Stephen Heathcote and David McAllister in The Merry Widow, photo Kate Longley
AN EVENING IN BLACK TIE WITH DAVID McALLISTER AM
In recognition of your ongoing support of The Friends of The Australian Ballet we invite you and your household to join us for a very special virtual evening celebrating The Australian Ballet’s The Merry Widow (proudly brought to you by The Australian Ballet’s jewellery partner Van Cleef & Arpels).
In an online event curated especially for our ballet community, you will be treated to a live in-conversation between Artistic Director David McAllister and Principal Dancers Amber Scott and Adam Bull who dance the lead roles in this version of the show-stopping production.
You will then be invited to view a screening of The Merry Widow via The Australian Ballet’s Ballet TV.
Friday 14 August
7pm Discussion and Q&A
David McAllister, Amber Scott and Adam Bull in conversation, introduced by Kenneth Watkins, The Australian Ballet’s Philanthropy Director
7.45pm The Merry Widow
RSVP by Tuesday 11 August
Event access details will be provided at 5pm Friday 14 August
Once upon a time, the people of the world looked to costumes as the dictators of fashion trends. It’s hard to believe that the extravagant gowns and accessories could be adapted in everyday life, however, in 1907, the fashion of “The Merry Widow” crossed into the mainstream consciousness.
Ever heard of a Merry Widow hat?
The operetta premiered on Broadway in 1907, in a time where women sported a tailored, hour-glass figure with a flowing skirt. However, the heroine, Hanna Glawari, contrasted the simplistic, natural look with a large, circular hat, covered in swathes of gauzy chiffon and white ostrich feathers.
If you are under the impression that this hat is a little bit extravagant, you may be interested to learn that it is fairly understated in comparison to the “trendy hats” it inspired.
There was no mistaking it- The Merry Widow created a cultural phenomenon of hat-wearing, with these hats becoming a symbol of wealth and class. The base widths of the hats varied, with most usually stretching to 45cm, however, there was no restrictions in the height of the hats. Although Ostrich feathers complemented the look nicely, the hats were also decorated with flowers, and sometimes sprinkled with a couple stuffed birds.
A parody post card of “The Merry Widow Hat” c.1908
The hats grew to be a sign of class and wealth.
Lily Elsie, the original Hanna, in a “Merry Widow Hat”
Hats aside, The Merry Widow and the composer, Franz Lehár, became a global phenomenon internationally, travelling from Austria to the UK, and even to Broadway in the US. Bearing in mind the difficultly in touring productions in the eras before air travel, it is quite remarkable how the show was able to migrate into various countries, languages and cultures, yet still leave a lasting cultural imprint. For example, it is believed that Lehár’s storyline in The Merry Widow sparked a new demand for Viennese Waltz Operas in the States over the next decade. Moreover, Lehár’s work also paved the way for a new wave of Viennese Operettas, which would centre two constantly battling lovers who would hide their feelings from the other, until, they reveal their attraction in the last scene.
It’s remarkable how this story has been continually shared over the last 100 years. The Australian Ballet’s most recent adaptation is a great spectacle of talent, colour and intricate design. However, once you learn of the quirky backstory of this ballet, so many small details in the costuming, such as the odd Ostrich feather here and there, are suddenly highlighted in your eye.
Hanna’s Famous Hat, Adam Bull and Amber Scott (Jeff Busby)
Belle Urwin performing in Coppélia during The Australian Ballet’s 2019 Regional Tour, photo by Lynette Wills, courtesy of The Australian Ballet
With Coppélia taking centre stage on Ballet TV, we reached out to Belle Urwin, recipient of the 2019 FAB Australian Ballet School Scholarship and new member of The Australian Ballet company. Last year Belle was part of The Australian Ballet’s Regional Tour of Coppélia so we asked for her thoughts on all things Coppélia, touring with The Australian Ballet and what this year has been like for her so far.
Tell us a little about your experience of performing in Coppélia?
Coppélia was a ballet I had never performed before so it made this experience even more rewarding. I was lucky enough to be selected by both Lisa Pavane and David McAllister to take on the difficult role of the “Prayer” solo. Whilst in Albury, David McAllister visited to watch us perform and offered some useful tips and advice that he said helped Robyn Hendricks master those penches. I also enjoyed performing other roles such as “Hours”, “Mazurka” and “Spanish Doll”.
Do you have a favourite character or moment in Coppélia?
I particularly loved watching the wedding pas de deux performed by Swanilda and Franz in Act 2, as it was such a challenging pas de deux to execute, which they always made look easy. I also loved the “Doll scene” at the beginning of Act 2 where all the dolls come to life. It was always an entertaining scene that would get the audience laughing and even us dolls too! (Luckily we were wearing masks that covered our smiles)
What was touring regionally like with The Australian Ballet?
What I loved most about touring regionally was exploring these beautiful locations I would have never probably visited if not on tour. It was so gratifying to know that our presence in these small towns meant so much to these people and for me that made performing for them even more special.
I felt this tour was extremely well organised and I was always well prepared for what each location was like. Luckily I had prepared myself in terms of cooking my own meals previous to going on tour as a lot of people were forced to resort to 2 minute noodles!!
Where exactly did you go on the tour?
We started with a long drive to Griffith (NSW), then Wagga Wagga, Shepparton, Albury and Warragul (VIC). From there we flew to Tanunda and finished off in Mount Gambier (SA).
Do you have any favourite or funny moments from last year’s tour?
One of my favourite moments on tour was when one of my classmates was performing the role of the ‘Coppélia Doll’ in the opening scene. It was when she started performing her ‘doll-like’ movements that her headdress got stuck in the netting of the balcony and she couldn’t move! Thankfully Dr Coppelius came to the rescue and the show went on as it always does.
