Hungarian-born Tibor Rudas arrived in Australia with his wife and brother in 1948 to perform as the acrobatic dancing team, Sugar Baba and the Rudas Twins, at Melbourne’s Tivoli theatre in Revue Continentale. They had previously performed at the Palladium in London and the Gaumont Palace in Paris. Sugar Baba danced at the Hungarian Opera in Budapest; the boys were dance students. The three fled to Turkey when war broke out and spent the war years preparing their act. In 1950 they settled in Sydney, where they opened a studio for acrobatic dancing above the Tivoli theatre with the intention of training a stable of young acrobatic dancers for the Tivoli to export in exchange for American entertainers. Tibor Rudas’ experience as a displaced person, touring entertainer and then migrant, lent his enterprise global scope and mobility. Whereas Laurie Smith and Harry Wren imported acts for theatres in Australia, Rudas built his dance studio into an export product for Asian markets.
In October 1958, Rudas flew eight Australian dancers to the Philippines for a month-long season at the Manila Grand Opera House. According to the Manila Times, the Rudas Dancers arrived in Manila “direct from Europe,” but they were actually from Australia and had travelled via Singapore. A troupe of Rudas dancers had passed through Singapore on route to Calcutta in April that year. They returned to appear at the Cathay Restaurant and Ocean Park Hotel in Singapore from May to June, and then transferred to the Paramount night club in Hong Kong from July to September. After appearing in Manila, Rudas announced that the troupe would tour to Japan to perform at Tokyo’s Monte Carlo Club. They were back in Singapore from December to February 1959. From May 1959, the Rudas troupe transferred to Hong Kong where they performed at the Paramount, Princess Garden and Golden Phoenix night clubs. In June 1959, the troupe had flown back to Australia to prepare for a national tour, their numbers augmented with entertainers from the night clubs of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila.
Promising to deliver “the mystery of Siam, the fascination of China, the excitement of Malaya, the enchantment of India, revealed in the most provocative, the most hilarious way,” Rudas toured Oriental Cavalcade to theatres in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Bendigo, Ballarat, Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle and Broken Hill from August 1959 to November 1960. In Brisbane over the summer holiday period, Rudas took advantage of his imported cast to present a matinee season of the pantomime Aladdin. Promotional imagery recycled the eroticised tropes of Orientalism: the cover of the programme for the Sydney season depicts two scantily-clad women in a harem scene, with Chinese dragons, Persian carpet, and exotic treasure highlighted in gold and red. However, hand-drawn sketches inside the programme depict western travellers on the streets of Tokyo or Hong Kong. In programme notes, Rudas describes Oriental Cavalcade as “an East-West theme” and a “theme and production of East Meets West.” Adelaide reviewer Colin Kerr observed “a fast-moving variety show in which East bows to Western tastes but still manages to come out on top.”
Relational structures within the performance placed an emphasis on encounter, reciprocity and exchange, sentiments prominent in the “Cold War Orientalism” of the middlebrow American imagination that Christina Klein describes. The stars of Oriental Cavalcade were the comedians: an Englishman, Freddie Sales; an American, Billy Rayes; and an Australian, Billy McMahon. For Lindsey Browne, reviewing the Sydney season, Sales “stole” the show. Their comedy sketches appear to have made gendered fun from encounters in post-war Asia: the three comedians opened the show in “East Meets West” with the “Oriental ‘Secretaries’ and the Tivoli Ballet,” and Freddy Sales and Billy Rayes appear with the Kawashima Dancers in “The New ‘Wing’ of Okinawa’s Teahouse of the August Moon.” In solo segments in the second half, however, the comedians appear to have presented their own material, not related to the “East-West” theme.
The eight Kawashima Dancers from Japan “brought the house down” performing their burlesque of the ballet Swan Lake, dressed as kewpie dolls with over-sized full-head masks. They also appeared on stage in chorus-line with the seven Rudas Dancers from Australia. A Melbourne critic for The Age reported that the Kawashima dancers from Japan “high-kick with Hollywood precision” and the Filipino entertainers sang “rock and roll” and “crooned love songs in bodgie clothing.” Among the Filipino acts in Oriental Cavalcade were Don Soliano (the “Elvis of Manila”), the Ricman Duo (“pocket-size sensations”), and Vic Soledad and the Blue Squire Trio, each of whom Rudas could have seen when they were performing at the Manila Grand Opera House between late 1958 and early 1959. More recognisably “Eastern” were the Chinese juggling acts by Mana Koon, and Che Chung Chong, who had performed his fire-juggling at Hong Kong’s Paramount night club during November and December 1958. By contrast, “Moonlight in India” was performed by the Duo Sylvanos, an Australian acrobatic-adagio duo who also performed in Singapore, Calcutta and Hong Kong.
Rudas hired publicist Betty Stewart who booked advertisers for the programme and arranged for performers from the show to appear on television to promote the Sydney season. The advertisers took advantage of the revue to cultivate Australian tastes for consuming Asian music, food and experiences on holidays. The programme for the Sydney season carries advertisements for: The Sukiyaki Room at King’s Cross, “Australia’s only Japanese restaurant;” Miss Kawashima’s favourite recipe for fried rice, cooked with Australian-grown Sunwhite rice; a recording from RCA records of “music for a Chinese dinner at home,” with Chinese recipes on the cover; and Qantas and BOAC, the two main airlines flying from Sydney to Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong. For the TCN-9 television station in Sydney, Che Chung Chong and Mana Koon performed their chop-stick balancing, egg-and-cup trick and fire-twirling acts on The Bobby Limb Show. Their televised segment segues into a performance by comedienne, Beryl Meekin, Australia’s “moonfaced mountain of mirth,” who had performed with Harry Wren’s Thanks for the Memory and returned to join Many Happy Returns after “a record-breaking tour of Japan, Manila and Hong Kong.” Meekin appears in costume as a Chinatown madame, singing the Orientalist jazz standard, “Limehouse Blues,” with six chorus girls, dressed in tabards, dancing with fans.
