Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bring on the (1860s) Dancing Girls ...

I’m not a ‘dance’ man. I wasn’t allowed to learn dance as a boy, I never caught up later, and when I appeared on the stage and someone like Gillian Lynne was foolish enough to put me in the front row (of the singers-who-dance-a-bit) without a try-out, merely because I had a 36-26-36 figure and an, um, big personality, the truth became hideously obvious. When, circa 1972, I went to sea with the fabled Vic Ogley company as primo basso … well, there was no slacking in that company of a dozen-and-a-half bodies … everyone had to do everything. So, I sang bass and, when the occasion demanded, baritone or tenor (‘Song of the Daaaaawn’), and I ‘danced’. My partner, in those days, was the beautiful Alison, ex-Royal Ballet School. She took me in hand and she tried, my god she tried. But it was no good. No one rubbished me, but years later the company régisseur, who became (and was up till his death this month) my dearest friend, said to me: 'you couldn’t even march. You did ‘same arm same leg’'.

Maybe, as a result, I didn’t much enjoy watching Dance either. I remember as a child being taken to see Poul Gnatt as Peer Gynt at our local theatre. When my father asked me whether I had liked it, it appears I replied: ‘when does the opera come to our town again’. Then, when I met Ian, we went to several ballets. Ian had been publicity manager for the Russian ballet in Sydney in 1938, so elderly ladies called Tamara kept popping by, but when we went to Covent Garden … well, there was one incident that summed the whole Russian ballet thing up for me. Elderly lady in front of us no 1: 'on the thirteenth fouettée she didn’t .. 'lady no 2: 'MARGOT did fourteen …'; and now on to the floor exercises and the beam. It just wasn’t ‘me’. Too technical, too soulless … and what in the heck were those cake frills they were wearing.

But I was finally to find a dance show that I liked enormously. A French company guested at Covent Garden, and we were invited. We often were when there were empty seats. They played La Fille mal gardée … is that the one where there’s a chimney? … and La Sylphide ..  no, that was the chimney!'.. and it was enchanting. No gymnastics, no fifty-two fouettées, just glorious, graceful dance and pantomime.

Alas, France didn’t win. And nowadays thing have got to a desperately low state, with modern musical theatre and TV variety show choreography. On something like the unregretted American Idol you don’t know whether to turn the sound or the video off first … when I go to my local shows, lines of people doing 1960s TV routines (damn you, Paddy, Irving and Duggie)_...

Anyway, this isn’t what I set out to blog. So change gear.

The dancers I was thinking about weren’t the grand ones. Today I got led (via my blonde burlesque ladies) into the world of the ‘spectacular theatre’. You know, those shows where the main elements were .. and are .. the tricky and glamorous scenery and scene-changes, the billion costume changes, and the nubile ladies, roughly described as ‘ballet’ (can you hold third position dear?), who filled the evening’s entertainment when there wasn’t a smidgin of story or dialogue and an incidental pop song going on. And in English and French terms that means the ‘opéra bouffe à grand spectacle’, in German the ‘grosse Feerie Spektakel’ and in American … well, lets not quibble about precedence here, it’s that kind of show that was epitomised by the infamous The Black Crook.

So that’s where we are going. Did the dancers in shows of the grand spectacle genre actually dance as we would understand it? Or were they just glamorous girlies, lightly dressed, making movements that would cause their male audience to purr? Hmmm. Well, to start with, there don’t seem to have been any ballerinos. So the aim was clearly signified. But the principal dancing ladies were all from Europe. Well, they all had European names. Weren’t there any dancers in America? Morlacchi, Bonfanti, Palladino …


And even in the lower reaches … which is where I went today. Don’t ask me why. Ah, yes. I was scrubbing up the featured girls for one of Lydia Thompson’s shows and there was ‘Miss Schrötter’. Too weird not to be a real name. So I put away my singers, for a day, and went in search of the lowly Miss S.

 Well, I got more than I bargained for. There were three Fräuleins Schrotter. With or without umlaut. Carolina, Gabrielle and Henrietta, by any other spelling. Allegedly, they were imported to dance, with the multitude of others, in The Black Crook, like so many alleged others. And they may very well have been. They actually seem to have been trained-ish dancers.

