The Australian Ballet
Founded in 1962, The Australian Ballet is one of Australia’s flagship arts companies, and one of the busiest ballet companies in the world.
Each year, it presents approximately 200 performances in cities and regional areas around Australia, in addition to regular international touring.
The Australian Ballet’s diverse repertoire reflects their vision: caring for tradition, daring to be different. Each year, they perform works from the classical repertoire as well as more contemporary works and commissions that explore the development and future of this dynamic artform.
Versatility, technical excellence and a warm, friendly style are the trademarks of The Australian Ballet, qualities that have earned both critical and audience acclaim.
For over four decades The Australian Ballet has been the defining the face of ballet in their country. It is one of the companies which have helped create the modern culture of Australia. But it is, by world standards, a new company. It gave its first performance in 1962, building on a strong and rich tradition of ballet in Australia, and on the efforts of many dedicated pioneers in ballet and dance.
The company’s founding Artistic Director, Peggy van Praagh, brought with her initiative, astute direction, exacting standards and dedication, enabling The Australian Ballet to flourish and achieve international status early in life.
The Australian Ballet’s first season had as Principal Dancers, Kathleen Gorham, Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch, all stars from the Borovansky Ballet; as Ballet Master, Ray Powell on loan from The Royal Ballet, and as Teacher, Leon Kellaway, who first came to Australia with the Pavlova company. The repertoire was firmly based on a mixture of the popular classics, other international works of proven quality and a proportion of ballets created especially for the company.
Renowned dancers such as Sonia Arova, Erik Bruhn, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were happy to be guests of the young company. Nureyev so enjoyed working with The Australian Ballet that not only did he regularly tour with the company, but in 1972 he directed and performed with them in a film said by many critics to be the finest classical ballet film ever produced, his Don Quixote.
The other requirements van Praagh laid down as essential were that the company must have its own school – which was established in 1964 under the direction of Margaret Scott – and that the dancers must be offered the security of year-round contracts. Through the consistent excellence of the Ballet School, and through the close-knit ensemble nature of the company, she and her successors have enjoyed the benefits of well-trained and highly motivated dancers.
Peggy van Praagh ran the company for its first 12 years, for much of the time with Robert Helpmann as Associate Director. Anne Woolliams was Artistic Director for 1976/77 during which time she produced two of John Cranko’s greatest works for the company, Romeo and Juliet and Onegin, which she brought with her from the Stuttgart Ballet. Dame Peggy van Praagh returned as Artistic Director for 12 months in 1978 and was followed by a former ballerina of the company, Marilyn Jones, in 1979. She founded The Dancers Company as a second company comprising graduating students of The Australian Ballet School and dancers from The Australian Ballet; it tours Australia annually. Maina Gielgud was The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director from 1983 to 1996. Under her guidance the company extended its contemporary repertoire and grew in strength and international reputation. She also strongly encouraged works by Australian choreographers and appointed in 1995, Stephen Baynes and Stanton Welch as Resident Choreographers. Then in 1997 Ross Stretton returned to his alma mater after working in key artistic posts in the US, bringing with him a vision of creativity, energy and passion.
The company’s present Artistic Director, David McAllister, was appointed in 2001 following Ross Stretton’s move to The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden. A former student of The Australian Ballet School and Principal Artist with the company, David has moved from Principal Artist to Artistic Director with the same poise and enthusiasm which characterised his years as one of their leading dancers.
All of these Artistic Directors have worked to make The Australian Ballet not only one of the busiest ballet companies in the world, but an outstanding ambassador for Australia on its visits to world ballet centres in Europe, Asia and America. Versatility, technical excellence and a warm, friendly style are the trademarks of The Australian Ballet, qualities that have earned both critical and audience acclaim here and overseas. These qualities keep the company in such demand that its ensemble of dancers present over 180 performances annually both in Australia and abroad.
Alongside an established body of the great ballet classics, the company presents modern repertoire created by Australian and major international choreographers. The works of Australians Stephen Baynes, Stanton Welch, Graeme Murphy and Natalie Weir are presented alongside those by major international choreographers Jiri Kylián, Nacho Duato, Glen Tetley, Maurice Béjart, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, John Cranko, William Forsythe, James Kudelka and Kenneth MacMillan.
The title of Principal Artist is the highest honour the company can bestow. Their dancers are supported by professional and enthusiastic ballet, music and technical staff, and a company management team in which every member plays a part in taking ballet to the Australian and world stages.
The secret of The Australian Ballet’s international reputation is not hard to find. It lies partly in a repertoire that gives scope to the many talents in the company as well as in the quality of its dancing. As John Percival, dance critic of The Times (London) and editor of Dance & Dancers stated, “This is a company with a spirit of its own, and one that is very easy to like and enjoy”.