic community was demonstrated by the establishment of over thirty Spanish speaking clubs and associations, sporting teams, welfare groups, ethnic radio committees, church bodies and language schools in all cities in Australia[i] .

Assisted immigration from Spain began in the late 1950’, with the bulk of Spanish migration took place between 1958-1963, following the signing of the Spanish-Australian Migration agreement of August 1958[ii]. Under the program 5000 Spanish nationals, mostly Basques entered Australia[iii] . In 1961-62, 1808 Spain-born settlers arrived in Australia, in the following year, 4585 arrived[iv]. Political instability and economic uncertainty in Latin America and Spain during the 1970’s and 1980s, led thousands of Spaniards to flee Spain and settle in Australia[v]. By 1982, 28000 Spanish settlers had arrived[vi]. They established Spanish Clubs, which presented regional dance and music. The dances, generally performed to recorded music included jotas, mainly from Aragon and the north and central-east, munieras from Galicia, danzas vascas from the Basque country, seguidillas from La Mancha and other Castilian dances[vii]. Spanish clubs are still important disseminators of regional dance and music within the Spanish community.

Founded by Spanish immigrants who fled Franco Spain, The Spanish Club in Sydney was established and opened in 1962 in 227 Liverpool Street, to fill the need for a space which would allow them to experience our own culture, while learning to fit in Australia[viii]. With most of the Spanish population at the time living in the inner west and East Sydney, Liverpool Street was a central hub[ix]. The establishment of the club consolidated the Spanish community and attracted other restaurants, tapas bars and hangouts to set up in the street and surrounds[x]. By the 1980s it was a recognised precinct and the name the Spanish Quarter was unofficially applied[xi].

ImageThe Spanish Club in Sydney is the focal centre of a range of Spanish artistic and cultural activities, including choirs,  dance, instrumental and theatre groups. The dress costumes are part of the wardrobe of Dance Groups. Most of these costumes were made here in Australia and either paid for by the mothers of the dancers and/or some by the Club itself. The Jota costumes were made in the 1980’s in Spain by the Department of Culture. At the time this dress was made, the first Festival del Sol, an annual festival in Sydney sponsored and made possible by the Australian Trade Unions, was held in 1978[xii]. The festival gave impetus to cultural and folk groups such as Los Quechas from Bolivis, the Mexican, Ecuatorian, Chilean and Brazilian folk groups who have followed in the long established traditions of flamenco dancers, and from the Spanish Club, the Grupo Folklorica Espanol[xiii]. In the 1980s, following demand by increasing numbers of dancers who needed costumes, promotions manager Ana Gil wrote a letter to the Cultural Department of Spain asking them to make some Jota costumes.

In the years 1991 and 1992, President Jose Antonio Fernandez reported a shrinking membership due to an ageing Spanish population, drop in the number of people migrating to Australia and the return of some Spaniards to Spain in the Spanish Club Bulletin, and a deterioration in the Clubs finances amid the economic recession[xiv].  The latest Census in 2006 recorded 12 280 Spain-born people in Australia, a decrease of 2.7 per cent from the 2001 Census with New South Wales having largest number with 5080 [xv]. The median age of the Spain-born in 2006 was 55.2 years compared with 46.8 years for all overseas-born and 37.1 years for the total Australian population[xvi].

In 2011, the Spanish Club celebrated its 50th anniversary, but is also fighting for its survival, after being forced into voluntary administration three years ago with a $3.9 million debt[xvii]. After an attempt by the administrator to sell its both its buildings; the nine-story Kent House and the smaller one next door, the members challenged the administrator and by Supreme Court order were able to regain management control of the club in April 2010[xviii]. Faced with declining membership and an ageing Spanish population, after reopening in June 2010, the board set about modernising the club to attract new members[xix]. The current program of, weekly salsa and flamenco dance classes, films, Andalucian-Arabic and French choirs, language classes as well as performances by young Sydney-based flamenco groups attracts people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, including dancers, musicians,  to the Club who share a common interest and desire to learn about Spanish culture

By Stephanie Volkens

(produced for Information an Collection Management Assisgnment, Sydney University, 2012)


[i] Al Grassby, The Spanish In Australia, (Melbourne: AE Press 1983), p. 80

[ii] Carmen Castelo (ed), The Spanish Experience in Australia, (Canberra: Spanish Heritage Foundation, 1999), p. 6, 8

[iii] Al Grassby, The Spanish In Australia, (Melbourne: AE Press 1983), p. 52

[iv] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Spain-born Community, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/comm-summ/textversion/spain.htm, viewed 11 April 2012

[v] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 394, 629

[vi] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[vii] John Whiteoak, J & Aline Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia, (Sydney: Currency Press, 2003), p. 629

[viii] Liz Cush, ‘Spanish Club Fights Back!’, Alternative Media Group of Australia, created 6 October 2011, http://www.altmedia.net.au/saving-the-spanish-club-2/43001, viewed 12 April 2012

[ix] Mark D & Laila E, 2011 ‘Hola (Spanish) Sydney’, weblog post, 24 June, Scratching Sydney’s Surface, viewed 12 April 2012, http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/24-june-2011-hola-spanish-sydney/

[x] Mark D & Laila E, 2011 ‘Hola (Spanish) Sydney’, weblog post, 24 June, Scratching Sydney’s Surface, viewed 12 April 2012, http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/24-june-2011-hola-spanish-sydney/

[xi] Mark D & Laila E, 2011 ‘Hola (Spanish) Sydney’, weblog post, 24 June, Scratching Sydney’s Surface, viewed 12 April 2012, http://scratchingsydneyssurface.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/24-june-2011-hola-spanish-sydney/

[xii] Al Grassby, The Spanish In Australia, (Melbourne: AE Press 1983), p. 89

[xiii] Al Grassby, The Spanish In Australia, (Melbourne: AE Press 1983), p. 90

[xiv] Fernandez, J. A 1992 ‘The President’s Report’, Spanish Club Bulletin, March, No. 54, pp. 4-5 &

Fernandez, J. A 1993 ‘The President’s Report’, Spanish Club Bulletin, March, No. 55, p. 5

[xv] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Spain-born Community, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/comm-summ/textversion/spain.htm, viewed 11 April 2012

[xvi] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The Spain-born Community, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/comm-summ/textversion/spain.htm, viewed 11 April 2012

[xvii] Liz Cush, ‘Spanish Club Fights Back!’, Alternative Media Group of Australia, created 6 October 2011, http://www.altmedia.net.au/saving-the-spanish-club-2/43001, viewed 12 April 2012

[xviii] Liz Cush, ‘Spanish Club Fights Back!’, Alternative Media Group of Australia, created 6 October 2011, http://www.altmedia.net.au/saving-the-spanish-club-2/43001, viewed 12 April 2012

[xix] Liz Cush, ‘Spanish Club Fights Back!’, Alternative Media Group of Australia, created 6 October 2011, http://www.altmedia.net.au/saving-the-spanish-club-2/43001, viewed 12 April 2012

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