Carolina turns up first to my gaze as a momentarily featured chorine in the production of The Forty Thieves at Niblo’s Garden in 1869: ‘A German Fay’. Then the ‘Misses Schrotter’, Carolina and Gabrielle, appear on the bills at the Theatre Comique, alongside Hattie Kelsey (sister of the better-known Lizzie and also, allegedly, a Crook rescapee), Lizzie Dark and, later, star dancer Annetta Galetti and a Blonde, Emma Grattan.

Third sister Henrietta joined them in the Edith Challis extravaganza Lalla Rookh at the Grand Opera House, I see them (two or sometimes three) at Pittsburgh, at the Olympic Theatre supporting Pauline Markham, dancing a ‘Sailors’ Festival’ at the Metropolitan variety house with Lizzie Kelsey, then a Can-Can, a Spanish Dance and a Flower Dance …  Carolina seems to have got solo billing in Ahmed at the Grand Opera House, then they can be seen at the Tivoli and the Parisian Varieties …

Nearly a decade as second danseuses on the New York variety and occasionally theatre stages. I suppose it was worth leaving Vienna for?

I tried to find out what became of them, and I partially succeeded.
Gabriella was married in 1875 to a Danish doctor named Otto Auris, and died of it 20 April 1876. At 44 Bond Street.
The others, I’m not wholly sure of, but there are very few Schrotters around in those years in New York, and when two of those few just happen to be a Carolina and a Henrietta …
The Carolina married an Austrian ex-army man by name Victor [von] Helly, of allegedly knightly extraction, had two children and lost him in 1891. She was still alive in the 1930 census ..
The Henrietta? Well there seem to have been two. One who married an Arnold Reifenstuhl and went off to Chicago to people the county with little Reifenstuhls; the other who became a Mrs Grunwald …

Carolina’s daughter became a lady in a shop. I imagine her mother and her aunts had had rather more fun dancing their way through life as young women.

Which should bring me back tidily to where I started, but absolutely doesn’t … I have had a bit of a ramble, haven’t I?

Dance, dance, dance, little lady ..

Saturday, August 26, 2017

DRAGONS AND PIRATES … in the Hungarian countryside

Last night, I was doddling through ebay, as one does, in search of photos of antique burlesque queens for the next book which I swore I would never write. It was a dry night for tights, spangles and peroxide … so I closed down the blondes and tried a search for ‘Yamba’ (nothing but 1950s postcards), then for ‘Sefton’ (not even that), and even Mór, Fejér …

Yamba in the 1950s

Well, there were no old pictures. But ebay has a trick or two up its sleeve and it showed me instead some ‘other items’. And amongst the nothingness, one jumped out at me. A letter, in a wax-sealed envelope, unstamped … but seemingly dated 1852. And postmarked and labelled Moór. Two ‘o’s. The Austrian way. Great-grandfather Abraham was born (as everyone must now be sick of hearing) in Mór in 1844. So I looked. Written in very tidy … Hungarian. But there were four names in the text … and two of them were labelled ‘izraelita’ … and dammit it was priced at $7.99. Less than a Stewart Trotter glass of wine. For an evening’s fun translating, the price was right.

It is now mine.

I have a little Hungarian. Left over from my days writing the Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. Of course. A huge proportion of the great theatre music of the last 150 years came from Hungary. Unfortunately, my vocabulary is rather limited to the words for ‘princess’, ‘girl’, ‘king’, ‘swineherd’, ‘married’, ‘soldier’ and the like, rather than words in less Operettic usage, but hey! I have a distant cousin who is Hungarian, and a few facebook friends …

But I couldn’t wait. This morning I rose groggily at 5.15 and pulled my wee treasure up on the screen. And, with some help from a good on-line Hungarian dictionary (which kept trying to sell me holidays in Dubai), I started.

As I had suspected from the red wax seal, it wasn’t a personal letter. It was a legal document. A request to the parquet of Moor (2nd division) from an auxiliary magistrate named Pál Harsányi, couched in suitably ‘respectful’ not to say grovelling terms to investigate a case or a complaint… of what? Well, my Hungarian is the hundred-year old sort, but this is 1850s stuff AND legalese .. so even after I’d deciphered the ancient Magyar script .. what does ‘visgálod’ mean, for example? And in my limited knowledge ‘sarkány’ is a dragon and ‘eloroz’ is a pirate, neither of which seems of actuality in the 1850s Hungarian countryside.

