Vision, perseverance and courage

In This Article

There is no such thing as great talent
Without great willpower
Honore de Balzac

These three characteristics sum up the woman whose vision gave birth to our national company and school: this woman who achieved much but endured great pain and suffering; this woman whose incredible creative influence shaped dance in this country, fostered and nurtured talent and laid the foundations upon which our future dance audiences were built; this woman who gave her Australian dancers a confidence and belief in themselves which enabled her to push them, prematurely, on to the international stage; and this woman who, in time, came to regard me as her artistic daughter.

I grew up as it were, in the cradle of Australian Ballet—it is my family and I love it warts and all. I have been part of its highs and lows, which at times seemed to be reflected in my own life. I was there through its darkest hours and then helped to pick up the pieces. I have a great passion and loyalty for my company and its school, instilled in me by Peggy. She herself possessed these qualities in abundance.

Now that I look back with the eyes of an adult, I also realise that she was partly responsible for the gradual formulation of my own vision. Peggy was a big-picture visionary. What I learned from her was that if the vision is right and true, not selfish or egotistical, if it is part of a bigger picture to benefit all, if your motives are true, if you have integrity and courage and the resilience and passion to implement that vision you will succeed.

If you want something very badly you can achieve it. It may take patience, very hard work, a real struggle, and a long time; but it can be done. That much faith is a prerequisite of any undertaking, artistic or otherwise.
Margot Jones (1913-1955)

The van Praagh legacy

Part of Peggy’s story is my story so I must go back, back to my own beginning. It is because of this woman that I am here today.

My mother took me to my first ballet class at the age of 6. I was a very shy child, reserved, self conscious and rather timid, but when I began dancing classes I found a new strength and confidence in myself. My first teacher was Frances Lett and the reason my mother decided on Miss Lett was that she had at one stage taught the beautiful ballerina Elaine Fifield. Miss Lett also taught Rhonda Russell who became a member of the Borovansky Ballet and later joined the Australian Ballet. Miss Lett herself had been a soloist with Helene Kirsova’s company, therefore mother considered her to be a good teacher.

I was born in Sydney and grew up surrounded by bushland and water, the days before the mangroves were destroyed and Botany Bay was pristine. These are treasured memories of the carefree innocence of early childhood, which have helped me keep things in perspective during some difficult times in my own life.

The first time I ever saw Dame Peggy van Praagh was at my audition for The Australian Ballet School, way back in 1963, at the old Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust building in Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo. Etched in my memory are ‘The Dames'—Peggy and Maggie—at that time though, Miss van Praagh and Miss Scott. They were a formidable pair, which was obvious on that day when they sat together auditioning for the very first intake into The Australian Ballet School.

I have the happiest memories of my time at the school, which came into being just 15 months after the Australian Ballet gave its first performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 2 November 1962. On 2 March 1964, The Australian Ballet School opened its doors to 23 students. It was new and exciting and for me, a wonderful adventure. I was there at the beginning, at the former Presbyterian Ladies College building in Albert Street, East Melbourne. It was awaiting a stay of execution pending demolition and re-building into what is now the Dallas Brooks Hall.

We did not mind that it was too hot in summer, too cold in winter, had too few studios (in fact there were only two) shared between company and school. To get to the dressing room (where there was standing room only) we had to either go through the smaller of the two studios or climb through a window from the balcony. When the company was in residence the window was the only option.

There were no lockers, no showers and no canteen and at times no hot water, but we were not conscious of what we didn’t have. We felt we had everything.

There was always an air of excitement and challenge. It hadn’t been done before and the very special and unique relationship with our parent company was formed. The bonds of this ‘family’ are today even stronger as we look to the future.

By today’s standards we were totally unsophisticated and really very naïve, but we were full of enthusiasm, commitment, passion and dedication. Being the ‘first’ created a very special atmosphere, which is something that cannot be recaptured, only held as a fond and special memory.

To quote from an article written by Dame Margaret Scott, founding Director of The Australian Ballet School, for the Schools 35th Anniversary Retrospective:

Thirty five years have gone in a flash. Its hard to believe so much has happened. The first planning meetings with Dame Peggy and Dr (Nugget) Coombs in 1962/63, which took place at the Reserve Bank in Sydney are still clear in my mind as if they happened yesterday. We discussed the format, curriculum and general policy of the School in relation to The Australian Ballet, which has just been established, and worked out a funding strategy. Then I was despatched to Melbourne and told to “Get yourself a secretary and start The Australian Ballet School."

