Jane Douglass AM, a great advocate for the performing arts, passed away on Monday 19 July. Some members may remember Jane for her role in organising the 2009 premiere of Mao’s Last Dancer in Sydney for The Friends.
Greg Khoury, FAB Chair, has shared a touching tribute to Jane.
From Greg Khoury
It is with much sadness that I advise that Jane Douglass AM died peacefully in Sydney surrounded by her family.
Some of you will remember Jane and her husband Gordon.
Jane and Gordon were great advocates of the live arts, dance and ballet in particular. Jane and Gordon were instrumental in the production of the film of Don Quixote in July 1973, considered to this day to be the best film of a ballet ever. The world premiere was also the first event in the Sydney Opera House and the first official event of the Friends of The Australian Ballet (NSW).
In 2009, I had the great pleasure of working alongside Jane Douglass when at Kenneth’s invitation she agreed to take up the Chair of Mao’s Last Dancer Gala Committee with other stalwart supporters including Vicki Jones and Ros Packer. The Premiere at the State Theatre and Gala Reception at the Swissotel raised more money in one night than we had raised in 4 years and was hugely enjoyed and a great profile builder which showed how well FAB could drive a major event with the right people at the fore.
Personally, I had great satisfaction in working with Jane Douglass and her circle of indefatigable, uncompromising women, each of whom brough their own flair, style and elan, expertise and humour to the table. I have several wonderful stories!! Jane became affectionally known as “Chairman Mao”!
Jane was known for her determination, stoicism and conviction all underpinned by her love of the Ballet and the Company. She was a generous supporter at all levels. She was a force of nature and I admired and respected her, and enjoyed a continuing friendship with her ever since. Her daughter Sybella has taken on the mantle of her mother and father and is a lover and supporter of the Company alongside her own charities for women that she supports.
We extend to Sybella, her brother Hamish and Jane’s entire family our condolences. We have lost an extraordinary woman with a grand, independent spirit who also had an immediacy and naturalness that I and all her knew Jane, shall miss.
Over the last two years The Australian Ballet has worked with ABC TV on an exciting series that charts the Company’s history. And We Danced reveals the key moments that shaped The Australian Ballet, and tells the story of the people whose passion and dedication continue to drive the Company forward today. Featuring rarely seen footage from The Australian Ballet’s archive, the series also delves into what has made The Ballet so uniquely Australian.
Australia’s fever for ballet began in the early 20th century with the arrival of the Ballet Russes, who inspired the establishment of Australia’s first professional ballet company – the Borovansky Ballet. Despite outstanding success with audiences, the life of the company was short lived. It wasn’t until the arrival and foresight of British dancer Peggy van Praagh – who took over the sinking company – that the future of ballet in the country looked up.
A successful campaign to government in 1964 led to the establishment of Australia’s first professional dance company: The Australian Ballet. The company’s debut of adored classic Swan Lake was a resounding success, but the early decades were far from smooth sailing. A failed tour to New Zealand, over-worked dancers and industrial action threatened the fledgling company as it tried to carve out its own unique cultural identity.
The early seventies saw the celebrated arrival of a new mode of contemporary dance and the company’s iconic production of Rudolph Nureyev’s Don Quixote, an extravaganza that would herald the greatest ballet film of all time.
Episode 2, Act 2 1980 – 1999
In the 1980s, The Australian Ballet’s audience was broader than ever before. But the long simmering tensions between belt-tightening and creative risk were about to come to a head. In 1981 the dancers staged an iconic strike, demanding to be paid according to skill and rank.
Shortly after, the artistic appointment of British dancer Maina Gielgud finally brought together the creative and business sides of the company. What followed was a harmonious period of rebuilding and a focus on cultivating the company’s many young dancers, such as David McAllister, Steven Heathcote, Elizabeth Toohey and Fiona Tonkin.
Inspired by the company’s youth, the early nineties saw daring, sexy and provocative ballets that pushed the limits of physicality and tradition. Spartacus, and Stanton Welch’s Divergence showed a new edge and revolutionised the ballet’s public image.
