Madeleine Parker, Mira Dimina

Madeleine Parker
Mira Dimina

Madeleine Parker was born in 1912 in New Hampshire, America and became a ballet dancer who went by the stage-name Mira Dimina. Before her ballet career she appeared in two Hollywood films, The Night is Young and Midsummer Night's Dream. While still only 12, she posed as a model for Harriet Frishmuth's sculpture, Call of the Sea in 1924. Mira, who had started ballet at eight years of age as a pupil of Fokine, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House during the same year. After dancing with most of the outstanding ballet masters of the day, she joined the Russian Ballet in 1935. She was a leading member of Colonel de Basil's original company, in which she quickly made a name for herself. Her sole ambition was to become a prima ballerina.

In August 1936 arrangements for an Australian Tour of the Russian Monte Carlo Ballet were completed. The ship Moldavia would take them from London to Perth together with 62 dancers, officials and 2000 costumes. The troupe was made up of many nationalities but Mira, one of the principal dancers was the only American among them. There were daily articles written before and after their arrival, by both South Australian and interstate newspapers, as a performance of this caliber was eagerly looked forward to.

One of the papers stated that 'Miss Mira Dimina, is a classic type, her flawless skin enhanced by heavy plaits of golden hair. Mira was reported saying, I have worked in two motion pictures, but film work has none of the attractions of ballet. The Australian Women's Weekly of 12 September 1936 reported from London that the Russian Ballet would soon be in Adelaide, fresh from the triumphs of a Covent Garden season, where they had delighted huge audiences for over three months and that a Dancing Treat was in store for Australia.

The opening night was planned for Tuesday 13 October at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide. After the spectacular opening night, newspapers reported that 'The Australian season opened triumphantly, winning almost frenzied applause from one of the largest and most brilliant audiences ever to witness an Adelaide premiere. In Les Sylphides, danced to Chopin's liveliest melodies, Helene Kidsova and Mira Dimina danced effortlessly with consummate grace'. Mira had performed in Prelude to Les Sylphites, Le Beau Danube and Les Presages to critical acclaim.

On 22 October Wanda Edwards hosted a Tea Party for the ballet members, which was also attended by Mira. By this time Mira didn't feel well at all and after only a few performances was unable to continue. In fact, she had been feeling ill when the company opened its season in Adelaide and danced in only a few performances. She had complained of headaches during the premiere and on the third night she left the stage in tears during the presentation of Les Sylphides.

She was taken to the Ru Rua Private Hospital, located on the corner of Edwin Smith Avenue and Pennington Terrace, North Adelaide. Immediately it casted a pall over the whole ballet as she was exceptionally popular. At first it was thought that she just had a throat infection and would have to remain in hospital in Adelaide for some weeks while the troupe would leave for Melbourne by special train after the final Adelaide performance. Unfortunately, for Mira and all those people who loved and admired her, it turned out that she didn't have a throat infection but was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Again, the papers kept readers informed with the latest reports. One of them said; 'for a time, at least, the curtain has been rung down on the career of a beautiful ballerina. Six weeks ago, the Australian dance-loving public was shocked to hear of the serious illness of Mira, talented dancer and the only American ballerina in the Monte Carlo Russian ballet company now touring Australia.

For this lovely young dancer, the scene has suddenly and sadly changed from one of music, lights, flowers, and the thrilling applause of appreciative audiences, to the quiet, dim-lit ward of a hospital in Adelaide, where she lies fighting a grim battle for her life. Only the flowers are there to remind her of the loving sympathy of the countless friends she made during her brief stay in Adelaide. They are a great comfort to her, these wonderful flowers, which fill her sick-room with their fragrance and beauty'.

