Vale Jane Douglass AM

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.

Vale Wilma Russell

Wilma with Lisa Pavane at a Chairman’s Dinner in 2018

Many of our members will be sad to learn of the passing of Wilma Russel, a long-standing Friends member, on 13 March 2021. Wilma was a fixture at many Friends events, from high teas to race day events and will be missed by many in our ballet family.

Life members Robert McCormack AM and Alan Jackson have both written tributes to Wilma, sharing some of their memories.

From Robert McCormack

Wilma was a one-off and an absolute devotee of all things Ballet. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge, not only of the history and times of The Australian Ballet Company, but also of the history of the growth of the art of ballet in Australia.

Wilma was one of the first members of the Friends I met when I joined the Council in 1990. We became fast friends from that moment on. She was a wonderful and loyal supporter of all of the many functions and activities of the Friends and was always an eager attendee at all of them, especially those that were held at my home in Potts Point.

To say that Wilma was a colourful personality would not do her justice – she was very sociable and stood out in a crowd. Above all, she loved being a Friend and being with her coterie of other like-minded Friends who loyally supported all our fund-raising efforts.

Although Wilma rarely spoke of her life beyond the Friends, I now know something of her background, in particular that she was a highly regarded, much valued expert needlewoman and had worked, for many years as a very valued member of the Wardrobe Department of The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust until she suffered an injury to one of her hands which prevented her from continuing in that vocation. This information accounts for the many, wonderfully stylish outfits in which she appeared on many occasions.

Wilma made no secret of her abiding love of her pet cats, upon which she lavished much love and caring attention.

Both Greg Khoury and I attended her quiet, but very moving, funeral on 24 March 2021, representing The Australian Ballet Company and the Friends. We were both delighted to meet many of the members of Wilma’s close and loving family along with several of her near neighbours, many of whom spoke in their eulogies, very movingly, of their love and respect and admiration of her.

Wilma’s love of all things to do with cats, moved her, with great delight, to attend so many performances of the 1984/85 Sydney Season of the production of the musical Cats that the Producer (Cameron Mackintosh – who was one of my clients at the time) invited Wilma to not only attend the final performance of the Season but also the Final Night Party afterwards, and also provided her with a limousine to pick her up and return her home, for the occasion. She was seated in the front row of the Theatre Royal and was presented, on stage with the cast, with a huge bouquet. I like to think that this would have been an unforgettable occasion for Wilma.

I, and the many others who knew her, will always remember Wilma as, not only a loyal and lovable eccentric, but, more importantly, as a deeply loyal Friend of the Australian Ballet who was loved by her family and many friends, of whom I respectfully, include myself.
– Robert McCormack AM.

From Alan Jackson

Wilma Russell was a long time member and supporter of  the Friends of The Australian Ballet and subscriber of The Australian Ballet.

Wilma would attend most of the Friends’ functions – the Friends’ talks, afternoon teas, lunches and dinners and the Race Days at Canterbury Park where one year she won most elegant lady award, wearing a bright red suit and matching red hat; she was so overcome to win the prize. Wilma also had another great love beside Ballet; it was her dear donkeys, which she sponsored to live out their old age with love and comfort.

Wilma will be missed.
– Alan Jackson Life Member of the Friends of The Australian Ballet

David McAllister receives RAD award

David McAllister receives RAD award

During The Friends farewell event to David McAllister on Wednesday 28 April, David was surprised when the event took a turn and became “David McAllister: This Is Your Life”.

Celebrating David McAllister AM was a joyous occasion including many special moments. The day of tribute culminated in the Royal Academy of Dance bestowing the internationally coveted Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award upon David McAllister AM in a touching ceremony.

“David McAllister: This Is Your Life” was hosted by Elizabeth Toohey, current Ballet Mistress of The Australian Ballet and long-term dance partner and close personal friend of David’s. Elizabeth delighted David with a line-up of guests either in person or by video who recounted charming and cheeky stories from David’s extraordinary career.

They included Don McAllister (David’s father) and Dianne Morris (David’s sister); Darren Spowart (an ex-dancer of The Australian Ballet and childhood friend of David); Maina Gielgud AO (former Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet and Ballet Director); Ian McRae AO and Richard Evans (past General Managers of The Australian Ballet); Graeme Murphy AO and Janet Vernon AM (internationally renowned Australian dance choreographers); and Wesley Enoch AM (David’s partner and outgoing Director of the Sydney Festival); followed by a message of Farewell from the Company (The Australian Ballet at Sydney Opera House).