The establishment of the School so quickly after the Company was indeed an advantage. The two infant organisations grew and developed together, not unlike members of a family, the younger deferring to the older, although, at times resisting its seniority—the older dominating and sometimes slightly bullying, but at all times protective. Both, however, recognising their mutual needs and dependence on each other and both with one goal for the future; a truly distinctive Australian Ballet with a recognisable style of its own.

We were all pioneers in every sense, with no precedent to follow, about to blaze our own trail.

We must never forget that the establishment of The Australian Ballet School was intended from the moment a national ballet was under consideration. It was part of Peggy’s five-point plan for the company:

  1. A company of dancers engaged on annual contracts. Such contracts were heretofore unknown
  2. A repertoire of established classics together with the best works by contemporary choreographers, designers and composers
  3. To present, as guest artists, the worlds best dancers and teachers
  4. To tour the company internationally
  5. To establish a national ballet school

All five objectives were achieved within three years.

I was to spend only twelve months at The Australian Ballet School as, after my graduation performance, I was told that Miss van Praagh wanted me to join the company. I cannot say that Miss Scott was all that pleased and quite rightly felt that I needed more intensive training. We must remember that those were early days, the company was small and only two years old.

Well, Peggy won as usual and I joined The Australian Ballet at the beginning of 1965. There were four of us—Helen Beinke, Carolyn Rappel, Frank Croese and myself. Mind you, I was to undertake special coaching each time the Company returned to Melbourne, so Maggie also got her way.

In 1965 The Australian Ballet was about to embark upon its first overseas tour and Peggy decided that "her babies" should have a chaperone! When I tell our students this story they gasp in disbelief! Our conductor, Robert Rosen’s wife was engaged to care for our welfare and Peggy’s decision was not questioned. Frank, of course, was not too impressed, but we three girls accepted this decision as normal—we had no idea what life was like in a ballet company, let alone a ballet company on tour.

What a tour it was though—we were away for five months with Margot and Rudi as our guest artists. Also the great Erik Bruhn danced with us in the Lebanon. When the company moved to the South of France, Rudi joined us to rehearse Raymonda, which he had agreed to choreograph for the company’s European tour. It was summer, and fortunately, we had some time to swim and relax a little.

One evening, the entire company was invited to a casual pool party at the home of one of Rudi’s wealthy friends. We were all very excited and arrived in either our little cotton dresses or shorts and shirts—very Australian and totally unsophisticated.

The ‘home’ of course was a mansion and the other guests wore the latest designs from the great fashion houses. Jewels and feathers were the feature of the evening and if we had been told it was Mardi Gras, we would not have been surprised.

With true Australian spirit and the natural exuberance of youth we all decided to enjoy the experience and have a great time. Everybody loved us because the company was young, beautiful and totally natural.

Peggy was horrified that "her babies" had been allowed to attend such an affair and where was Mrs Rosen?! We were safe until a voluptuous damsel was carried into the sunken garden in a bathtub full of champagne, carried by four stunning males; safe until the damsel began to cavort with a champagne bottle. We were ordered home!! Bill Akers (Stage Director) pleaded our cause saying, “Well Peggy, it is part of their education you know”—but to no avail—this type of education was certainly not on Peggy’s agenda. I remember us being bundled into a taxi, looking longingly over our shoulders as we were whisked away into the night.

On this, the company’s first overseas tour, we performed at Covent Garden and there Peggy’s fledging company, three years old, received wonderful reviews.

After the opening night of Robert Helpmann’s The Display the cast was asked to remain on stage to meet Princess Margaret. The dancers of course were on their best behaviour, However, Walter Bourke (today a well known restaurateur) and always a bit of a larrikin, had a real mischievous look in his eye. Standing beside Barry Kicher, who danced the Lyrebird, he listened intently as Princess Margaret asked Barry all about his costume and the mechanism by which the tail opened and closed. She was obviously fascinated and Walter, who could contain himself no longer, piped in with a chuckle and said, “Yes Maam, and he’ll even lay an egg if you ask him!”