Most of the flowers were from people whom she has never met. While in hospital, there were scores of enquiries about her health, and admirers sent flowers every day. The only visitor admitted to see her during the closing stages of her illness was Mrs 'Pete' Russell, an Englishwoman, mother of Lilia Roussova, the 15-year old 'baby' of the ballet company. When the Adelaide season ended and the remainder of the company left for Melbourne, it was decided that Mrs Russell should remain in Adelaide to be near her. While having several blood transfusions during the next six weeks, Mira talked of her dancing and made dancing movements in bed.

According to the Daily Telegraph of Sydney, Mrs Russell was keeping a close vigil at the bedside of the beautiful young girl, whose tragic illness had cast a gloom over the whole ballet, and caused the greatest concern to all who had met or seen Mira. 'Gifted with a charming personality, laughing blue eyes, golden hair, and an exquisite complexion, she is both beautiful and clever. It is a cruel jest of fate that such a dark cloud should hover above the head of this exceptionally talented artist, who had just crossed the threshold to a brilliant career. She is bearing her illness with remarkable fortitude'.

As Mira was deeply attached to her mother, they had planned to be in Australia together. Her mother had arranged to join Mira in Sydney and accompany her on the remainder of the Australian tour. Norma Parker sailed on the Port Alma and was expected to arrive in Adelaide from America on December 21. Tragically her mother was not to know of her illness and death until arriving in Australia. Mira Dimina died on 22 November 1936.

A particularly sad aspect was that her mother was some thousands of kilometres away on the Pacific Ocean, in ignorance of her daughter's death, and was hurrying to join in her Australian triumph. She was told of Mira's illness, but steps had been taken to prevent her from hearing the tragic news until she reached Brisbane, which would not be until December. Although Mira's appearances before the Adelaide public had been tragically brief, Mira had made a deep impression by her personal beauty and the delicate fragility of her dancing. Her death, which occurred at 10.30 in the morning, was immediately telephoned to the principals of the company in Melbourne and elsewhere.

With the Port Alma soon to arrive in Brisbane, Haskell and Mrs Russell travelled north. The ship docked at New Farm Wharf on December 9 but Haskell could not face Mrs Parker. He had caught a glimpse of a picture of her daughter as a child in a dancing pose in her mother's cabin, and fled, leaving Mrs Russell to greet the heartbroken mother. A report in The Argus of 18 December explained that Captain J Jack had broken the news when the ship was in the Brisbane River. Norma Parker did not arrive in Adelaide until Christmas Eve to visit her daughter's grave and collect her belongings.

A simple and sorrowful funeral ceremony was held for her at the West Terrace Cemetery. The sad little group of mourners at the graveside included officials of the Monte Carlo Company, who had come specially from Melbourne. They were deeply affected at the loss of one of their most promising ballerinas on the threshold of a great career.

There were representatives from all Adelaide's theatrical interests. There were scores of wreaths, some from London and one from the USA. Another wreath from South Australian Premier Butler and one ordered by Colonel de Basil, who was in America, with the inscription, 'To my beloved artist'. The Rev. L A Knight, who had become a personal friend of Mira during her illness, conducted the service. Members of the Gladys Moncrieff Company were pallbearers.

Within a week of her death it had been decided a memorial of some kind should be established to perpetuate the live of Mira Dimina, Miss Madeline Parker. Before he left on the express for Melbourne, Arnold Haskell, who was touring with the company, said 'nothing has been decided so far, but the proposal to leave in Adelaide some memorial to Miss Dimina would be discussed by the company in Melbourne'.

A committee of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet arranged to sponsor a public appeal to ensure the memorial. The nature of the memorial was discussed by the directors of the ballet, the manager of the Theatre Royal and Mr Arnold Haskell. It was suggested that a cot be endowed at the Children's Hospital, which was approved by the hospital board of management. The committee hoped that Mira's mother would be able to unveil a memorial tablet which would be placed above the cot. Unfortunately this was not to happen.

Donations could be sent to Mr Rendall, at the Theatre Royal. In forwarding his donation, Haskell wrote: 'Nothing would give Dimina more pleasure than lending her name to a cot in the Children's Hospital with the knowledge that she was helping some child back to strong, healthy movement. She came to Australia on a fine artistic mission. Now she is forever associated with Adelaide. The dearest one of all has been left'.

