George Ogilvie: How an Aussie boy with a Scottish name gave everything to be an actor, director, and finally a man seeking the truth

From co-directing the Mad Max film, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, to his many years directing theatre companies and his time studying mime with Jacques Lecoq in Paris,  George Ogilvie made an important impact on Australia’s performing arts.

For his services to the theatre and the performing arts he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and also won a Byron Kennedy Memorial Award for services to the film industry.

In 1978 he took another step when Peggy van Praagh, the foundation artistic director of the Australian Ballet, asked Ogilvie to direct her new production of Coppelia, a ballet she knew and loved from the time she danced the leading role of Swanilda with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet when the company toured England and Scotland  in the early months of the Second World War.

Van Praagh chose her collaborators wisely as she also asked Kristian Fredrikson, to design the ballet.

Ogilvie praised Fredrikson not only for his designs but also the way he worked on the narrative of  “this gothic fairytale”.

He was, said Ogilvie, “the genius behind Coppelia”. 

With the van Praagh-Ogilvie-Fredrikson team Coppelia became a jewel in the the Australian Ballet’s repertoire.

Premiering in 1979  the production was staged many times, most recently in 2016.

That year the Friends of the Australian Ballet asked Ogilvie and Ann Jenner, who danced the role of Swanilda, to be guests of honour at their annual afternoon high tea at the Ivy ballroom in Sydney.

Ogilvie spoke of Coppelia of course, but also the time he taught acting and mime to students at the Australian Ballet School.

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George Buchan Ogilvie died aged 89 of cardiac arrest at the Braidwood Hospital in New South Wales on 5 April.

He had been suffering from emphysema for years.

If the restrictions of Covid-19 weren’t in place at the time there would be many people at his funeral, those who knew him and honoured his contribution to the arts in Australia.

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George Ogilvie  and his twin, Jim, were born on March 5, 1931 in Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia.

His autobiography, Simple Gifts,  A Life in the Theatre, Ogilvie told his story of  a boy growing up in provincial Australia who wanted to be an actor so badly “he endured hunger, pain and desperation to achieve it”.

In an ABC interview with Rachael Kohn in 2006 Ogilvie said “I loved doing school musicals, I even started at an early age to write little plays for the school to perform.

“I was not just keen on that, it was during that time, during the school period then from an early age, that I began to dream about acting.

“My parents (who were Scottish) had many friends in the UK and they would send out theatre magazines” to the family in Australia.

“America just didn’t exist for me, except for the Saturday afternoon at the movies, but England was something real, something you could almost touch… we grew up in a home that always suggested that the north of Scotland was ‘home’”.

At age 20, he and his mother set sail for England where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London then joined a family theatrical company called Jimmy James, where he learned his craft in front of an audience each night.

He told Rachael Kohn that John Sumner persuaded him to become his associate director for the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Back home, he said , “I slowly let the acting go.

“From 1965 to 1970 we did things in the tiny 400 seat Russell Street Theatre”.

“We took the biggest plays, the largest casts, from War and Peace to Chekhov”.

During his six years at the Melbourne Theatre Company he directed 23 plays at the company then worked as artistic director at the South Australia Theatre Company for four years.

As a freelance director he worked in television, ballet and opera.

His TV credits included the 1983 miniseries, The Dismissal, the miniseries, Bodyline, The Shiralee, Touch the Sun: Princess Sun, The Battlers, two episodes of the miniseries,  The Feds, and 11 episodes of the  police series, Blue Heelers.

George Ogilvie regularly taught and directed at NIDA and Actors Centre Australia. 

In the mid-1970s he studied Siddha Yoga and flew to an Indian ashram where he meditated for a month.

It was, he said, “a most wonderful month, where we meditated every day and where I learnt another important word for me, for everything that had come before and after, and the word was seva, the work you do without wanting reward, simply for the work itself, for the spiritual, for the practice and the experience it gives you by doing that work.

“It was during that time that I began to realise it was something I was searching for all my life, to find the fact that even in theatre, I was doing theatre not for myself …but for seeking something that is behind that, to find a truth somewhere about us”.

 

 
 

 

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