In those very early days of the company’s history it was full of the most colourful characters and Peggy, to give her due (and of course she had been quite a lady herself in her day), somehow accepted the natural larrikinism of the Australians. Mind you, she could at times be cruel and cut you to ribbons with her sharp tongue and sarcastic comments. She was never known for her tact. She was part of the old school, as were our first teachers, where the feelings of students and dancers were of little or no consequence.

I remember, on several occasions, when having some technical problem, Peggy would say, "Well darling it’s on account of those funny legs and feet". Well—did I have a complex about my legs and feet—hyper-extended knees (or sway-back) and high insteps, rather like the letter S. At times I thought a neck-to-knee would be useful! It wasn’t until Bryan Ashbridge said "For heavens sake, Rowie, don’t worry about that, you have legs and feet just like Svetlana Beriosova".

I remember pretty Leigh Rowles trying to suck in her checks because Peggy told her her face was too round and Gailene Stock having to wear arm puffs every time she donned a tutu because Peggy said her arms were too long. The puffs, she said, broke the line and made them look shorter! We look back and laugh today because there are so many funny Peggy stories but, at the time, it could be quite devastating.

Partnerships were very important to Peggy and in 1968 Kelvin Coe and I danced together for the first time in The Last Vision. Igor Moiseyev, touring Australia with his company, was impressed with our dancing and told Peggy he wanted to create a ballet for us. As chairman of the Moscow International Ballet Competition and Russian Ballet

Administration, he also invited Kelvin and myself to the first competition, which was to be held at the Bolshoi Theatre in June – July 1969. Whilst it was indeed a great honour, Peggy felt we were not ready. It would be another four years before we (Peggy, Kelvin and I) would make that historic journey.

How fortunate that the young Australian Ballet’s growth coincided with the great Nureyevs defection and rise in the West. Rudi was always interested in talented young dancers and obviously talented young companies. Peggy of course was instrumental in bringing him to Australia because of her early friendship with him. In July 1961 she was guest teacher with the Marquis de Quevas Company and in September Rudi joined that company after his defection from the Kirov.

In Peggys own words:

Even though he was a leading dancer with the Kirov, he had not yet made any international reputation, but it was not difficult to sense his extraordinary magical gifts. In class, he was a model dancer, always disciplined and interested in the work I set. When he danced, he appeared to release all his fears and concerns about his immediate future.

How does one describe this legendary Lord of the Dance—brilliant, difficult, perfectionist, clever, funny, rude—but extraordinary, with a deep knowledge and sense of history.

Rudi revolutionised ballet and raised male classical dancers to a position of equality alongside their female counterparts. He was a uniquely different creature, outrageously difficult and always determined to get his own way. He was a sensual, passionate, athletic dancer and both women and men worshipped him.

He joined us again in 1970 – 71 for our three month tour of America—69 performances in 17 American cities and Toronto. Kelvin and I had the advantage of being coached by Nureyev for our first performance in New York in the leading roles.

Opening on Boxing Day in Los Angeles, this tour proved to be a huge success, not only for the company, but for me personally. I had been asked to consider returning to America but somehow Peggy had instilled in me a great sense of pride and loyalty for my own Company, so I stayed.

Rudi was wonderful during the tour but expected everyone to work just as hard as he did. He had a faultless eye for detail in all areas of production—a perfectionist. He would watch, and at times shout abuse from the wings, even when performing himself. I think back to how nervous I was when he stood in the wings, but how disappointed I would have been if that shadowy figure had not appeared each night. He had the ability to raise dancers to another level.

Nureyev always insisted he was a Tartar, not a Russian. In his autobiography he wrote:

I can sense the difference in our flesh. Our tartar blood runs faster somehow, is always ready to boil. And yet it seems to me we are more languid than the Russian, more sensuous; we have a certain Asiatic softness in us, yet also the fugue of our ancestors, those lean superb cavaliers. We are a curious mixture of tenderness and brutality—a blend which rarely exists in the Russian …. Tartars are quick to catch fire, quick to get into a fight, unassuming, yet at the same time passionate and sometimes cunning as a fox. The Tartar is in fact a pretty complex animal: and that’s what I am.