The ‘victim’ in the case appears to have been the son of one Mihál Juhasz of Belevár. But that’s on the other side of the country. He seems to have got injured while working (does that say ‘in the snow, at night’?) for one Jewish Henrich (sic) Veisz. And then it sounds as if another Jew, Samuel Fleischmann, got into his chest (as in box) containing his clothes and his ‘other chattels’. Well, all those WORDS are there, but I may have joined them up wrongly. The last part of the document seems to be just flunkey stuff (‘your respected honour…’). And the letter is dated Augustus 5, 852.
I thought that was the Jewish date 5852, till I realised we hadn’t got there yet. So, in spite of the fine state of the item, it seems it genuinely was written at the time, and in the place, where Abraham Gansl was a child.

There was a Jewish census in Hungary in 1847, so I thought I might see if Mr Veisz and Mr Fleischmann were about then … but looking for Mr White and Mr Butcher is a heck of a job …

Perhaps I’ll just go back to finding out what a dragon and a pirate are doing in C19th Fejér….

And what THIS word is … **ágy ..?

Could it be kisagy. A brain injury? But there's that accent ...    sigh. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ABRAHAM, ISAK and ISRAEL … Found! Our founding fathers

I’m probably going off half-cocked. But never mind. If I post this, some wonderful Hungarian from the province of Fejér might come to my aid with tombstones and documents.

As habitual readers of this blog will already know, in my late 60s, I suddenly launched into the fashionable but fun occupation of family finding. My family. I’d done a thousand others in the course of writing my newest book.

I didn’t really imagine I’d have much luck. But I didn’t know, then, that so much which my father must have known of and about had been carefully hidden from his New Zealand sons. Most specifically the fact that his father’s family was Jewish. And that they weren’t ‘all dead’, far from it.

So, having inherited grandmother’s papers (in Sütterlin!), I had a scout around, blogged the considerable amount that I found about the Viennese great-grandparents, and shrugged my shoulders over the Hungarian Gansl/Gansel/Ganzl strain which came to a dead end in a Viennese grave in 1889. And got back to work on the newest book of nineteenth century singers.

Enter Petra. She, too, is descended from a Gansl (by whichever spelling) from Fejér and has actually been there. My Gansls, so greatgrandfather Adolf’s grave tells us hailed from Mór, she knows that hers came from Lovasberény, another of villages satellite to the local capital of Székesfehérvár, in which city Jews were not permitted to live before 1870. So, since there was a certain amount of intermarriage between the Jewish folk of the Fejér villages … well, we could be related!

We looked desultorily for a bit, a while back. Picked up a few fellows. But didn’t make a major breakthrough. Until yesterday. I’d been slogging away for a few days at the Real Story of Lydia Thompson’s Burlesque Blondes, when Petra came on line. Did I know Family Search had the birth, death and marriages, for Mór, unindexed, on line. No, I didn’t. I was in the middle of busty antique ladies in tights. From whom a wee break seemed indicated. So I followed Petra’s lead, brushed up my Hungarian and my Sütterlin, and started from page one of the registers. Disappointment! Only the marriages start before 1850. But I persisted. And soon the Gansels of Mór started to flow. 

The first important one appeared to be Abraham otherwise Hermann (b Mór, ?1801; d Buda 12 June 1863) who seemed to be a notable local ‘pate’ (godfather) and circumciser (korulmetelö) of other people’s babies. Notably those of three other Gansels. Josef (b 1807), Izak known as Ignáz (b 1813) and Fulop known as Phillip (b 1817). I don’t think that it is an unfair jump to assume that the four men were brothers. And Izak-Ignáz got wed in Mór within the available registers’ time span, so we know that his parents were Isra(e)l Gansel and Judith Móor … We also know that he worked as a tailor. But his brothers each seemed to be nebulously ‘kaufmann’ or ‘handelsmann’.

All four brothers wed. Hermann married Eva, then Karoline Kuh (d 9 November 1882) .. oh please don’t let my ancestor be Caroline Cow! .. Joseph wed Leni Lip(p)man (b Temesvár 1812; d 17 July 1883), Ignáz wed Hany Bader, and Phillip, Juliana Schönberger. And they all bred. Freely. Jakab otherwise Károly, Israel otherwise ?, Lazar otherwise Lájos, Heinrich otherwise Henrik … all these otherwises! Half the world seems to be equipped with an alternative Hungarian or German or Jewish name. But there is no Adolf. Why? Why? Why?