The juxtaposition of the two Chinese entertainers, presenting the corporeal signifiers of their national origin, with Meekin and the Australian dancers, performing as ‘Chinese’ in costume and make-up, records a transition in entertainment between the old-time theatricality of exotic artifice and the authenticity of touring artists. In television production, where close-ups and cropped shots conveyed to viewers an impression of the entertainers’ presence, smaller gestures and more intimate styles of bodily presentation were favoured over the broad brushstrokes of theatrical artifice that had been designed to convey national distinction at a distance.
A version of this account appears in Bollen, J. (2013) ‘Here from There – travel, television and touring revues: internationalism as entertainment in the 1950s and 1960s’, Popular Entertainment Studies, 4/1: 64-81.
- Tibor Rudas, AusStage, http://www.ausstage.edu.au/pages/contributor/229102, accessed 20 March 2013. Programmes for Revue Continentale, Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne, 23 August 1948, National Library of Australia. Sugar Baba and the Rudas Twins also performed in Variety Cavalcade, Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne, 5 September 1949.
- John Brennan, “Unique school for young Sydney acrobats,” Sunday Herald, 27 August 1950, 2; van Straten, Tivoli, 182. After marrying Tibor, Sugar Baba was known as Anna Rudas, dance teacher and choreographer.
- Tibor Rudas signalled his intention to apply for naturalisation under the Nationality and Citizenship Act in 1953 in an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1953, 28.
- “Fabulous Rudas Dancers feted at Opera House, Ang Tibay,” Manila Times, 5 October 1958, 18; advertisement for the Fabulous Rudas Dancers at the Manila Grand Opera House, Manila Times, 8 October 1958, 15.
- “Dancers off to Calcutta—but they’ll be back soon,” Straits Times, 6 April 1958, 4.
- Advertisements in Straits Times, 1 May to 14 June 1958, and China Mail, 25 July to 9 September 1958.
- Advertisements in China Mail, 29 May to 23 June 1959.
- “Opening Bill,” Pix, 13 June 1959, 17-19. The Rudas Dancers were Dawn Cabot, Mikey Collier, Robyn Isted, Evelyn Jago, Janice Kingham, Noeleen Race and Yvonne Whiting.
- Programme for Oriental Cavalcade, Tivoli Theatre, Sydney, 19 October 1959, Performing Arts Collection, The Arts Centre, Melbourne.
- Colin Kerr, “East and West meet on stage,” The Advertiser, 23 April 1960, 6.
- Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003) 14.
- L. B. [Lindsey Browne], “Oriental accent in Tivoli show,” Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 1949, 28. There were some cast changes during the tour: Will Mahoney, Johnny Lockwood and Johnny Ladd took the comedian spots in subsequent seasons.
- Betty Stewart, A Survivor in a Star Spangled World: An Autobiography (East Blaxland: Betty Stewart, 2000), 114. The reviewers in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide also admired the Kewpie Doll ballet. The Kawashima Dancers were Sachiko Kawaguchi, Chiaki Tanaka, Sumiko Ubara, Yoshiko Sekine, Ki Nin Shin, Eiko Shimuzu, Mitsuko Ezoe and Tokiko Muto; choreographed by Asaku Kawashima.
- “Spectacle and color in new Tivoli show,” The Age, 19 Aug 1959, 16.
- Advertisements in Manila Times, 25 October 1958 to 28 May 1959.
- Advertisments in China Mail, 18 November to 13 December 1958.
- The Duo Sylvanos were Arthur Smith and Delores Harris. “Round the world—the ritzy way doing the light fantastic,” Straits Times, 6 July 1955, 5; advertisement for Sky Palace, Singapore, Straits Times, 12 January 1957, 10; “China Mail Entertainment Guide,” China Mail, 16 August 1960, 4.
- Stewart, A Survivor in a Star Spangled World, 109-115.
- The Bobby Limb Show, Episode 9, National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), Title No. 12000. The date of first broadcast for this recording is not determined. Bobby Limb introduces Che Chung Chong and Mana Koon: “they have appeared all over Australia with the Oriental Cavalcade, they’ve been back to the Far East [presumably Hong Kong], and now we’ve got them back again” which would place the broadcast either in January or early February or between May and October 1960. Other acts from Oriental Cavalcade performed on television. The Ricman Duo appear on Cafe Continental, unidentified episode, NFSA, Title No. 746820. The Kawashima Dancers are credited in The Bobby Limb Show, Episode 11, c. 1960, NFSA, Title No. 13348, but their segment is cut from the recording. Likewise, the Fabulous Rudas Dancers are credited for The Bobby Limb Show, Episode 13, c. 1960, NFSA, Title No. 11983, but do not appear in the recording. Che Chung Chong also appears with Mei Lei in Mobil Limb Show, Episode 22, c. 1960, NFSA, Title No. 440290.
- Programmes for Thanks for the Memory, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 3 October 1953, and Many Happy Returns, Empire Theatre, Sydney, 28 January 1959, Performing Arts Collection, The Arts Centre, Melbourne.
- “Limehouse Blues,” written in 1922 by Englishmen Douglas Furber and Philip Braham, was first sung by Gertrude Lawrence. The song became a jazz standard in the 1920s and 1930s. It lent its title to a 1934 crime film, set in London’s Chinatown, starring the Chinese-American actor, Anna May Wong. It was also the subject of an Oriental fantasy, danced by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, dressed in ‘Asian’ costumes and make-up, in the 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer movie, Ziegfeld Follies.