It is only now, as one reflects upon a long career, that one realises the gift of the Rudi years—for that we all owe a great debt to Peggy.

Peggy had been trying to get the great contemporary choreographer Glen Tetley to agree to choreograph a ballet for the Company for three years and finally, he arrived in Australia in March 1973 with his designer, Nadine Baylis.

Glen had already decided on the music, a very contemporary piece. When he informed Peter Bahen, the administrator, Peter said it was too avant-garde for the Australian public. He wanted some ‘rum-te-tum-te’ music. Glen told him in no uncertain terms that he was not a rum-te-tum-te choreographer. They eventually reached a compromise and Glen chose Hans Werner Henze’s third symphony.

Glen told Peggy that he wanted to create a strong work that would bring out the movement qualities of the Australian dancers. In terms of the actual ballet, however, he had no exact idea of what he was going to do. The company at that time did not know Glen’s style, so he spent several days giving the whole group classes. Eventually he chose just four dancers (the youngest ones) and no second cast.

While Peggy was pleased to have her "babies" chosen for the work, she was also rather disappointed that a very large proportion of the company would miss having the opportunity of working with a top international choreographer. The Administrator was also upset because he felt he was not getting his money’s worth with only four dancers being used. Eventually Glen chose a second cast, raising the number involved to eight. This made Peter Bahen feel only slightly better.

Glen explained to Peggy how difficult he found it to start a work and, for this work in particular, he wanted to be left alone with the four dancers with no other dancers watching—and that included Peggy. If you know anything about Peggy you will realise just how difficult this was for her to accept. She hovered in the corridor for weeks.

Yes, Gemini was created behind closed doors. The only people who saw it in progress were the notator and the designer. When it was first seen in London in 1973 it caused a sensation and was described as being bold, beautiful, sensual, delicate, joyful, wistful and passionate. It was, and is, all of these things.

Glen had captured the true Australian style and spirit. He understood it better than we did at the time, therefore he pushed the boundaries and challenged each dancer individually. In his own words:

I like working with this company (The Australian Ballet) because there is a bigness of movement—a feeling of covering space, and an energy quality that is very exciting in dance. I have always felt there is a close similarity between Australian and American feeling for dance. Maybe it is because they both come from big countries and I think there is a speeded-up energy for life and also an athletic quality which is very contemporary.

Peggy had also been trying to persuade Jerome Robbins to give the company one of his ballets since 1971, but felt the dancers weren’t ready. Two years later, sitting in the stalls of the Colosseum Theatre in London with Glen Tetley, watching the dress rehearsal of Gemini, he changed his mind. Peggy was there also, but sitting alone at the back of the theatre. After the rehearsal Robbins went to Peggy and told her he thought the dancers were now ready to perform one of his ballets. As Peggy recalls:

He suggested Afternoon of a Faun, feeling it would ideally suit Marilyn Rowe and Gary Norman. I was so delighted that I rushed to find Peter Bahen so that they could negotiate the financial arrangements.

Negotiations between Peter Bahen and Jerry Robbins broke down and it wasn’t until 1978 that, finally, the Australian Ballet acquired one of Robbin’s master works.

The original Faun, Francisco Moncion, arrived in Sydney on 1 April 1978 to teach and stage the ballet. To have had the opportunity to work with Moncion was indeed a privilege. To him the piece was sacred and his generosity of spirit enabled us to capture, eventually, the delicate and complex quality of this very special ballet.

Peggy and Peter Bahen battled over repertoire throughout her directorship but through her sheer determination, persistence and will-power she added another Robbins work to the repertoire—The Concert subtitled The Perils of Everyone, a comic charade in one act.

During the creation of Gemini, Kelvin and I were again asked to dance in Moscow at the Second International Ballet Competition. Peggy was invited by Igor Moiseyev, again chairman of the Jury Committee, to be one of the panel judges.

Over a period of five months Kelvin and I worked with Peggy on the pieces we would present: La Fille mal gardee, Gemini, Raymonda and Esmeralda. We rehearsed every day as well as performing at night and being involved in normal company rehearsals. We were exhausted but, over that intensive period, my relationship with Peggy began to change. I slowly came to realise that she believed in us and wanted the best for us. I also experienced what it was like to be nurtured as a dancer and artist and I realised that Kel and I were actually special to her.

