A timeline of dance
Queensland Ballet is now 53 years old. For the Company to be where we are today, there has been over half a century of relentless artistic pursuit, a passionate love of the art form that is dance, and sheer hard work by literally hundreds of dancers, choreographers, designers, technicians, musicians and administrators.
Dreams have been followed, wonderfully fruitful artistic partnerships have blossomed, ephemeral moments of theatrical magic have been created, and our audiences have enjoyed countless hours of blissful escape into a world of dance more beautiful than everyday life can offer. But there have also been some bitter disappointments, adversity and occasionally, simply a struggle to survive. Queensland Ballet’s life is a tapestry of experiences, good and bad. Our tapestry tells a unique story, an inspiring story, and one that is woven with the goodwill, support and affection of many, many people. To all those who have contributed to our history, and to our future, we offer our deep and sincere thanks.
Is there one moment in anyone’s life which can be described as absolutely pivotal? For Queensland Ballet’s founder, Charles Lisner, it must have been during his first attendance at a performance of the Borovansky Ballet Academy, in Melbourne in 1942. Although he had been reluctant to go at first, an astonished Lisner sat enthralled. A lifelong passion was born, and a spark was lit which, many year later, would burn brightly, and result in the formation of Queensland Ballet .
As we dance into our sixth decade, it is timely to chronicle the key events which have led us to where we are today:
Lisner begins taking ballet lessons from Madame Borovansky.
Edouard Borovansky recruits Lisner to his company.
With backing from J.C. Williamson, the Borovansky Ballet tours Australia, including visiting Brisbane, where ballet fans queued for hours outside the theatre.
Lisner decides to try his luck overseas, and sails to England.
Despite the post-war austerity and privations, Lisner thrived on the artistic opportunities he encountered in London. He took classes at Vera Volkova’s studio, alongside Robert Helpmann and Erik Bruhn. He visited art galleries and museums, and studied music and composition at the Royal College of Music. He appeared in The Red Shoes, working with Leonide Massine. A five-month scholarship offered to him by Ninette de Valois enabled him to attend the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School.
Lisner joins the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company.
Lisner danced on the same stage as Sadler’s Wells major star, Margot Fonteyn, and appeared in new ballets by Frederick Ashton and Ninette de Valois. He noted that they were building a distinctive repertoire and style.
A serious illness leads Lisner to take stock of his life and consider his ambitions. He returns to Melbourne, determined to start his own ballet school and company.
Having identified Queensland as a place where he could pioneer professional ballet performances, Lisner began by opening the Lisner Ballet Academy at a studio in Fortitude Valley in December 1953.
The Lisner Academy is damaged by smoke from a fire in the café on the ground floor of the building. His students rally to the cause and enthusiastically help with the clean-up.
Lisner moves his Academy to the Caledonian Building in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane. Funding the enterprise himself, he converts the space into a 220-seat theatre. He is assisted in the manual labour by others, including dancer Harold Collins. Two months after the theatre’s official opening, Lisner announces the establishment of The Lisner Ballet .
The Lisner Ballet gives its inaugural performance on 29 April, 1960. The program included Lisner’s work, The Gift, for which he also composed the music.
After a promising debut, the fledgling company’s fortunes waned with declining audience numbers.
With funding from the NSW Arts Council, Lisner and five of his dancers, accompanied by five ex-Borovansky dancers, begin a gruelling 18-week tour of New South Wales and Queensland , performing in 84 towns. The warmth of the company’s reception on tour fostered what would develop into a steadfast commitment to regional touring.
Lisner realised that a privately-owned company had little hope of attracting government support. The Lisner Ballet becomes a company limited by guarantee and is re-named The Queensland Ballet Company, with State Governor Sir Henry Abel Smith as Patron. The people of Queensland now had their own professional ballet company, which performed for the first time on 29 September, 1962. Amongst the dancers that night were Mary Heath, Harold Collins, Lynette Sorrensen, Wendy Tabke and Michelle McCormack.