What are you currently focusing on or looking forward to in the world of ballet?
Putting current circumstances aside, I look forward to being welcomed into The Australian Ballet family and to further my relationships with my fellow colleagues and staff members. I am excited for what the future holds especially with the new director David Hallberg taking over next year. Being so fresh into the company I haven’t been able to form a connection with Mr Hallberg yet but look forward to working under his leadership and his strategy for the future direction of the company.
How have you found working from home during the COVID-19 period? What challenges have you faced and what have you enjoyed?
Due to Covid-19, I have spent my time isolating in Sydney with family. My two sisters returned from their studies in New Zealand to also isolate in Sydney, so what used to be a peaceful household of three quickly turned into a chaotic household of six! It was lovely to have the family back together again as it was the longest period of time I had been home since moving out at the age of 14.
I decided to isolate in Sydney mainly because of space issues I had back in Melbourne as I share an apartment with two other TAB dancers in a small apartment.
What I have struggled with during this time is not having the resources and equipment available to me to maintain the level of strength and fitness that I was at before lockdown. In addition to this, although TAB generously gave each dancer a square metre of tarkett, I have struggled to adapt to this change of working in a much smaller space.
On the bright side, The Australian Ballet have done an amazing job of keeping us all connected, especially us first years, ranging from phone calls twice a week to check in on our physical and mental wellbeing to online cooking classes where we have fun getting to know each other as well as learn how to cook delicious meals!
I look forward to finally working in the studios again and although it has been a very interesting start to my ballet career it is definitely one I will never forget!
A VIRTUAL NIGHT AT THE BALLET
GRAEME MURPHY’S SWAN LAKE
In recognition of your ongoing support of The Friends of The Australian Ballet we invite you and your household to join us for
The Australian Ballet’s inaugural online event, A Virtual Night at the Ballet.
You will be treated to a live and interactive pre-performance talk with creator Graeme Murphy AO where we will explore his legendary production of
Swan Lake, followed by a screening of the performance via The Australian Ballet’s Ballet TV.
Thursday 2 July
7pm Pre-Performance Talk and Q&A
Hosted by Brooke Lockett with Special Guest Graeme Murphy AO
7.30pm Swan Lake
Your finest video conference attire
RSVP by Monday 29 June
Event access details will be emailed to guests at 5pm Thursday 2 July.
Ella Havelka during The Australian Ballet’s 2016 Swan Lake tour in Beijing, photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Ella Havelka is a Wiradjuri woman and the first Indigenous dancer to join The Australian Ballet. Describing an old video tape of Swan Lake as the initial inspiration for her journey through dance and ballet, Ella began dancing in Dubbo before joining The Australian Ballet School in 2007. After graduating from ABS, she danced with Bangarra until 2012, appearing in Mathinna, of earth & sky, Belong, Spirit and Terrain. In 2012, Ella performed in Australia and New York with Bangarra and The Australian Ballet in Warumuk – in the dark night, a collaborative work created by Stephen Page for The Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary celebrations. She joined The Australian Ballet in 2013. In 2016, Ella was the subject of an eponymously titled documentary centring on her dance journey, which was released at the Melbourne International Film Festival. In 2019 Ella guested with Bangarra for its 30th anniversary program; she was named most outstanding dancer in Dance Australia Magazine for her performance in Jiří Kylián’s Stamping Ground, part of that program.
During Reconciliation Week this year, Fashion Journal chatted to Ella about her career and the different worlds of working with both The Australian Ballet and Bangarra. Read the interview here.
If you want more Ella, listen to her conversation with Libby Gore on the ABC’s This Weekend Life here.
We asked Benedicte Bernet at The Australian Ballet about her favourite indulgent treat. She eagerly offered up her ultimate choc chip cookie recipe for members to enjoy. Why not whip up a batch and sit back with a cookie and a cup to tea to listen to Benedicte discuss life as a principal dancer on the Offline Podcast.
Benedicte’s Choc Chip Cookies
½ cup granulated sugar(100 g)
¾ cup brown sugar(165 g), packed
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter(115 g), melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour(155 g)
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 oz milk or semi-sweet chocolate chunks(110 g)
4 oz dark chocolate chunk(110 g), or your preference
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, salt, and butter until a paste forms with no lumps.
- Whisk in the egg and vanilla, beating until light ribbons fall off the whisk and remain for a short while before falling back into the mixture.
- Sift in the flour and baking soda, then fold the mixture with a spatula. Be careful not to overmix, which would cause the gluten in the flour to toughen resulting in cakier cookies.
- Fold in the chocolate chunks, then chill the dough for at least 30 minutes*. For a more intense toffee-like flavor and deeper color, chill the dough overnight. The longer the dough rests, the more complex its flavor will be.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Scoop the dough with an ice-cream scoop onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, leaving at least 10 cm of space between cookies and 5 cm of space from the edges of the pan so that the cookies can spread evenly.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges have started to barely brown.
- Cool completely before serving.
*Chilling the dough is crucial for a ‘chewy on the inside yet crunchy on the outside’ cookie!
Offline Podcast with Benedicte Bernet
Offline is a podcast series of honest conversations between host Alison and the people she finds inspiring. Alison’s conversation with Benedicte dives deep into the emotional and physical labour of pursuing ballet, as well as into Benedicte’s own struggles with injury and her relationship with her body.
Now you’ve made your cookies, settle down and listen to Benedicte discuss the finer details of a life lived in pointe shoes.
Click here to listen.