The three of us arrived in Moscow on 2 June 1973 after a long and hectic journey and nearly missing our plane. The entrants for the competition came from 23 different countries and totalled just under one hundred. The majority were the leading dancers from the major national companies.

Peggy, as a juror, found herself amongst many colleagues and associates. It was indeed a very prestigious gathering of the greatest directors, dancers, historians, choreographers and critics of the 20th century—Ulanova, Plisetskaya, Alonso, Grigorovitch, Robbins, Celia Franca (from Canada), Arnold Haskall (from England), Roland Petit, Romola Nijinska, Irena Kolpokova and Laurel Martyn to name a few.

Kelvin and I went from being regarded as dancers from somewhere akin to Mars (they thought Australia was a mistake and we were from Austria) to the darlings of the competition.

We did not dance until the second day when we performed Ashton’s La Fille mal gardee and, as Kel held me in the final seat-lift, the theatre just erupted. Kelvin was in shock and just held me there (he seemed to forget that I was sitting on one hand), he slowly walked towards the footlights and then, gently, lowered me to the stage. I could see Peggy then, sitting among the jury members, just about to burst with pride and emotion. Kelvin and I were in a state of disbelief, never having received such a reception anywhere.

From then on we were mobbed in the street and, whenever Australia’s name was announced to perform the Russians went wild and began to chant our names. As Peggy recalled:

After the first round, the packed audiences in the Bolshoi Theatre applauded the moment Australia’s name was mentioned and they mobbed the dancers inside and outside the theatre. It was the first time any Australian dancers had entered an international ballet competition. Only twenty-two dancers reached the final round of which fourteen were from the Soviet Union. To reach that final round was a significant accomplishment but when they gained their Silver Medals and were placed above several Soviet dancers, it was an important moment in Australian Ballet history.

Our contemporary piece was Gemini and to make the decision to take it was, indeed, courageous and risky. Already Goskoncert had refused to allow it to be included in the repertoire for the forthcoming tour to USSR in August. They felt it was far too advanced, suggestive and the dancers looked nude.

To quote from The Age Saturday Review, 12 May1973 in an article by Phillip McCarthy:

Gemini is a controversial and sensuous analysis of dance movement choreographed by Tetley especially for the company. Marilyn Rowe received rave review notices from Sydney critics for her part in it during the Australian Ballet’s current season there. The dancers are probably brave taking it to Moscow since Russian ballet officials have already vetoed its performance during the company’s tour in August. They considered it 'too advanced.

However, Kelvin Coe explained: "We selected the least controversial piece from the work and Mr Tetley even gave us permission to cut the sexiest parts from that. But we only had to make two alterations." When we performed our piece the Russian jury members were shocked. The dancers of the Bolshoi Company, however, crowded into the wings and it was from these artists that we received our greatest ovation.

It must also be remembered that at that period in Russian ballet history, Rudolf Nureyev, because of his defection from the Kirov and Russia, was considered a ‘non person’. We had included in our repertoire his beautiful Raymonda. It was received with wonderful enthusiasm and delight by the audience who obviously still claimed him as their own, but it was never discussed or even mentioned in articles written at the time! As usual, I guess, the Australians were controversial, different and had a lot of grit.

This Russian experience somehow cemented my relationship with Peggy and, as I reflect upon this and the incredible progress made by her young company, I realise why some still refer to the seventies as the Golden Period of the Australian Ballet.

Through Peggy’s vision I was taught, coached by and worked with the greatest teachers, dancers and choreographers of the 20th century. I had works created for me and I was chosen to dance the Australian premieres of other major works by international choreographers. I also learned the value of loyalty, courage, tenacity, determination and perseverance.

Building on the Van Praagh legacy

As Director of The Australian Ballet School I have picked up the baton and I will endeavour to carry on and continue to expand upon the vision of the founding Director of our national company. Rambert, de Valois and de Mille, because they took the initiative and challenges which lay before them and forged ahead into new frontiers, were Peggy’s role models. In varying ways, by virtue of their vision and their independence to go it alone and succeed, these three women inspired Peggy as she has inspired me.

