How did ‘The Merry Widow’ Shape the Early 1900’s?

How did ‘The Merry Widow’ Shape the Early 1900’s?

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)




A Virtual Night at the Ballet

A Virtual Night at the Ballet


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

Dress Code
Your finest video conference attire


RSVP by Monday 29 June


Event access details will be emailed to guests at 5pm Thursday 2 July.
Andrew Wright on Ballet TV’s Triple Bill Program

Andrew Wright on Ballet TV’s Triple Bill Program

The Australian Ballet has introduced a Triple Bill Program to Ballet TV.


Andrew Wright
Courtesy of the Australian Ballet

 The Australian Ballet’s, Andrew Wright, Planned Giving and Patrons Representative, shares his insights on the upcoming triple bill program, featuring on Ballet TV.  

After retiring from a 15-year career on stage with The Australian Ballet, Andrew joined the Philanthropy Team in 2019.  A proud long-time company member, Andrew shares his unique experience as a dancer and draws on his knowledge of the upcoming works. He invites you to enjoy the Triple Bill Program. Available to view Thursday 14 May to Thursday 28 May. 

Read Andrew’s thoughts on each piece, before watching on Ballet TV!





Triple Bill Program:  Dyad 1929 (McGregor), Warumuk (Page),  Narrative of Nothing (Murphy) 

Dyad 1929 (McGregor) 


DYAD 1929
Artists of The Australian Ballet
Photography by Branco Gaica


Commissioned for the Concord triple bill as part of the 2009 season, this creation was the first work performed by The Australian Ballet by then emerging choreographer, Wayne McGregorThis work went on to be presented by the company at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of the 50th Anniversary Tour in 2012.


I vividly recall this creation process as the most mentally and physically challenging one of my career. McGregor’s movement vocabulary was like nothing we had ever done before. His work demands every ounce of body and mind. The synergy between being highly cognitive and physically pushing the body’s boundaries of physical extremes – flexibility, strength and dynamics – is truly stuff that fuels a dancers’ soul. Set to Steve Reich’s pulse-pounding score – Double Sextet – and it’s monochromatic and geometric design, Dyad 1929 is a sleek, modern and thrilling performance experience for audiences. McGregor choreographs a kiss into each of his works – so keep an eye out for where it is in Dyad 1929! 


Warumuk (Stephen Page) 


Vivienne Wong with Artists of the Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre
Photography by Lynette Wills


A collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre with choreography by Stephen Page, Warumuk was the final piece in the Infinity triple bill in 2012. This new work was also presented in New York City at Lincoln Center alongside Dyad 1929 in the Luminous program.  


Based on Aboriginal astronomy, Warumuk moved from the Evening Star to the Morning Star exploring the myths that resonate within the night sky and the myriad of stories of the galaxy. The piece featured dancers from both companies performing, coming together, inspired by Aboriginal culture and exploring these astronomical myths through contemporary dance. 


Jennifer Irwin was the designer of the exquisite costumes which incorporated carefully selected body paint. Vivienne Wong particularly shimmers in her costume as The Evening Star. The score composed by David Page, is mix of soundscape and orchestral instruments proving a stirring and moving experience and celebrates the resilience of Aboriginal songs and languages. 


Narrative of Nothing (Murphy) 


Narrative of Nothing
Artists of The Australian Ballet
Photography by Lynette Wills


This work opened the Infinity triple bill, commencing the 2012 season, beginning celebrations for the company’s 50th Anniversary Season. Well-known to us all, choreographer Graeme Murphy’s idea for the piece was the notion that audiences, when confronted with the abstract, will map their own narrative on to what they see – hence it’s title, Narrative of Nothing.  


The work has Graeme’s signature sculpturing of bodies to create landscapes, incorporating dynamic movement sequences showcasing individual dancers virtuostic talents. It’s set to Brett Dean’s Fire Music score, written as a response to the Black Saturday bushfires that devasted Australia’s East Coast in 2009.  


The white unitard costumes were created by Jennifer Irwin, each possessing a unique hand painted design of purples, blues and black with sparsely spaced sequins that emphasised movement as they reflected the light. On opening night, we each received a ‘chookas’ card with a segment of the unique design from our own personal costume painted on the front from Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. A lovely personal touch and keepsake! 



