Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Chesterman Films

The Chesterman Collection consists of 25 reels of colour and black-and-white 16mm film taken by Dr Ewan Murray-Will between approximately 1935 and 1940.

Much of the footage contains members of the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo during their 1936–37 tour of Australia. This includes footage of staged performances filmed from the wings, as well as more informal footage of dancers performing at Bungan Beach in Sydney’s northern suburbs. The remaining footage is of Murray-Will’s own home movie recordings of holidays and outings (some of which also contains Ballets Russes members) between 1935 and approximately 1940.

Dr Ewan Murray-Will was a Sydney dermatologist and amateur filmmaker who became friends with a number of dancers from the Ballets Russes, in particular Hélène Kirsova who formed a ballet school in Sydney and founded the Kirsova Ballet. He filmed her wedding in 1940. Murray-Will’s acquaintance with Ballets Russes members allowed him to capture unique images of one of the world’s greatest dance companies. The Ballets Russes companies made three tours to Australia between 1936 and 1940. These tours were incredibly influential on the future direction of contemporary dance and ballet in Australia.

Murray-Will used a hand-held 16 mm movie camera to document excerpts from the repertoire of the Ballets Russes including scenes from Beau Danube, Petrouchka, Le Carnaval and Thamar. Most of the ballet footage is of the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo (sometimes called Colonel W de Basil’s Monte Carlo Russian Ballet) and was recorded during the company’s 1936–37 tour.

The Chesterman Collection, containing the Murray-Will films, was donated to the National Film and Sound Archive in the mid-1990s by the Chesterman family. Murray-Wills was the Godfather to one of the Chesterman’s children, and the families were close friends. The National Library of Australia also holds a collection of photographs that Murray-Will took of various members of the Ballets Russes.

Titles in this collection

Monte Carlo Russian Ballet. Original Ballet Russe c1936

This footage shows staged sequences of the Ballets Russes’ repertoire on their 1930s tours to Australia. It includes excerpts from ballets Les Presages and Thamar.

Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballet Russes c1936

Dermatologist and amateur filmmaker Dr Ewan Murray-Will’s film captures solo dancers from the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo performing on a Sydney beach.

Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballet Russes in Australia c1939

This unique and candid home movie footage of members of the Ballets Russes company was taken at Sydney’s Bungan Beach in the late 1930s.

Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballets Russes c1939

Amateur filmmaker Murray-Will’s acquaintance with Ballets Russes members allowed him to capture unique images of one of the world’s greatest dance companies.

Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballets Russes, Hélène Kirsova’s Wedding 1938

Dr Murray-Will befriended dancers from the touring Ballets Russes in the 1930s and filmed the wedding of ballerina Hélène Kirsova to the Danish Vice-Consul.

Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballets Russes: Petrouchka: Carnaval: Aurora’s Wedding c1936

Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe – shown here on tour in Australia during 1936-37 – revolutionised ballet by giving equal emphasis to dance, music, drama and design.