On this day: the premiere of Romeo and Juliet

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Romeo and Juliet as it was intended to be: Gable and Seymour in the roles created for them, in a 1965 performance.

Kenneth Macmillan’s acclaimed ballet version of Romeo and Juliet premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on the 9th of February, 1965.

Even though the ballet had been specifically created for Christopher Gable and Lynn Seymour, the intervention of Russian-American tour organiser Sol Hurok meant they were not allowed to dance first cast in the lead roles.

Instead, Gable and Seymour, critically acclaimed dancers who had personal input into the choreography, were forced to teach their roles to Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, who would also go on to feature in the video recording of the ballet.

In further controversy, choreographer John Cranko, whose earlier production of the ballet is eerily similar to Macmillan’s version in a number of scenes, was said to be horrified by what he saw as plagiarism of his work.

On this day…

The Nutcracker ballet, in a photograph dated the 11th of December, 1966. The Snow Queen and Snow King are played by Jiji Jahrig and Charlie Putman, and the Snowflakes are Sherry Darmopray, Christy Darmopray and Linda Vigil. The picture comes from The Denver Post.

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DEC 5 1966, DEC 11 1966; Charlie Putman and Jiji Jahrig appear as the Snow King and Snow Queen and d

On this day: the Brooklyn Theatre fire

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The destroyed theatre. X

One of the worst building fires in US history occurred in New York on the 5th of December, 1876. At least 278 – but possibly more than 300 – people were killed when a fire broke out at the Brooklyn Theatre during the final act of The Two Orphans.

The blaze began on the prompt side of the stage (the side where the stage manager sits). It was noticed part of the set had caught fire. Sets for more than one production were backstage at the time, meaning it was impossible to get the fire hose to extinguish the blaze.

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Harper’s Weekly cover reporting on the fire. X

The performers onstage were made aware of the fire, but continued with the show for a short time, worried about causing a panic. Stagehands tried to extinguish the flames, but the fire continued to gain ground.

Despite being close to the flames, several members of the performing company took to the stage to call for the audience to be calm, so that people could escape the theatre safely.

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One of those performers was Kate Claxton, who was later described as:

‘the nerviest woman I ever saw … [She] came out with J. B. Studley, and said the fire would be out in a few moments. She was white as a sheet, but she stood up full of nerve.’ X

Most of the deaths occurred in the highest, cheapest seats, where several hundred people sat, and where the narrow exit became blocked and people trampled each other. Many succumbed to smoke inhalation.

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Floor plan of the theatre, published two days after the fire. X

By the time firemen arrived at the scene nobody responded to their calls, and cracks had begun to appear in the building.

Less than half an hour after the first flames were spotted, much of the theatre collapsed.

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The theatre in ruins. X

Several years after the disaster, Kate Claxton reflected that it had been a mistake to continue the play, and that the curtain should have been kept down and the performance cancelled so the audience could have evacuated before they were made aware of the fire.

On this day…

This hand-coloured etching of London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was published on the 25th of November, 1812.

When this etching was published the building had only been opened a few weeks. This is the third theatre to have stood there, and it was opened on the tenth of October that year. It is the same building that now stands on the site.

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On this day…

The Australian Women’s Weekly ran a feature on a ballet production of Anna Karenina on the 17th of October, 1979.

Featured is ballerina Marilyn Rowe, who would go on to run The Australian Ballet School from 1998 to 2014.

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The costume in the main picture is one we hired for a production of Robert Ray’s Cinderella in 1992 (in the image below).

It was worn by one of the “ugly sisters” – a little bit of a change from its original purpose!

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