Friends of the Australian Ballet extend our sincere thanks to Andrew Wright, Planned Giving and Patrons Representative at The Australian Ballet for so generously sharing these wonderful experiences and insights with FAB members. Watch the Triple Bill now on Ballet TV.


Cinderella – The next gift from Ballet TV

Cinderella – The next gift from Ballet TV

The smash hit Cinderella is our next treat to you as part of The Australian Ballet’s digital season on Ballet TV.

Master choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella is now live and free to stream for the next two weeks. Created especially for The Australian Ballet in 2013, this Cinderella is full of surprises. Witty, vibrant, glamorous and romantic, Ratmansky’s acclaimed production will sweep you off your feet.

Starring Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello, this production was filmed in 2016 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

With all the elements of the fairy tale we know and love – a feisty heroine, a dashing prince, a kindly godmother and a deliciously wicked stepmother – there’s no better way to escape to another world. A heart-fluttering romance that’s the perfect fit for a cosy night in.

Click here to begin watching. 


A Dance with the Stepsisters: Jacqueline Clark, Tyson Powell, Corey Herbert, Cameron Holmes and Artists of The Australian Ballet. Photo Jeff Busby.


The Australian Ballet recently launched  Ballet TV, including free streaming of cinematic-quality recorded performances of past seasons*.

While theatres are closed, the newly launched At Home with Ballet TV brings the joy and wonderment of dance to our audiences in the comfort of their own home, delivering some much-needed ballet magic.

This five-month digital season of quality production recordings, danced by The Australian Ballet, draws from a carefully curated selection of treasured works, including all-time classics and ballet’s finest romantic productions.

David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty was the first production to launch and streamed for two weeks from Sunday 5 April. The second and third productions to launch on At Home with Ballet TV are Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (17 April  to 1 May), followed by Graeme Murphy’s Romeo & Juliet (1 May to 15 May).


Artists of The Australian Ballet, courtesy of The Australian Ballet


To follow, Coppélia, Manon, Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake and more will keep home dwellers entertained.

We’re all at home – but we’re all together. And together, we’ll dance our way through.

Click here to begin watching.

*International copyright restrictions mean we offer free access to the 2020 Digital Season within Australia.

Ballet TV – A very special season with a difference

Ballet TV – A very special season with a difference

We are delighted to share the very exciting news that The Australian Ballet has launched Ballet TV’. We encourage you all to bask in the superb free digital season that will beam premium-quality productions right to your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Ballet is powerful magic. It can draw you out of your lounge room and into forests, castles and starry skies. Escape the everyday and feel the freedom and exhilaration of unbridled leaps and lifts.

The Sleeping Beauty by The Australian Ballet is available to watch until 5pm Friday 17 April. Each ballet will be available free of charge for two weeks*. Click here to begin watching.

Free cinema-quality digital season brings full-length performances to Australians at home:

The Sleeping Beauty (David McAllister)
Sun 5 April – Fri 17 April

Cinderella (Alexei Ratmansky)
Fri 17 April – Fri 1 May

Romeo & Juliet (Graeme Murphy)
Fri 1 May – Fri 15 May

With many more to be announced …

David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty is a reawakened classic that will sweep you off your feet, from the hand-sewn, Swarovski-embroidered tutus, to the grandiose ballrooms and forests skittering with fairies and princesses, that seem to float in fast-paced intricate movements.


Artists of The Australian Ballet, photography Daniel Boud


In 2017 the Friends of the Australian Ballet NSW were appointed the official custodians of The Lilac Fairy character. This appointment came about thanks to your generous ongoing support of our organisation – through donations, fundraising and your pure love of ballet. We are delighted that our valued members can now share in some ‘Lilac Fairy magic’ in their own homes with Ballet TV’.


Amber Scott as the Lilac Fairy, photography Justin Ridley


Watch your lounge room melt away as magical forests, royal castles and country villages construct themselves around you. Jeté alongside forest nymphs and cheeky fairies as they protect you from evil spirits and wicked step-parents. And the best part is, there’s no need to rush home at midnight!

Click here to begin watching.


*International copyright restrictions mean we offer free access to the 2020 Digital Season within Australia.