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Madam Marina Berezowsky, AM Chronological Eulogy


It is difficult to conceive of any person who has contributed more to the broad spectrum of classical and folkloric Australian Dance than Marina Berezowsky. Her death on 19th June 2011 at 97 years of age, closes, or partly closes, at least five central chapters of Australian Dance history.


Though she was a co-founder of the West Australian Ballet, a classical dance teacher with the Borovansky Ballet and Ballet Victoria, one of the four foundation teachers of the Australian Ballet School, Bayda Cossacks, the Victorian College of the arts and a founder of the Kolobok Folkloric Dance Company, and more, her substantial contribution appears to have been strangely sidelined and unacknowledged. Within the world of ballet and folk dance, however, she was, and in a sense still is, a figure of inimitable authoritative dignity — towering and inspirational.


Marina Berezowsky was born Marina Narbut in St Petersburg/Leningrad on March 14, 1914. Her family had moved there for a time from Kiev in the Ukraine. Marina was brought up in “The World of Art” movement and magazine circle of artists who worked with the legendary Serge Diaghilev. Marina's father, Georgij Narbut, a famous graphic artist, was one of this group, which included Leon Bakst, Alexander Benois and Michel Fokine. Oral family history has it that as a toddler she was nursed on Benois’ knee. As a little girl, Marina never knew what it was like to know non-creative people. As she grew up she learned painting, drawing and classical ballet. Later on, one of the ways she explained movements to her dance students was by drawing sketches in pen and ink - saved by many of her students as collectors' items. If Madam sent you a handmade greeting card, you treasured it as a work of art.


In 1934, at the age of 20, Marina married a man who was later to become a renowned sculptor, the late Alexander Berezowsky, some of whose works were later purchased by the Australian National Gallery. She danced with the State Operetta Theatre in Kiev from 1935-36, and with the Gorky Opera Ballet in Russia from 1937-38. She returned to Kiev to join her husband Alexander, and accompanied him when he was sent to work (in Dniepropetrovsk, and later at Sukhumi) in the Caucasus. The Berezowskys returned to Kiev in December 1939, and in May 1940 they had their only child, a daughter, Valentina.During the Second World War, they knew a time of unimaginable suffering and deprivation.


When Marina was twenty five, the Berezowskys joined the Ukrainian Musical Theatre, she as a dancer, and he as a designer. At the end of 1943, during the German occupation of Ukraine, the entire company was taken from Kiev to the Western Ukraine, and after that to Berlin, specifically to entertain German troops. It was forced labour - and the group fulfilled their schedule under shocking conditions. (Marina Berezowsky was sent with the specially formed entertainment group to various places in Germany to perform for the East Arbeiter camps, while her husband remained in Berlin designing and building sets. Valentina was placed in a kindergarten.)


After the war, the Berezowsky family spent four years in a Displaced Persons' camp near Hamburg. In the camp were many young people with nothing to do, so the artistic fraternity launched a program of teaching and performing. Marina Berezowsky taught and choreographed the dancing group in the camp.


After the refugee camp, in 1949, when Marina was 35, the Berezowskys moved to Australia - to Perth. Once here she became a force in almost every good artistic thing that was going on. In Western Australia she, with Kira Bousloff, co-created the West Australian Ballet. She choreographed and danced in her own ballet, Romane, in the West Australian Ballet’s inaugural performance on July 24th, 1953. She continued work with the WA Ballet, dancing and choreographing original works, until, at the end of 1956, the family moved to Melbourne. Her choreography at that time included: "Sadko" - a ballet for the D. Fleming School, music by Rimsky-Korsakov; For the West Australian Ballet Company: "Romen" (Gypsy), music arranged by YuriTamarchenko; "Le Parasol", music by F. Schubert, arranged by James Pemberthy;"Polovzian Dances", music by Borodin.


Toward the end of 1956 the Berezowsky family moved to Melbourne. While there she mounted a full length ballet production of Rimsky Korsakov's opera, Sadko, which was an outstanding success. In June 1954 she choreographed, and designed set and costumes for the ballet “Cinderella”.


In October 1956, she visited the WA ballet again where she organised a Festival of Ballet, including the choreography of “Parasol” which also starred Vassilie (Basil) Trunoff and Ray Trickett - and her daughter Valentina.

