The Australian days of Annette Page, Ronald Hynd and Dudley Simpson

When Margot Fonteyn toured Australia in 1962 she brought with her an elite group of seven dancers, shown in the photo on the left.

One of the seven was Annette Page, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet who was similar to Fonteyn in her appearance and who often danced with Fonteyn in the ballets of Frederick Ashton.

Last December, Page died at the age of 84, leaving only one survivor of the 1962 tour group, Robin Haig.

Page danced in principal roles with partners including Rudolf Nureyev, Christopher Gable, Anthony Dowell and Donald MacLeary and, many times, with her husband, Ronald Hynd.

Despite her talent and status as a principal she later acknowledged that she was facing a blockade that so many others faced at the time – the stardom of Fonteyn and Nureyev, otherwise known as the “Fonteyn-Nureyev juggernaut”.

After her farewell performance as a dancer in April 1967 Page worked alongside Hynd who began his career as a choreographer in the same year.

He created ballets for companies around the world and was asked by Robert Helpmann to choreograph The Merry Widow for the Australian Ballet in 1975.

The couple staged The Merry Widow in many cities, including Seattle where, in 2005, they were interviewed at the studios of the Pacific North West Ballet.

During that interview Hynd explained how he was chosen by Helpmann to choreograph The Merry Widow.

“I had made one of my first dances, The Minotaur, and Helpmann liked it and encouraged me and said, he would keep me in mind for the future. I basically forgot about his comment but out of the blue, he rang me up one day and said, ‘How would you like to choreograph a full-length Merry Widow for the Australian Ballet?’

“I told him I needed to think about it for a couple of days and would call him back. About five minutes later I rang him to say, ‘yes!’

“I’ve always had an interest in operetta and I loved the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf recording of Widow.”

Hynd and Page liked Schwarzkopf so much they spent their honeymoon (in 1957) at the Salzburg Festival to hear her and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

The Merry Widow ballet remains as popular as ever, 43 years after its premiere.

The Australian Ballet is bringing it back once again in April this year, then in 2019 it will return to the Houston Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.

Dudley Simpson and the Fonteyn tour

The dancers in the Fonteyn tour of 1962 were accompanied by Dudley Simpson, the Australian conductor.

Simpson, who died aged 95, on 4 November 2017, was best known for his music for Dr Who (between 1964-80) but before the Dr he had a long and distinguished career as a ballet conductor.

His connection with ballet began as an accompanist for the Borovansky Ballet.

Simpson became the Borovansky Ballet’s musical director and an essential member of Boro’s inner circle.

When Fonteyn was a guest artist with the Borovansky Ballet in 1957 she suggested Simpson should work in England.

The following year Dudley conducted for the Royal Ballet’s season in Australia and later travelled to London where he married Jill Bathurst, a former dancer with the Borovansky Ballet.

Simpson was a guest conductor of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House in London and then principal conductor from 1960 to 1963.

That role meant he accompanied the Royal Ballet as it toured with Fonteyn and Nureyev.

He would have been there, in the pit, throughout the Australian tour as the group danced Birthday Offering, extracts from the classics and Kenneth MacMillan’s Valse Excentrique.

Page starred in a Don Quixote pas de deux with Bryan Ashbridge.

There’s only a fuzzy little photo of that moment and sadly no footage of the tour.

The poolside photo, though, is enough to see how much fun the dancers had in a tour that was nicknamed the Fonteyn Follies.

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Fonteyn Follies group at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, April 1962, Front row, l to r: Ronald Emblen, Annette Page, Bryan Ashbridge. Back row, l to r: Margot Fonteyn, Brian Shaw, Maryon Lane, David Blair. Photo by Australian Photographic Agency, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Annette Page and Ronald Hynd in The Firebird, Royal Ballet, 1959, photo © Roy Round

Ronald Hynd rehearsing The Merry Widow for the Tulsa Ballet, 2011

Annette Page and Ronald Hynd 1960

A page from The Australian Ballet’s Merry Widow program, 1993

Dudley Simpson, Margot Fonteyn, David Blair, souvenir program, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 30 May 1962

Dudley Simpson

Bryan Ashbridge and Annette Page, Don Quixote, souvenir program The Australian Women’s Weekly 1962