The Australian Ballet’s 50th year celebrations come to a close with documentary, talks, exhibitions

From the words of the first artistic director – Peggy van Praagh – to the thoughts of the newest Odette/Odile – Amber Scott, the documentary “Swan Lake – The Australian Ballet at 50” is a celebration of the company’s life told through interviews and footage of some key people in the company’s past and present.

At 27 minutes, the ABC Artscape program, screening this evening, 30 November, is too short to allow for archaeological digging into the Australian Ballet’s history.

Instead, it intersperses interviews and archival film with footage of four Swan Lakes in the company’s repertoire, from the first in 1962, with Sonia Arova as Odette/Odile, to Anne Woolliams production of 1977, Graeme Murphy’s of 2002 and finally Stephen Baynes’ production that premiered in September this year.

Among the old film clips and interviews are some little gems, with my favourite being an anecdote by Marilyn Rowe who danced the role of the Street Dancer in Nureyev’s cinema production of Don Quixote. For the filming, Nureyev insisted that she wear no shoulder straps on her costume. Instead, her bodice was glued to her body.

The glue didn’t fully stick and as the bodice peeled off, Nureyev demanded that the cameras kept rolling.

Naturally, that snippet ended up on the cutting room floor.

Another never-seen-before-moment (for me at least), was a short film taken during the wedding of the principal dancers, Garth Welch and Marilyn Jones.

Baynes praises Australian ballet dancers as “so malleable. They just do it” while artistic director, David McAllister, expresses his hope that people will think about the profound influence the Australian Ballet has had on the Australian arts community as a whole.

Murphy honours van Praagh’s influence on the company and on his own career while Colin Peasley recalls the Australian Ballet’s first performance in London in 1965 and admits that performing is a drug (but he will kick the habit in December after 50 years on stage).

Marilyn Jones concedes that dancing the role of the black swan, Odile in Act III of Swan Lake “was a challenge for me”, (Odette was much less a challenge) and recalls that she taught Amber Scott when the latter was just 12 years old.

We see Scott making up in the dressing room and standing poised in the wings, preparing for her Odette debut, then move backstage to see Vicki Car, head of millinery, in wardrobe, and Susan Mayes, the company’s principal physiotherapist, manipulating a model of a hip rotating in a socket to show the range of movement that dancers must achieve.

“There’s not a lot of beauty and glamour in the world today”, says Stephen Baynes, so an affection for ballet is “not a bad thing”.

The program screens at 10pm on ABC1. On 4 November at 3pm, ABC1 will also screen the final performance (to be filmed on 2 November) of the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary gala.

Among the Australian Ballet’s exhibitions in this 50th year is Ballet & Fashion, a joint project between the company and the National Gallery of Victoria that showcases some of the most successful collaborations between fashion designers and dance companies over the past three decades. The exhibition opens at the NGV on 3 November.

Time in Motion, an exhibition of the Australian Ballet’s history, with photographs, designs, costumes, and film drawn from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection and the Australian Ballet’s archives will move from Melbourne to the State Library of New South Wales, with the official opening on 13 November.

There are three talks associated with this exhibition in Sydney, to be given by Colin Peasley (14 November), David McAllister with Nicolette Fraillon (27 November), and Stephen Baynes (4 December).

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Marilyn Jones, Swan Lake 1962, photo courtesy of the Australian Ballet

Marilyn Rowe and Kelvin Coe in Swan Lake 1983. Photo courtesy of the Australian Ballet

Colin Peasley, Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, Paris, 2008, photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Amy Harris wears Akira Isogawa’s costume as Lady Capulet for Graeme Murphy’s Romeo & Juliet, photo © Jo Duck

Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes for Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker, Time in Motion exhibition