In 2017, Elizabeth Toohey accepted David McAllister’s invitation to become a Ballet Mistress and Repetiteur of The Australian Ballet, a vocation near and dear to heart. Earlier this year Elizabeth joined The Friends Chairperson Greg Khoury, to talk about her role in nurturing the company’s dancers, as well as details on her long standing friendship with former Artistic Director David McAllister AC.
Click below to listen.
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.
The final dress rehearsal for New York Dialects, The Australian Ballet’s return to the stage in 2021.
This triple bill is David Hallberg’s first program as Artistic Director and features two revered classics from George Balanchine, the great game-changer of ballet, with a brand-new creation from a 21st-century innovator.
Serenade Balanchine’s deeply rooted knowledge of Russian classicism grounded his inspired deviations from it, which galvanised modern dance. Serenade, considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century, was the first work he made on American dancers. The poetry of women in long ice-blue tutus moving in unison to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C has a simplicity and purity still breathtaking today.
The Four Temperaments If Serenade is Balanchine at his most lyrical, The Four Temperaments is the epitome of his stark neo-classical style: dancers in black and white leotards and tights performing stripped-back ballet steps skewed in unexpected directions. The score, which Balanchine commissioned from Paul Hindemith, was inspired by the medieval notion that four ‘humours’ govern personality type; it is both sparse and luscious as it explores each of those temperaments.
Watermark Pam Tanowitz, from a contemporary dance background, has created work for major ballet companies, including New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet, as well as for the hallowed modern-dance companies of Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. She will bring her vision for ensemble choreography and her fresh approach to gender roles to a work using the male dancers of The Australian Ballet. The Pulitzer-prize winning composer Caroline Shaw will extend her concerto Watermark as a partner to Tanowitz’s exciting creative vision.
FRIENDS IN VIRTUAL CONVERSATION
JOINTS AND WELL-BEING
In recognition of your ongoing support of The Friends of The Australian Ballet we invite you to join us for a warm interactive conversation via Zoom.
Friends of The Australian Ballet Chair Greg Khoury and Friends sub-committee member, dancer and remedial therapist Gayle Wakeling-Taylor will explore some of the ideas recently shared by The Australian Ballet and La Trobe University into joint management and treatment.
We recently asked unstoppable arts and theatre publicist Bruce Pollack to answer five fun facts for FAB. Enjoy reading about his involvement in The Friends and the hold ballet has on his heart.
What is your name and role at FAB? Bruce Pollack Deputy Chair, Friends of the Australian Ballet
How long have you been involved with FAB? I joined in 2006
What is your earliest ballet memory? I grew up in a house that we used an old wind up gramophone to listen to records. We used that machine until we got an electric. My favourite recordings, old 78rpm’s, was a set of 8 records of highlights from Swan Lake. I can still sing this music as I knew it so well. The Australian Ballet did not exist when I was a child, but I do remember being taken to see a ballet, no idea which one. My greatest ballet memory is seeing Fonteyn and Nureyev perform Swan Lake in Melbourne
Bruce Pollack preparing for COVID-19 and stocking up
Why is FAB important to you? I have worked in the theatre from the age of 10 and I am happy that I have received a pay packet from the arts ever since. Working in the theatre I see as much on stage as I possibly can, and I see many ballet performances. In the 1970’s for 4 years I was the Drama Teacher at the Australian Ballet School. I love being a part of a Committee for not for profit arts organisations. They are essential for our way of life and imperative for maintaining a level of “culture” in our community. This is the 4th arts board that I have been on.
What are you doing to stay connected to ballet & dance at this time? I look at every possible ballet link that I can get my hands on!
Header image Bruce Pollack and other members of The Friend’s council presenting David McAllister with an oversized cheque in 2008