And then, yestereve, after the first brain-liberating cocktail, a thunderbolt struck. Maybe Adolf was an otherwise too. So who is left? Who is four years old in the 1848 census. There’s only one and its … Abraham. A decidedly frequent otherwise for Adolf. Yay! Gotcha great-grandad!

So brother John otherwise Gallas and I, otherwise Kurt Gänzl, have finally found the last quarter of our missing family.
We are descended from Joseph Gansel of Mór (Joseph! Our grandfather’s name!), son of Israel and Judith of that place, and from Leni née Lip(p)man of Temesvár.

And that ‘all dead’ bit? Well, putting aside the myriad descendants of the putative brothers and sister Erszébet otherwise Lisi (Fr Napthali Lewy, 1808-1888), greatgrandad himself had siblings Regina (Fr Sandor SCHLOZ), Israel, Theresia (Fr Simon WALLNER of Imota which I guess is Imoski), Jakob-Karoly (m Betti NOBEL), Mari (Fr Karoly FLEISCHMANN) and Lazar …

A few more days work in there, I feel.

Oh, two other discoveries. I complained about finding no trace of Adolf before his arrival in Vienna? I think he may have visited quite a lot. From 1858, when he was but 14, several Gansls from Mór can be seen making twice yearly commercial trips to the Austrian capital. They always stay at the once grand, now second-level, Weisser Wolf Hotel at 20 Fleischmarkt. Jakob (I suspect this may be an otherwise for Joseph), Ignaz, M(ihaly? oritz?), Heinrich, and finally ‘A Ganzl kaufmann aus Pest’. So that’s where he hived off to?

And the other. Totally unexpected. I recorded that, before their three sons, Adolf and Juli had given birth to three daughters ‘who did not survive’. I now see that one did. For a while. Great aunt Ida was born in Vienna in 1876. And the Fejér registers record that Ida Gansl, merchant’s daughter, from Vienna died in the Uri utca, Mór 13 January 1893.
We were told of Adolf and Juli’s untimely deaths, and of the three little boys split up between an orphanage in Vienna and the care of Tante Rosenbaum … but never, never was their older sister mentioned. It seems 13 year-old Ida was sent home to Hungary to be cared for. Or was she already there? For her death record reveals that she was 16 years of age, and the cause of death was … dementia.

Well, that’s enough of our family for today. I’ll play with the sisters and the cousins and the aunts another day. For now, it’s … cheerio Abraham! Rock my soul …

Friday, August 11, 2017

CRABLO KICKASSO, a retrospective

the fascinating (and sadly temporary) work of Crablo Kickasso

Having been coaxed shyly from amongst his twenty-four-hour artworks, Crablo was interviewed yesterday in his burrow in Yamba's Main Beach by investigative photo-reporter Paul Hankinson.

"Gull...p" - The simplicity of this work accentuates the horror. No crab can look at this depiction of a Seagull's footprint without shuddering in his shell.

"Australia & New Zealand" - People are baffled by this work. It certainly gives credibility to Crablo's story that he once got his pincer caught in a weather balloon.

"Crabstract I" - whilst some of his works depict objects or events there are many which he calls Crabstract: "I take twisted pleasure in sending mixed messages to my Crab friends and also rather enjoy overhearing humans discuss what they see in my work"

"Hook" or "Avoid at all costs"

"Crabstract II" - says Crablo, "this one was created with help from a friend. Can you guess who?"

"Crabstract III"

"fireworks over a desert island" - perhaps his most accessible and well-loved work. When asked "How can there be fireworks when there is nobody there to set them off and nobody there to appreciate them?" Crablo replied, "How do you know there were NOT fireworks when there was nobody there to say otherwise?" .. he went on to say that for him the work represents "the ironic joy of being alone. I envy the hermits".

"Propellor" - a horrifying depiction of his father's untimely death.

"M" - when asked what the M stands for Crablo simply winked and whispered "Maybe it's for Mystery"

"Crabstract IV"

"Crabstract V"

"Low Tide" - his largest work to date.

The artist at work.

Crablo, who uses shadow to great effect in his work, said "See how menacing I seem if I balance on my back feet?" then with a chuckle he dropped to the sand and muttered "I'm actually quite shy."

Crablo's humble home is almost enveloped by his work.

the artist poses humbly beside one of his larger works. "This'll all be gone once the tide comes in," he said, "but that's the joy of it... blank canvas tomorrow... start again"

Main Beach, Yamba. Crablo's favourite canvas.