Arts in the outback

The drive to take ballet to the bush

Arts in the outback

In 1961, The Charles Lisner Ballet Company (now the Queensland Ballet) embarked on a gruelling 18-week tour of Queensland and New South Wales.

Funded by the New South Wales Arts Council, Lisner, accompanied by five of his dancers and five ex-Borovansky dancers, journeyed to 84 towns across 14,000 kilometres of outback roads in a semi-trailer that housed all of their scenery, costumes, lighting equipment and sound systems. It was the Company’s first-ever regional tour, and the beginning of a longstanding commitment that 60-years on remains at the core of the Queensland Ballet Company.

Each year, QB tours to the heart of Queensland, taking world-class productions to the smaller stages across the regions and providing education and engagement programs. It is an initiative that stems from the phrase Queensland at its heart; a core belief that has driven the company to expand and develop its regional outreach, strengthening the cultural fabric of the state and providing pathways for future artists. Deeply embedded into QB’s DNA that we are Queensland’s ballet company, QB remains steadfast in providing arts for all, ensuring those who aspire to dance have the opportunity to do so, despite their geographical location.

Last year, QB’s Community Engagement team packed their bags and hit the open road for an annual regional tour that would see them travel far-and-wide to 19 local government areas over six weeks. With a robust COVID-safe plan in place, the team engaged with nearly 3,000 participants from community classes, in-school workshops and teacher professional development programs. While the Company provides the magic and wonder of a ballet production, it’s the engagement programs that maintain a strong presence in regional communities, sharing cultural experiences with people of all ages and introducing the artform to many people for the first time, both young and old.

For QB Education Manager Martha Godber, two months out of every year are spent road-tripping across outback highways, where the only thing that breaks the vast, barren horizon are the passing kangaroos and emus. Now embarking on her eighth regional tour this year, Martha has made a plethora of regional connections, including returning students that have developed their passion for ballet over the years that QB has visited.

“Our regional tour is all about access,” Martha says.

“As a State Company, we have a commitment to ensure what is accessible in the cities is accessible in country towns.”

While access to arts opportunities is richly abundant in metropolitan areas, for those aspiring dancers in rural locations, the opportunities to explore and discover the artist within doesn’t come as easily. Despite the limitations, the love and passion for dance is immensely strong in regional Queensland, with a community of dedicated and talented teachers, who devote themselves to keeping the passion for dance alive. Often those training to become dancers in rural locations have to leave home earlier to pursue their passion, and exhibit a greater drive to succeed, with dance class not just down the road, but sometimes hundreds of kilometres away.

Twice a week, eleven-year-old Lucy Faggoter travels over an hour from her family’s 17,000ha cattle station in remote Longreach to attend ballet class. Since her first introduction to the artform five years ago, Lucy has dreamed of becoming a ballerina. While the imagery of glimmering theatre lights seems starkly different to the dry, red earth of outback Queensland, dance provides Lucy with a distraction from the harsh reality of Australia’s unforgiving weather, having spent two-thirds of her life in drought. When QB visited Longreach in August last year, Lucy and her mother Rachael made the 200-kilometre round-trip to see QB Teaching Artists, all former dancers, in action. Participating in a workshop led by QB’s Education Teaching Artists would become a defining moment.

“It’s a buzz for Lucy to meet the ballerinas she could one day see performing on stage,” says Rachael.

“Lucy sees them not only as ballerinas, but as real people who have worked hard to get where they are, and that is the magic of possibility for Lucy. It sends the message that if you work hard enough, it could be her or anyone she knows on that stage,” Rachael added.

The magic of possibility makes the total four-hour journey to-and-from weekly ballet classes worthwhile for Lucy and her mum.

While it may seem the regional tour is all about learning new skills and technique, the real motive is to ignite inspiration through dance. In the years to come, QB aims to expand its touring route to encompass more regional areas, hopeful to inspire more people to chase their dreams, just like Lucy.

“It makes you feel like anything is possible,” says Lucy. 

“Like one day I could be one of them.” 

By Ellen Gilroy


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