Colin Peasley’s golden years with the Australian Ballet
We knew it was coming but today, Colin Peasley announced that he would retire from the Australian Ballet at the end of this year, with his final appearance on 19 December at the Sydney Opera House in Stephen Baynesâs Swan Lake.
His debut with the company was 50 years ago, in November 1962, when the Australian Ballet gave its first performance in Sydney with a production of Swan Lake. Peasley danced in the corps de ballet.
Peasley will talk of his life in ballet at the State Theatre at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, on September 22 and at the Opera Theatre in the Sydney Opera House on December 1.
In the past 20 years, Iâve talked with Peasley many times about his years with the Australian Ballet. His anecdotes are hilarious, and his knowledge of the companyâs history is invaluable.
Of the many stories he shared with me, my favourite is his memory of the Australian Balletâs opening night in Berlin during its international tour of 1965/66. Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were the guest artists.
The company performed in the Theater des Westens, which was, he told me âa wonderful old theatre with bullet holes on the outside of building. We made the Guinness Book of Records for the most curtain calls – 60 curtain callsâ.
The corps de ballet lined up for 12 calls, leaving Fonteyn and Nureyev on stage. The corps dancers returned to their dressing rooms, stripped off their costumes and makeup and showered.
âAnd in those days, every male dancer in company had to supply their own dinner suit. We got into our dinner suits with all those studs and bow tiesâ.
The men, and the girls in their cocktail dresses, moved upstairs to a reception arranged by the theatre management.
âBut about 400 Berliners were still standing in auditorium calling âRudi, Margot, Rudi, Margot!â.
âHere [in Australia] when itâs two minutes into overtime they turn the house lights on.
âOver there, everyone stands. They brought in the fire curtain and in the fire curtain was a pass door. Fonteyn and Nureyev were walking in and out of the pass door. Youâre never going to see that againâ.
Meanwhile, in the reception room a long trestle table was laden with food. The hungry corps de ballet dancers went âdown the length of the table like a pack of bloody locusts.
âFonteyn and Nureyev finished all the curtain calls, came up there and everyone was stunned.
âNureyev hadnât eaten all day long. He had a proper breakfast and then all he had was Russian tea.
âBy now he is ravenous. He looks at the table and says âRudi eat!â
âNothing except flowers and, at the end, a corner of a sandwich. We donât know why it was left there. He picks it up and this photographer goes âclickâ.
âYou probably never heard a Russian swear. Itâs in huge phrases.
âRudi throws the food down”.
“A little girl of about 10 comes over, with her program to sign.
âBitte?â she says.
Nureyev tore up her program.
Peasley leapt into the fray. He was sorry, he told the childâs mother, reassuring her that Nureyev âis never like that. Iâll get him to sign a program and post it to youâ.
âAnd the mother just goes âvasnât he vonderful?ââ