 When she settled in the east, she became very close to Xenia and Edouard Borovansky in the heyday of the Borovansky Ballet. They found in Marina Berezowsky a talented and intelligent teacher of classical ballet. She was involved in the development of characters, actors, stagecraft, choreography and developing performers. Marina continued teaching the company and the students of their school, with Xenia Borovansky after Edouard’s death in 1957.


When the Australian Ballet School under Dame Margaret Scott opened in 1964, Marina joined her, one of the original four teachers, teaching classical and character dance. She was now 50 years of age. Between 1969 and 1975 she also worked with Laurel Martyn for the Victorian Ballet Guild (later Ballet Victoria). All her devotees from that time acknowledge that she had the “didactic gift”. In her blunt, undiplomatic no-mincing-of-words way, she encouraged and showcased each person's particular artistic gifts and camouflaged their weaknesses. She knew how to cast and choreograph the best talent she had, so that it shone forth on stage. In its first few years, 1964 onwards, the second half of the Australian Ballet School’s end-of-year performance was always a character ballet, the creation of Madam Berezowsky. It was always judged as sensational. At the Australian Ballet School’s 30th birthday celebration in 1994, the same week as her 80th birthday, she enjoyed the distinction of, up to that date, the school’s longest serving teacher. 


When arguably the world's greatest director of National Dance, Igor Moiseyev, came to the Australian Ballet School in 1968 to see Madam's czardas and mazurkas and the rest, he was astounded at the high standard. He was further dumbfounded that Madam's students could dance anything he "threw" at them - and at a level of excellence found nowhere else in the world — except in his own school in the Soviet Union. In 1969, following the inspirational tour of the Moiseyev Ensemble, trained ballet students together with talented dancers from Melbourne's ethnic groups, persuaded Madam to train them in Character Dance.


Once Madam took an interest, those classes grew into the dance company, Kolobok, co-founded with her close friend Eva Segal. Kolobok flourished for more than a decade. They performed regularly from 1972 till 1975, at which time Kolobok was re-launched as a professional company with Marina Berezowsky as the Artistic Director. Kolobok performed around Australia for the next seven years, to great acclaim.


From 1977 to mid-1984, Marina Berezowsky taught character dance at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), and in June 1984 was honored with the Award of Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to Classical Ballet. After visiting Europe in 1984, Mme. Berezowsky retired from the VCA. Subsequently she was a widely respected member of the Character Dance judging panel for The Australian Ballet School.


Madam Berezowsky, at the deepest human level, personified a culture of art, music and dance. Former Kolobok students recall the unique feeling of entering Madam’s almost mystical world of passionate devotion to artistic dance. They describe her classes as inspiring, enriching and exhilarating - and tinged with her sense of humour. Madam knew the exact level she could demand of each of them; she never over extended any dancer nor did she allow any slackness. In the end, and sadly, political maneuvering by other dance interests, ensured that Kolobok’s funding was eventually chopped.


In 1982 Madam choreographed for the Sadka Balalaika Group which toured the USA and performed at the Lincoln Centre in New York. In 1988 Marina Berezowsky accepted an invitation to take part in the Ballet Teaching seminar in Russian Method, at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo,USA. Later she gave special classes in character and classical dance classes at university Seminars in Kalamazoo and also at Tampa University in Florida. From 1989 to 1993 Marina taught with the Utassy Ballet school at Nunawading, Victoria.


From 1990 to 1993, having semi-retired, she became choreographer for the Ukrainian Ensemble, The Bayda Cossacks directed by V. Wasilenko, a former dancer with Kolobok. In 1994 as an 80th birthday present, her dancers, former students, colleagues and friends around the world collected enough money to pay for a return fare for her and her granddaughter, Yvonne Collins, to return to the Ukraine. She had not seen her brother and her relatives for over 50 years. When a group of her distinguished students— by this time teachers themselves, presented her with a blowup of the airline ticket, I can tell you with a choke — there wasn't a dry eye in the house.


In April 1996, at the age of 82, Marina Berezowsky AM retired and went to live with her daughter Valentina and son-in-law Paul Sime in Hobart, where in her retirement, she enjoyed her other artistic passions - sketching and painting. Madam died peacefully in Hobart, Tasmania on the June 19, 2011.

Madam Marina Berezowsky AM

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