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The Australian Ballet

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The Australian Ballet
General information
NameThe Australian Ballet
PredecessorBorovansky Ballet
Year founded1962; 62 years ago (1962)
Founding artistic directorDame Peggy van Praagh
Principal venueLevel 6
2 Kavanagh Street
Victoria, Australia
Artistic staff
Artistic Director
Resident Choreographers
Associated schoolsAustralian Ballet School
  • Principal Artist
  • Senior Artist
  • Soloist
  • Coryphée
  • Corps de Ballet

The Australian Ballet (TAB) is the largest classical ballet company in Australia. It was founded by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1962, with the English-born dancer, teacher, repetiteur and director Dame Peggy van Praagh as founding artistic director. Today, it is recognised as one of the world's major international ballet companies and performs upwards of 150 performances (both in Australia and overseas) a year.



The roots of the Australian Ballet can be found in the Borovansky Ballet, a touring repertory company[1] founded in 1940 by the Czech dancer Edouard Borovansky. Borovansky had been a dancer in the touring ballet company of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and, after visiting Australia on tour with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, he decided to remain in Australia, establishing a ballet school in Melbourne in 1939, out of which he developed a performance group which became the Borovansky Ballet. The company was supported and funded by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd from 1944. Following Borovansky's death in 1959, the British dancer and administrator Dame Peggy van Praagh was invited to become artistic director of the company. J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd decided to disband the Borovansky Ballet in 1961.[citation needed]

In 1961, J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust received federal subsidy towards the establishment of a national ballet company. These organisations established the Australian Ballet Foundation to assist with the establishment of a new company, which in 1962 became the Australian Ballet. Peggy van Praagh, who had been kept on a retainer by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd through the intervening year between the disbanding of the Borovansky Ballet and the establishment of the Australian Ballet,[citation needed] was invited to become the founding artistic director of the company.[2] The majority of the dancers employed by the fledgling company were drawn from former members of the Borovansky Ballet.[citation needed] The company was founded with a charter to use Australian choreographers and produce Australian work.[2]

The first performance by the Australian Ballet was Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, staged at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney on 2 November 1962. The principal dancers in the first season were Kathleen Gorham, Marilyn Jones, Garth Welch, and the Swedish-born Caj Selling [sv] (1935–2005[3]).[1] Van Praagh also invited the Royal Ballet's Ray Powell to temporarily become the company's first ballet master, with Leon Kellaway (brother of Cecil Kellaway), a former dancer with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, as the company's first ballet teacher. In later years Sir Robert Helpmann, Marilyn Jones and Maina Gielgud made major contributions as artistic directors of the Australian Ballet.[citation needed]

In 1964, the first fully Australian performance, Helpmann's The Display was performed.[2] In the same year, van Praagh established the Australian Ballet School, which was formed specially to train dancers for the company. Dame Margaret Scott was the founding director of the school, followed by Gailene Stock, Marilyn Rowe, and then Lisa Pavane, all three former company principal artists.[citation needed]

Choreographers including Graeme Murphy, Meryl Tankard, and Natalie Weir rose to prominence at TAB from the 1970s to the 1990s.[2]

Former artistic directors


The company's previous artistic directors were:[1]

Description and governance


The Australian Ballet (TAB[2]) is based in Melbourne; its Southbank headquarters is the Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre, named after its long-term supporter Lady (Primrose) Potter.[4][5] The company tours to mainland state capital cities within Australia, with annual seasons in Melbourne at the State Theatre (accompanied by Orchestra Victoria) and in Sydney at the Sydney Opera House accompanied by the Opera Australia Orchestra. Other venues are the Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, and the Adelaide Festival Centre in Adelaide. The company also tours internationally.

The Australian Ballet works in close cooperation with the Australian Ballet School, of which many of the company's dancers are graduates. Giving approximately 200 performances a year, the Australian Ballet claims to be the busiest ballet company in the world. Its artistic vision is "Caring for Tradition, Daring to be Different". Each year, the company also presents an extensive national education and outreach programme.

The company's income is derived from box office sales, along with funding from the Australian, Victorian, and New South Wales governments; corporate sponsors; private donors; and bequests.[citation needed]



Since 2021 and as of 2023 the company's artistic director is David Hallberg,[2] who was a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre until 2020.[6]

In December 2022, Lissa Twomey[7] was appointed as Executive Director of the Company. An arts industry leader with extensive experience domestically and internationally in management of top tier performing arts organisations.

The music director and chief conductor of The Australian Ballet appointed in 2022 is Jonathan Lo, replacing Nicolette Fraillon, the world's only woman chief conductor of a ballet company.[8]

Telstra Ballet Dancer Award


The Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards have been made annually since 2003, in support of the aspirations of The Australian Ballet's elite young dancers. It is the biggest prize available specifically to a dancer in Australia, with a cash prize of $20,000 to the winner. The Telstra People's Choice Award is made to the most popular of the nominees in that year, using internet and SMS voting. The winner of the People's Choice receives a cash prize of $5,000.

Notable performances


In 1964, Robert Helpmann's work The Display was the first TAB production in which the music, designer, theme, and choreographer were all Australian; included were Australian rules football, lyrebirds, and a picnic in the bush.[2]

In 1992, Clara, an adaptation of The Nutcracker by choreographer Graeme Murphy, was a significant work, as he turned it into a story about migration to Australia.[2]

In 1997, TAB commissioned Stephen Page, artistic director of Indigenous dance company Bangarra Dance Theatre, to choreograph a piece for dancers from both companies, which resulted in Rites, which was set to Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.[2] For its 60th anniversary in 2023, TAB presented Identity, a double bill commissioned by Hallberg, which premiered in May 2023 at the Sydney Opera House before moving to Arts Centre Melbourne in June. The performance comprises two works: The Hum, composed by Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham Fraillon and with costumes designed by Taungurung designer Annette Sax (the first Indigenous women to perform these roles in a TAB production), by Wiradjuri choreographer Daniel Riley of ADT; and Paragon, by resident choreographer Alice Topp. While The Hum represents Indigenous dance, Paragon focuses on the history of The Australian Ballet.[2]

Orchestra Victoria


Following a period of turmoil, Orchestra Victoria became a wholly owned subsidiarity of The Australian Ballet in July 2014[9][10]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Australian Ballet, The (1962)". Australia Dancing. National Library of Australia. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Reich, Hannah (23 June 2023). "The Australian Ballet's Identity sees choreographers Daniel Riley and Alice Topp wrestle with the national identity in groundbreaking collaborations". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 18 July 2023.
  3. ^ Eshel, Ruth (16 August 2005). "Classical Ballet Dancer Caj Lottman Succumbs to Illness". Haaretz. Retrieved 18 July 2023.
  4. ^ Australian Ballet Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Australian Ballet Archived 21 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Sulcas, Roslyn (2 March 2020). "David Hallberg to run the Australian Ballet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  7. ^ "Lissa Twomey Australian Ballet". Australian Ballet. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  8. ^ Jeremy Story Carter, "Australian Ballet music director calls out sexism in classical music world", ABC Radio National, 13 June 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016
  9. ^ "Australian Ballet takes over Orchestra Victoria". theaustralian.com.au. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  10. ^ "The Australian Ballet and Orchestra Victoria strike a chord". Australian Arts Review. 20 May 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2023.