The company’s early years were exciting and exhausting. Still principally funded by the Lisner Ballet Academy, the company didn’t have enough funds to cover full-time wages. However, such was the dancers’ commitment to the success of the company, many took day-jobs in order to keep performing.
The Queensland Ballet appeared in a number of hugely popular televised ballets on the ABC and on Channel 9 during the 1960s.
The Academy Theatre is destroyed by fire. Unable to fund having it rebuilt as a theatre, Lisner turned the space into a large studio for classes and rehearsals. The company began performing at Festival Hall and Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Unable to continue in the face of dwindling finances, Lisner decides to suspend operations and focus on lobbying for government funding. His loyal dancers continue to attend classes and the Lisner Academy continues to operate.
The State Government issues grant of $7,500, allowing the company to once again plan for its future.
The Queensland Ballet Company re-opens on 6 March 1968 with a season at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Government funding is increased to $30,000 later in the year.
With no funds to commission works from guest choreographers, Lisner had to continue creating most of the company’s works himself. As the company’s financial footing became more secure, he was able to provide opportunities for other Australian artists. Garth Welch created Counterfeit on the company in 1969, and Leslie White, Ray Powell and Cathryn Short created new works for the company in 1972.
The company tours to Canberra, Hobart, Launceston and Sydney for the first time, but poor box office income precipitates a financial crisis which nearly sees the organisation collapse. Strict economies and unflagging audience support saw lost financial ground re-gained.
On 4 June, Lisner announces his resignation, leaving the company he had founded and nurtured in a healthy financial position, and with a respected artistic reputation.
Harry Haythorne is appointed Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Ballet . Born in South Australia, Haythorne had danced and worked overseas since 1949.
Haythorne expanded the company’s repertoire, programming works by international choreographers (including Walter Gore, Kenneth Macmillan and Leonide Massine), and invited Bournonville expert, Hans Brenaa, to come out from the Royal Danish Ballet to stage La Sylphide. New works by Australian choreographers were also commissioned, which saw Don Asker, Garth Welch and Graeme Murphy all working with the company. Haythorne also contributed much to building Queensland Ballet’s relationship with ballet schools around Queensland , by casting local children in touring productions of works such as Coppelia.
The company begins operating from a heritage-listed building in Margaret Street, Brisbane, owned by Chair of the Board of Directors, John Matthews.
Haythorne relinquishes the directorship of the company.
Harold Collins is appointed Artistic Director. A founding member of The Queensland Ballet Company under Lisner, Collins left Australia in 1964, spending the next 10 years dancing overseas, and re-joined Queensland Ballet in 1974.
Collins was to be at the artistic helm of the company for almost two decades. In 1985, the opening of new theatres in QPAC provided a welcome boost to the public’s interest in ballet . Riding financial highs and lows over the years, including the economic downturn of the early 1990s, the company presented some memorable and dramatically-charged productions, among them Jacqui Carroll’s Scheherazade and Collins’ Salome. Following Lisner’s vision, Collins continued to commission new Australian works in contemporary and classical styles, and forged the enduring relationship between Queensland Ballet and the Queensland Dance School of Excellence.
Charles Lisner dies from cancer.
The company undertakes its first international tour, travelling across the Tasman to New Zealand.
Queensland Ballet moves in to the Thomas Dixon Centre in West End. Having been purchased by the Queensland Government in 1975, the former shoe factory was refurbished to provide offices and studios for Queensland Ballet , the Queensland Dance School of Excellence, and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Charles Lisner Studio in the Thomas Dixon Centre is opened for public performances, offering a unique experience in an intimate and relaxed studio space.
The company embarks on a major international tour, visiting 26 cities across the USA, performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Scheherazade and Pirates! New York Post dance critic, Clive Barnes, declares, “ …the Queensland Ballet is absolutely packed with dance talent.”