Peggy also knew, as I know, that to implement your vision you will make enemies, admirers, friends and many critics. She dismissed the enemies as the price one pays as a leader and a consequence of the job. To remain focussed, one must keep in mind that in the arts, in particular, egos grow rampant and wild and enemies will always exist.

Now I draw upon the wisdom and experiences of those who have gone before me, in particular, Dame Peggy van Praagh as I build upon the proud past of our national school.

A school is the foundation and lifeblood of a company. Tomorrow’s stars are today’s students. Beauty does not come easily. Precision cannot be gained quickly. In the School we strengthen not only the legs and arms, but also the spirit of our students as well, for in ballet class they learn the reward of hard work'. Helgi Tomasson, Director—San Francisco Ballet School

In 1964 Dame Margaret Scott, Founding Director of The Australian Ballet School, established a two year programme to train dancers for the newly formed Australian Ballet. This unique programme was seen as a finishing course for talented young dancers who had received their initial training with local dance teachers.

In 1980, with the formation of The Dancers Company, the program was expanded to three years to bridge the gap between student and professional dancer. The Dancers Company is an integrated part of the Australian Ballet under the direction of the Artistic Director. It takes the highest quality dance productions to regional areas around Australia for approximately six weeks each year. The students of the graduate year (Level 8) make up the body of The Dancers Company, which includes young principals and soloists from the parent company.

In 1996 the three year full-time course (Senior School—Levels 6 – 8) was accredited as an Advanced Diploma of Dance. This course involves intensive dance training alongside secondary study at the Victorian Certificate of Education level. The first two years of the course (Levels 6 & 7) focus on technical training and artistic development. Students in these years also complete Years 11 and 12 of their VCE. The third year of the course (Level 8) prepares students for the dance profession.

Whilst successful graduates achieve professional expertise of the highest standard and an Advanced Diploma that offers future options for articulation into further tertiary courses, the intensity of training required to meet these professional standards can result in some injuries and loss of potential talent.

Until now the school’s three year training program has placed stress on both students and staff as, in many cases, students must adjust to purely vocational training at an advanced level. It is the view of our Consultant Psychologist, Associate Professor Michael Carr-Gregg that students are coming in too late. He believes a longer sustained training program will alleviate many of the current problems.

Dancing is for everyone. Ballet as a profession is for the very few. (Anne Woolliams)

Even though The Australian Ballet School has achieved much in its 36 year history, international experts in the field of ballet training believe and know that the only logical, safe and responsible step for us now to take is the careful introduction of an eight year programme. They know that there is no other way to train at a vocational school—to think otherwise makes no sense. The national school must and should, offer complete training.

It must be remembered that The Australian Ballet School is a centre of vocational not recreational training. The curriculum has developed with due reference to the Vaganova method but, more importantly, is tailored to the needs and unique characteristics of Australian dancers and the increasingly demanding requirements and diversity of the dance profession.

The Australian Ballet School training program is a progressive syllabus specially designed to be introduced at an early age. It has been carefully developed specifically for those students who successfully pass the audition process and are believed to have the potential to advance towards a professional career. The elements of difficulty are great and there is always the possibility of injuries occurring when the programme is introduced as late as age 15.

The eight year course will make it possible to ensure that a strong, uniform classical technique is developed over the period, through a structured sequence of training stages. It is designed to increase the technical skills, stamina and self discipline appropriately, according to the age and physical development of the individual student. It allows time to incorporate other important components of the curriculum—contemporary dance, composition classes, fitness classes, Pilates, music, drama, art, dance history. Units in health, nutrition, psychology, stage make-up, resume writing, audition skills and other knowledge needed by the professional performer are included. If we want unique and well developed dancers they must be multi-skilled and well educated.

The Australian Ballet School has the resources to offer younger students their balletic training, but my vision is to offer a comprehensive broad-based holistic dance/education programme. It is essential therefore, that The Australian Ballet School is a school where the student is the centre of attention, not only for physical and artistic potential, but also very much for the whole person. The ultimate goal should be to train dancers well developed in body and mind. The best dance education will be delivered through an eight year course.