The period also saw the arrival of Australia’s most highly regarded choreographer Graeme Murphy and the company’s first collaboration with choreographer Stephen Page of Bangarra Dance Company.
Ross Stretton took over the artistic direction in 1997. Remote and reclusive, his approach was not endeared by some, though no one could deny his artistic strengths. By the end of the decade, the repertoire was becoming increasingly contemporary, increasingly Australian and increasingly risky.
Episode 3, Act 1 2000 – 2020
In the third and final episode of And We Danced, The Australian Ballet enters the new millennium with a bold creative appointment. Fresh from the dancer’s ranks and with no prior leadership experience, David McAllister became artistic director of The Australian Ballet in 2001.
His daring first commission was Graeme Murphy’s adaptation of Swan Lake, inspired by the love triangle between Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Camilla. It was an unprecedented success, becoming a signature piece for the company and securing the future of the company in McAllister’s hands.
Further collaborations with Stephen Page and Bangarra Dance Company, and the recruitment of Ella Halvelka, The Australian Ballet’s first Indigenous dancer, cemented the company’s commitment to represent a diversity of stories and cultures that reflect Australian society more widely.
With success of large-scale crowd-pleasers such as Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty alongside more experimental works it appeared that the balance between financial viability and creative risk had been struck.
After twenty years at the helm of the company, McAllister propelled The Australian Ballet into the 21st century on and off the stage. In 2021, ballet’s popularity is as great as ever. With the recent appointment of international superstar David Hallberg as the eighth Artistic Director the ballet looks forward to a new future as one of our preeminent cultural institutions.
AN UNMISSABLE FESTIVAL OF DANCE MELBOURNE 24 SEPT – 2 OCT
This September, dance companies from around Australia will gather at Arts Centre Melbourne for a festival experience like no other.
DanceX is a brand new, two-part festival conceived and curated by The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David Hallberg that will showcase the depth, range and diversity of the nation’s dance community. Bringing audiences brand new commissions, Australian premieres and excerpts from some of the most popular dance works of the last year, DanceX is an unmissable experience for culture-lovers of all kinds.
Eight companies – The Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc, Australian Dance Theatre, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet – will perform in two parts, marking the first coming-together of these companies in many years.
The Australian Ballet will perform in both parts, presenting the Australian premiere of Johan Inger’s comic, romantic dance theatre piece I New Then, set to songs by Van Morrison; Inger, a Swedish choreographer, danced with Nederlands Dans Theater and has made works for leading companies all over Europe.
DanceX is an opportunity for audiences to experience diverse works from Australia’s leading dance companies, celebrating and paying tribute to the richness of Australia’s dance community. As well as initiating and presenting DanceX, The Australian Ballet has commissioned two companies, Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin Inc, to create brand new works.
PART ONE | 24 – 27 SEPTEMBER
The Australian Ballet | New Then A comic, romantic dance theatre piece set to songs by Van Morrison.
Queensland Ballet | Glass ConcertoAn assemblage of high energy, dynamic and emotional movement, Glass Concerto will captivate and inspire audiences.
Sydney Dance Company | ab [intra] (excerpt)From tenderness to turmoil, ab [intra] is a journey through the intensity of human existence that will command your attention.
Lucy Guerin Inc | How To Be Us* A duet for two women on the limits of freedom.
Bangarra Dance Theatre | Ochres and Walkabout (excerpts) Three powerful, spiritual and grounded excerts from Bangarra’s seminal works Ochres (1995) and Walkabout (2002).
Duration: approx. 146 mins (including two intervals)
PART TWO | 30 SEPTEMBER – 2 OCTOBER
Australian Dance Theatre | The Beginning of Nature (excerpt)The Beginning of Nature explores the complex symphony of overlapping rhythms that constitute the very fabric of nature.
Chunky Move | AB_TA_ Response* AB_TA_Response explores the rhythm of forms between dance and design and considers the dialogue between biological and technological systems.
West Australian Ballet | 4SeasonsThe stages of life and love – the youth of spring, storms of summer, tenderness of autumn and the aging of winter.
The Australian Ballet | New ThenA comic, romantic dance theatre piece set to songs by Van Morrison.
Duration: approx. 124 mins (including two intervals)