Pointe Shoe Room, Photo Kate Longley
To support our company of around 70 dancers, The Australian Ballet employs over a hundred people in other departments including company management, marketing, publicity, music, healthcare, production and technical, as well as dance teachers and coaches.
Behind The Australian Ballet's dancers is a talented artistic team who help guide their performances into greatness. Read more.
Dancers can only perform at their best when they are fit and injury free, and our full-time medical team makes sure dancers stay that way. The team is made up of physiotherapists, masseurs, a general practitioner, sports doctors, surgeons, a rehabilitation facilitator, pilates instructors and consultant dieticians and psychology counsellors. Company dancers are encouraged to visit the physiotherapist at the first sign of pain or muscle cramps so the problem can be treated before it becomes an injury. Massage is an excellent way to relieve tired and overused muscles. If a dancer does suffer an injury their recovery is closely monitored before they re-commence dancing. Our physiotherapist and rehabilitation facilitator will create a special program of exercises to prepare the dancer for return to daily class, rehearsal and performance. The Australian Ballet gives approximately 200 performances each year both locally and internationally. Physiotherapists and masseurs travel with the dancers so they can receive medical treatment around the clock all year long.
The costumes you see on stage are manufactured by the extremely talented production department at the Australian Ballet Centre in Melbourne. Costumes are responsible for the 'look' of the ballet, setting the period of the work and establishing the mood of the choreography. Once the choreographer and the artistic director approve the costume designs, the purchasing coordinator searches for the most suitable materials. The head costumier then begins by making a sample costume in calico before the actual costumes are cut and sewn. It's a process that can take months – Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake required a total of 280 costumes, and each of those costumes took approximately 40 hours to construct, not including the time it takes to make the accompanying headdresses and jewellery.
Photo Jess Bialek
Choreographers choose their set designers according to how they want their ballet to look and what reaction they hope to provoke in audiences. When the designer presents their ideas to the production team, the design might be a thumbnail sketch or a detailed set model. Technical drawings are made for every piece of scenery, because if it doesn't work on paper, it won't work on stage. Every set is made to fit on both the State Theatre stage in Melbourne, which is large, and the Opera Theatre stage in Sydney, which is comparatively quite small. If a production fits both of these stages, it will fit into any major theatre in Australia. Construction and painting of the scenery is undertaken by specialist manufacturers including the team at Showworks.
The way the lighting designer uses light is important because it sets the mood and feeling of the ballet. Lighting also enhances costumes, scenery, and dancers' skin tones. A well-lit stage is an extension of the dancers' performance, and it should never overpower or take away from the performer unless it's intended to be part of the action. A lighting plan is designed for each new ballet. The lighting designer works closely with the choreographer and costume and scenery designers, attending early rehearsals to understand the action and the mood. The final lighting plan is computerised to record every lighting detail in relation to the action on stage. The stage manager will then control lighting cues during the performance, helping the lighting board operator ensure the lights change exactly as plotted.
About a month before the company moves into any theatre, the stage manager sends a technical schedule to the theatre's management with the daily requirements of the company, including the type of technical staff needed. During actual performances, the stage manager sits on the right-hand side of the stage, traditionally called 'prompt' corner. Once the audience are in their seats, the stage manager is in control of the performance – the public announcements; the lowering and raising of the curtain; calling scenery and lighting cues; and ensuring all runs smoothly. The assistant stage manager keeps constant watch on everything that happens in the wings, making sure the dancers are ready and waiting, that they have the correct props, and that entrances to the stage are clear for performers entering and exiting.
Company management's main job is to plan and manage The Australian Ballet's touring schedule right across the country and overseas. The team is made up of the director of operations who oversees the work of the management group; a travel and freight coordinator who makes around 800 bookings for flights, accommodation or hire cars each year; and an operations coordinator who makes sure that contracts are in place for each venue and for everyone coming to work for the company (such as guest teachers, choreographers, designers and artists, orchestras, conductors), as well as securing all performing rights. There is also an administrations assistant, two company managers, and an assistant company manager. Before the company arrives at each theatre an enormous amount of information is sent ahead: what is needed in the theatre office; dress rehearsal, performance and education program times and requirements; how many programme sellers and ushers are required; and even the temperature of the air-conditioning. This allows the company to be up and running from the first day it arrives.
How do stories about The Australian Ballet make their way into newspapers and magazines, and on to radio, TV and the internet? There is a team of dedicated people whose sole job it is to spread the word about The Australian Ballet and all its activities. The publicists' job is to keep our dancers in people's minds, to educate our audiences, have our performances critically reviewed, but above all to encourage people to come to our performances. The Australian Ballet presents as many as 22 seasons in one year, totalling over 200 performances. For every season, a publicity campaign begins about three months before opening night. Publicists are often working on as many as three or four campaigns in different states at the same time. They continually find fresh ways to make sure news about the company is reaching the public.
The Australian Ballet's marketing team is responsible for advertising and promoting the company's performances to entice people to come along. Ballet productions are varied and marketing a classic full-length ballet like The Sleeping Beauty is different to selling a contemporary program of three different ballets. Advertising is an expensive business so campaigns are carefully planned up to a year in advance to ensure the greatest possible ticket sales. The marketing department works closely with the publicity department.
There is a very good reason why The Australian Ballet has partnerships with other companies. To stay in business, The Australian Ballet needs more money than it earns from selling tickets. Telstra has been the company's Principal Sponsor for over a decade, and has had a partnership with The Australian Ballet for 30 years. When the Ballet performs overseas, Australian sponsors help us with the cost of touring, including shipping sets and costumes and flying dancers and the touring party. In return, the sponsors are connected with a very successful Australian company overseas.
Each year The Australian Ballet asks its subscribers and audience if they would like to become a patron and help the company by donating to something special. It could be helping to buy pointe shoes, tutus or men's tights and boots. People can also contribute to the life of the ballet by leaving a gift in their will. The money is placed in a special endowment fund where the interest earned is spent on special activities, like helping create new ballets, staging international tours, or encouraging exchange programs for the dancers to work with other companies.