top: Colin Peasley, Kelvin Coe and Barry Moreland, East Melbourne studios 1964. Photo Terry Phelan
bottom: The Australian Ballet, Fitzroy studios 1964
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 five decades The Australian Ballet has been the defining the face of ballet in our country. It gave its first performance in 1962, building on a strong and rich tradition of ballet in Australia and the efforts of many dedicated pioneers in ballet and dance.
The company's founding Artistic Director Peggy van Praagh brought with her initiative, exacting standards and dedication, enabling The Australian Ballet to flourish and achieve international status early in life.
The Principal Artists in The Australian Ballet's first season were Kathleen Gorham, Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch, all stars from the Borovansky Ballet. Ballet Master was Ray Powell, on loan from The Royal Ballet, and Ballet Teacher was Leon Kellaway, who first came to Australia with the Pavlova company. The repertoire was based firmly 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 he regularly toured with the company. In 1972 he directed and performed Don Quixote with The Australian Ballet, described by many critics as the finest classical ballet film ever produced.
Peggy van Praagh laid down two essential requirements for the young company: that it must have its own school (established in 1964 under the direction of Margaret Scott) and that dancers must be offered the security of year-round contracts. Through the consistent excellence of The Australian Ballet School and 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, with Robert Helpmann as Artistic Director for much of the time. Anne Woolliams was Artistic Director from 1976 to 1977 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. Jones founded The Dancers Company as a second company, comprised of graduating students of The Australian Ballet School and dancers from The Australian Ballet. It tours Australia annually to this day.
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 Stephen Baynes and Stanton Welch as Resident Choreographers in 1995. 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 moved from Principal Artist to Artistic Director with the same poise and enthusiasm which characterised his years as a leading dancer.
All of these Artistic Directors have worked to make The Australian Ballet one of the busiest ballet companies in the world and 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. The company presents over 200 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 Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato, Glen Tetley, Maurice Béjart, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, John Cranko, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Christopher Wheeldon and Kenneth MacMillan.
The Australian Ballet's 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.
For The Australian Ballet's history in moments and pictures, visit The Australian Ballet Story.