Collins leaves Queensland Ballet , saying of his 19 years as Artistic Director, “It was a great gift to be able to develop the company.”
French-born François Klaus is appointed Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer, following an impressive career as a dancer, teacher and choreographer in Europe. Klaus had joined Stuttgart Ballet under John Cranko, and continued working with him in Munich. He spent the greater part of his career as a Principal Dancer of Hamburg Ballet under the direction of John Neumeier, and had toured extensively in Europe, the Americas and Japan. He had been the Artistic Director of Bern State Ballet in Switzerland, and established his own company, Ballett Art.
When François Klaus began his stewardship of Queensland Ballet , the company was still recovering from the recession of the early 90s and the financial impact of the US tour. Careful management and creative programming saw a rocky financial patch negotiated, and the technical and artistic development of the dancers under Klaus’s guidance led to a resurgence of respect and support for the company. Klaus introduced several different programs which have become much-loved features of the company’s annual program, including the International Gala, Vis-à-vis and Soirées Classiques series.
François Klaus has continued to nurture the creative spirit of Queensland Ballet . He has created numerous works himself, and overseen the growth of the company’s repertoire to include many popular classics, story ballets, and new works in a variety of dance styles. Encouraging emerging choreographic talent and giving the dancers opportunities to work with international choreographers are also central to his artistic philosophy.
Klaus and Artistic Associate, Robyn White, establish the Professional Year (PY), an innovative program for gifted young dancers who are interested in pursuing a professional career in classical ballet . Since its inception over a decade ago, a significant number of highly-trained PY graduates have been accepted into the company.
The Junior Extension Program (JEP), co-ordinated by Robyn White, is offered to supplement the work of community dance teachers.
Queensland Ballet undertakes its first European Tour in January 2006, visiting seven cities in Germany and Switzerland. The company is enthusiastically received, and is invited to return to many of the venues.
In March 2007, Queensland Ballet makes its first appearance in Asia, presenting four performances of Klaus’s whimsical Alice in Wonderland in the Victoria Theatre, Singapore. In September, the company returns to Europe, this time to present Klaus’s acclaimed production of Cloudland in six cities. In December, Queensland Ballet attracts an audience of over 15,000 people to its season of The Nutcracker in QPAC’s Lyric Theatre.
The company travels to Japan in April 2008, performing François Klaus’s The Little Mermaid in Osaka and Kobe. Soon after they return, the centenary of the Thomas Dixon Centre is celebrated with a very successful Open Day on 19 April.
Timeless Dances, a collaborative work with indigenous musician William Barton, is the centrepiece in the program for a third European Tour. The company performs to sold-out houses in many of the seven cities they visit in Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. This tour does much to cement the company’s excellent reputation: “When Australia’s Queensland Ballet is on the program, a full house at the Graf-Zeppelin Haus is guaranteed,” enthused Christel Voith in the Schwäbische Zeitung, Friedrichshafen, Germany.
In December 2009, a production milestone is achieved with François Klaus’s Swan Lake presented in the QPAC Playhouse, the company’s first full-length production of this classic ballet .
Queensland Ballet celebrates the 50th anniversary of its foundation. The Company hosts a Golden Gala Dinner in June; among the guests are current Artistic Director, François Klaus, former Artistic Directors Harold Collins MBE and Harry Haythorne, and Valerie Lisner, widow of the Company’s founder, Charles Lisner.
In March and April 2011, the Company makes its first tour to China, presenting François Klaus’s The Little Mermaid in eight major regional centres.
In July, former Artistic Director Harold Collins dies after a long illness. Former Principal Dancer Rosetta Cook dedicates Hall of Flame, the work she has choreographed for International Gala 2011, to his memory.
In February, it was announced that François Klaus would leave the Company after a fifteen-year tenure, at the conclusion of the December season of The Sleeping Beauty. In 2012, Li Cunxin, an acclaimed former dancer and author of the best-selling autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer, was appointed as Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director, commencing with Season 2013.