Members of the ballet, who were now in Melbourne, requested that a Memorial Service should be held at St Paul's Cathedral. Even though most members belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, it was agreed that it was the correct place as Mira had been a member of the Church of England. During the service the same Funeral March and Hymn was played as for Dame Nellie Melba in 1931.

After the launching of the Mira Dimina Cot Fund, donations started to come in and in January 1937 had reached 95 pounds. A month later they had increased to 240 pounds. Still another 100 pounds would be needed. A donation of 25 pound came from London and large and small donations were made by Adelaide people, including T E Barr Smith and Hans Heysen.

In April 1937 Mira's grave was visited by Adelaide dancing teacher Wanda Edwards with some of her pupils. Wanda had been one of the most enthusiastic workers for the Cot Fund, which by now needed only about another twenty pounds. That target was reached on 21 April 1937 and by a coincidence, the treasurer of the fund received a postcard of gratitude from Dimina's mother in America, which read 'God bless you all, always. Gratefully. Mother Dimina'.

In May 1937, the superintendent of the Adelaide Children's Hospital, Mr E A Smith, reported having received 145 pounds from the trustees of the Market Gardeners and Traders' Accident Fund. Part of the gift would be used to complete both the Mira Dimina and the Dame Nellie Melba Cot Funds.

On 18 May six-year-old Lou Jean Day, of Karoonda, was in the news as she was the first child to lie in what was a very special cot. A shiny brass plate on the end told the story 'This cot has been endowed in perpetuity by public donation in memory of Mira Dimina, the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet dancer. May, 1937. On the clean white counterpane lay a bunch of violets in remembrance of Dimina'.

The people round the cot had come to see it formally presented to the hospital, and all the other children in the ward sat up in their cots to watch the ceremony. The presentation was made by the American Consul, Charles A Hutchinson. He mentioned that he had just received a letter from Mira's mother thanking Adelaide people again for all they had done for her daughter. Dimina, he said, had come to Adelaide as a stranger in a strange city and had died here tragically. But the cot would always stand as a fine memorial to her.

On behalf of Mrs Parker he thanked the Cot Fund committee for their part in raising the funds and all the donors. In accepting the cot, the president of the Children's Hospital, Dr H Gilbert, said 'that it was a memorial that would be utilized to the full for the benefit of many small citizens who fell by the wayside in the matter of health. Mira Dimina herself, combining as she did beauty of form with beauty of artistic interpretation, could not, I think, have desired a more fitting method of perpetuating her memory and I hope that some of the occupants of this cot may be old enough to appreciate the spirit underlying this memorial'.

At the end of the month, American citizens observed their Memorial Day, which to them is as significant as Anzac Day to Australians. The American Consul in South Australia and his wife laid a wreath on the grave of Edward Jennings, an American civil war veteran, in the Cheltenham Cemetery. When that ceremony was completed, they travelled to the West Terrace Cemetery and decorated the grave of Mira Dimina. American flags were flown at half-mast until noon and the consulate was closed for the day.

When the Russian Ballet visited Adelaide for a second season at the Theatre Royal, in 1939, most of the members made a pilgrimage to Mira's grave. Two members also visited the Children's Hospital to inspect the Mira Dimina Cot and presented five pounds to be used with the Mira Dimina cot. The money came from a friend in England who 'was a deep admirer of Miss Dimina'. They also bought a wreath for her grave.

Not many people remember Mira Dimina, even fewer know that her real name was Madeleine Parker. However, she wasn't forgotten altogether. As late as May 1985 a Benefit Performance by the South Australian Children's Ballet was held to raise money for the repayment of a loan used to restore her grave. That was 35 years ago. Recently her grave has been included in a Self-Guided Interpretive Trail of the cemetery.


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