The Tait Brothers, Ballet and London

I recently had the exciting task of writing the programme notes and an historical article for a function that brought a little bit of Australia to central London. On December 9th St John’s Smith Square in Westminster hosted the Tait Memorial Trust’s 4th Winter Prom. This exciting event showcased the talents of young Australian classical singers, musicians and dancers working and studying in the UK.


The Trust, founded by Australian Isla Baring has been running for 22 years and continues to find new ways to promote Australian talent. Baring is the daughter of Sir Frank Tait who, together with his five brothers, ran the firm known as J.C Williamson which would eventually form one of the largest theatrical empires in the world. They brought to the antipodes some of the world’s best theatre, opera, operetta, musical comedy, plays and pantomimes, but it is arguably their support of ballet that is most significant.

Isla Baring,  Lord and Lady Sainsbury and myself at the Tait Winter Prom
Isla Baring, Lord and Lady Sainsbury and myself at the Tait Winter Prom

In 1913 the Tait brothers brought out the Imperial Russian Ballet Company starring ‘Danish toe-Danish dancer’ Adeline Genée. This was the first time that Australian audiences had seen such dancing, and it arguably signalled the birth of ballet in Australia. This was followed by two tours in 1926 and 1929 by famed dancer Anna Pavlova and her company. Her extensive tour generated a wake of dancing schools all over the country, and in 1934 the ‘The Russian Ballet’, starring Olga Spessivtseva toured. It was, however, not until the three tours by Colonel de Basil’s companies in the late 1930s that ballet became firmly planted in Australian soil.

Ballets Russes tours in Australia

The final tour left behind a small group of dancers including Edouard Borovansky and his Russian-born wife Xenia Smirnova. The company they formed, The Borovansky Ballet, would eventually form the nucleus of the Australian Ballet company in 1962 with much support from Sir Frank Tait.

The Australian dance heritage owes much of its history to the foresight and tenacity of the Tait Brothers, and now produces some of the best classical dancers in the world. Isla Baring and the Tait Memorial Trust are keeping this legacy alive it their support of Australian dance students.

The Trust is now continuing this legacy in reverse by exporting and supporting Australian talent in the UK, as we saw on this wonderful evening.