The Australian Ballet School sought cooperative assistance in the education sector to identify a provider of an academic program to complement the high standard of dance training. A unique affiliation has been formed with the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School (VCASS), a like minded education body, whose philosophy of excellence embraces that of The Australian Ballet School, enabling us to progress together into the new millennium. This united partnership will offer Australia’s future generation of gifted dancers unsurpassed opportunities for both their dance and academic education.

In 2001 students enrolled in the Australian Ballet School’s Level 5 (the preliminary year prior to the Senior School) will also enrol in Year 10 at VCASS for their academic education only.

It is also proposed that further years will be added to the full-time dance/academic program as planning progresses and resources become available. Ultimately VCASS will become the base school for academic studies of all Australian Ballet School students.

Ensuring the emotional and physical well-being and growth of each student in our care is a primary concern of the School. The addition to our staff of Lucinda Sharp, Psychologist and Student Health and Welfare Counsellor has been a positive step in providing pastoral care for students. Until now there has never been a formal, on site, trained resource for students to access to help them solve their individual personal problems.

The recent work done by Lucinda and Consultant Psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg with students, staff and parents, particularly the development of the School’s Drug and Harassment Policies and Orientation Programme, has provided a positive start to the fully integrated programme.

The Australian Ballet School aims to develop a creative and caring environment conducive to producing artistic, educated and outstanding dancers of the highest international standard. Training and technique are important, but it must always be in the artist’s mind, only as a means to an end. Their importance is that they free the body to become its ultimate self.

Technique and training have never been a substitute for that condition of awareness which is talent, or the complete miracle of balance which is genius, but it can give plasticity and tension, freedom and discipline, balancing one against the other. Training and technique are a means to strength, to freedom, to spontaneity.

As teachers of elite dancers we, at The Australian Ballet School, are concerned not only with the physical discipline but also with the developing mind and imagination within the body, bringing the flesh and spirit into union.

The dancer must be an artist who can control his highly specialised machine as he wishes, and not the reverse. Very often it is not the movement itself but the wish behind the movement which is important. A great dancer is not made by technique alone any more than a great statesman is made by knowledge alone. Both possess true spontaneity.

It is important to remember that certain extraordinary dancers whose exceptional movement quality, technical virtuosity, and charismatic presence as performers cause audiences to overlook certain aspects of their physique.The great Russian ballerina, Galina Ulanova said: "Work does not only mean the work of your arms, your legs, your body. Naturally the work of your mind and heart, the work of the spirit, is not the least factors in what the ballet dancers does."

Anne Woolliams commented:

A teacher must have humour, patience and logic; they must distribute information, admonition, encouragement and advice; and they must, in addition, be endowed with the knowledge, strength and a boundless love of dancing and dancers. Imparting a knowledge of dancing to the young is similar to placing a grain of sand inside the shell of an oyster. Only when one knows the trick of opening this creature without causing damage, can one hope for a cultured pearl.

The new millennium takes us along many exciting, new and creative paths, encouraging not only dancers but nurturing young choreographers, giving them the opportunities and time to create and show their work.

Last year marked the 35th Anniversary of The Australian Ballet School and my choice of Coppelia for that Graduation Season was deliberate. Dame Peggy van Praagh, who first staged that production, had the initial vision of establishing a school alongside and, integrally related to, the parent company. The season honoured Peggy for her inspiration and Dame Margaret Scott, the Founding Director, who had the privilege of building the school from the beginning.

Peggy is now gone, as is Kelvin Coe, the partner of my youth. We were Peggy’s artistic children and together we blazed a trail, which was full of challenge and adventure. We must always remember that our past is very important and precious and if we don’t recognise our past, how can we continue to build the future?

My artistic life has now come full circle and the challenges ahead are many, but my passion and commitment to my school and company are great. The Australian Ballet and The Australian Ballet School owe Dame Peggy a formidable debt of gratitude. Now in their 38th and 36th year respectively, the company and the school continue to recognise how fortuitous it was to have her as Founding Director of our national ballet.


Sexton, Christopher. Peggy van Praagh, A Life of Dance, 1985. The Macmillan Company of Australia Pty Ltd
Solway, Dianne. Nureyev, His Life, 1998. Great Britain: Weidenfeldand Nicolson.
Woolliams, Anne. Ballet Studio—An Inside View, 1978. Australia:Ure Smith