The biggest surprise of the event was the presentation to David of the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, recognised internationally as one of the most sought-after in the world of dance and the highest honour from the Royal Academy of Dance. Bestowed in recognition of David’s dedication to The Australian Ballet for 40 years and for his wider contributions to the world of ballet including the Royal Academy of Dance where, in 2005, he was elected Vice President. Past recipients of the Award have included Sir Frederick Ashton, Dame Marie Rambert DBE, Rudolf Nureyev, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Sir Peter Wright CBE, Sir Matthew Bourne OBE, Maina Gielgud AO and Carlos Acosta CBE.

The Award was presented by Dame Darcey Bussell DBE and Audrey Nicholls OAM FRAD on behalf of the Royal Academy of Dance. Watch Dame Darcy announce David as the recipient of the award below. Bussell is widely acclaimed as one of the great British ballerinas, having been a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet and guest artist with many leading companies around the world including The Australian Ballet. She retired from ballet in 2007, is a former judge of BBC TV dance contest Strictly Come Dancing and President of the Royal Academy of Dance. Dame Darcey said “I am absolutely thrilled that David is receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, the highest honour the Royal Academy of Dance can bestow, given in recognition of outstanding service to the art of dance.”

This joyous celebration of David also raised over $150,000 for the McAllister Fund, ensuring David’s legacy of generosity will continue well into the future.

David spoke with ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly about the award and what it means to him. Listen here.


Ballet in Lockdown

Ballet in Lockdown

With March marking a year since the world went into lockdown and the cancellation of so many performances, we wanted to share some of our favourite ballet moments and look back at some of the ingenious ways dancers continued to perform.

Organized by Misty Copeland and Joseph Phillips Swans for Relief features 32 premier ballerinas from 22 dance companies in 14 countries perform Le Cygne (The Swan) variation sequentially with music by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by cellist Wade Davis.

The funds raised through this project were distributed to each dancer’s company’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Cinderella Games is the third original dance film directed and choreographed by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple – known collectively as Jess and Morgs – for the English National Ballet. 

The film takes inspiration from Christopher Wheeldon’s production of Cinderella, yet imagines the fairy-tale with an alternate ending: after the ball the real Cinderella was never found, and instead a sinister game show now exists in which contestants compete for its title.

Shot in the spectacular locations of the Royal Albert Hall and Kempton Steam Museum, the ENB recruited 35 inter-generational participants from a range of dance backgrounds to work alongside professional performers, Chihiro Kawasaki and Matthew Hawkins, giving them the opportunity to experience life on a professional film set, and to be involved in a ground-breaking dance for the camera project.

Message of support and thanks from the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet

The Dutch National Ballet and G-Star RAW join forces for a unique collaboration in which social distancing is visualised in a compelling way. 

In this choreography by Remi Wörtmeyer you see Kira Hilli dancing with an impressive 3-meter wide denim tutu. Together with Manu Kumar, she dances in the streets of Amsterdam and in the empty theatre on the music of Joris Voorn and Het Balletorkest

Orchestrated by Corey Baker for the BBC, elite dancers from across the globe create a modern-day Swan Lake from their own bathtub.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s famous swan theme, 27 ballet dancers from renowned dance companies across the globe perform a modern-day Swan Lake from their own home (filled) baths.

Swan Lake Bath Ballet was choreographed, filmed and post-produced completely remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. The quirky choreography was performed in baths from New Zealand to South Africa, America to Hong Kong, Australia to the UK

A beautiful compilation video of the Gently Quietly Project organised by the Dutch National Ballet

Peter Leung, young creative associate at Dutch National Ballet and filmmaker Altin Kaftira, created eleven short dance videos recorded at various deserted outdoor locations in Amsterdam during the lockdown.

And last but not least, from our own Australian Ballet, Wilis in Corps-en-tine.

The wilis are home in quarantine, but they’re getting mad together, corps-de-ballet style. Created by artists of The Australian Ballet while the Company was in lockdown last year, this is skit is Giselle as you’ve never seen it.

Ballet is better with Friends

A Virtual Evening with David McAllister

A Virtual Evening with David McAllister



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 Don Quixote choreographed by Rudolph Nureyev.

In an online event curated especially for our philanthropic community, you will be treated to a live in-conversation between The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David McAllister and Marilyn Rowe who performed the roles of the Street Dancer and the Queen of the Dryads in the 1973 film also starring Rudolph Nureyev and Robert Helpmann.

You will then be invited to view a screening of Don Quixote via The Australian Ballet’s Ballet TV.


Thursday 17 September
7pm Discussion and Q&A


David McAllister in conversation with Marilyn Rowe, introduced by Kenneth Watkins, Philanthropy Director


7.45pm Don Quixote
RSVP by Tuesday 15 September


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Event access details will be provided following RSVP.