The ballet, also often referred to as chorus, was an integral part of the Australian revusical (one act musical comedy), and is considered one of the key elements of to have been adapted from American burlesque during its developmental years (1914-1916). Although the ballet/chorus has tended to be relegated to minor status by reviewers, critics and historians, it was nevertheless vital to the revusical’s success as a variety entertainment genre during the late-1910s and 1920s.
The Australian revusical ballet generally comprised between 6 to 12 soubrettes, with six becoming the standard by the 1920s (largely the result of economic considerations). Interestingly Jim Gerald defied this trend in the early 1930s by expanding his ballet to 12.
Each of the ballet/chorus performers was expected to be a expert dancer and a more than capable singer and actress. Their acting roles varied according to the individual needs of a show. In some instances, for example, the soubrette might have been required to undertake a prominent role in the production – playing opposite the lead comedian(s). Quite a number of performers who started out as members of a revusical ballet went on to establish high profile careers in their own right – notably Rosie Bowie, Sylvia Gardner (later Sylvia Kellaway), and Dot Davis (aka Mrs Roy Rene). All were at one time members of Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Revue Company. Another soubrette to carve out a high profile career was Polly McLaren (Jim Gerald Revue Co).
The names given to the ballet/chorus ensembles often changed over time. As a consequence each is identified below by the name of the company it was part of.
Jim Gerald Revue Co
Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Revue Co
JIM GERALD REVUE Co
aka The Six Twinklers / The Six Merry Twinklers
(1922-ca.1934) Initially called The Six Merry Twinklers, the Jim Gerald Revue Company’s ballet/chorus was best known for more than a decade as simply the Twinklers. The line-up generally ranged from six to eight soubrettes (Gerald at one stage in the early 1930s expanded the number to 12). Among the Twinklers who later carved out high profile careers were Polly McLaren, who toured with the company from 1922 to 1927, and Irene Vando. Other leading members of the ballet during the early to mid-1920s were Laurel Barrett, Edna Drake, Iris McKenzie, Vera Nixon, Myra Rowe, Kathleen Gillespie, Thelma Duff, and Gladys Taylor.
- See also: Jim Gerald Revue Co
Image: Victorian Performing Arts Centre Museum.
NAT PHILLIPS’ STIFFY & MO REVUE Co
(The Panama Girls / The Panama Six / The Dancing Darlings / The Radio Girls / The Radio Six)
(1916-1925, 1927-1928) The first ballet to support Stiffy and Mo was known (from 1917) as the Panama Girls. Originally a 12 member ensemble it later became the Panama Six and has also been referred to at one stage as the Dancing Darlings. By the mid-1920s Phillips decided to adopt the latest media form as the basis for his ballet’s name, calling it the Radio Six (aka The Radio Girls). He also kept the name for his post-Stiffy and Mo troupe The Whirligigs. Among the key members of the ballet over the years were its choreographers (generally referred to as the ballet “mistress”) Rosie Bowie, Dot O’Dea and Sylvia Gardner (later Sylvia Kellaway).
- See also: Nat Phillips’ Stiffy and Mo Revue Co
A reference to the Stiffy and Mo ballet as The Dandy Six in 1925 is believed to have been an error on the part of the newspaper.
Image: Sunday Times (Sydney) 19 June (1928), 27.