In the 1980s The Australian Ballet’s audience was broader than ever before.
But the long simmering tensions between belt-tightening and creative risk were about to come to a head. In 1981 the dancers staged an iconic strike, demanding to be paid according to skill and rank.
Shortly after, the artistic appointment of British dancer Maina Gielgud finally brought together the creative and business sides of the company. What followed was a harmonious period of rebuilding and a focus on cultivating the company’s many young dancers, such as David McAllister, Steven Heathcote, Elizabeth Toohey and Fiona Tonkin.
Inspired by the company’s youth, the early nineties saw daring, sexy and provocative ballets that pushed the limits of physicality and tradition. Spartacus, and Stanton Welch’s Divergence showed a new edge and revolutionised the ballet’s public image.
The period also saw the arrival of Australia’s most highly regarded choreographer Graeme Murphy and the company’s first collaboration with choreographer Stephen Page of Bangarra Dance Company.
Ross Stretton took over the artistic direction in 1997. Remote and reclusive, his approach was not endeared by some, though no one could deny his artistic strengths. By the end of the decade, the repertoire was becoming increasingly contemporary, increasingly Australian and increasingly risky.
Production credits: Executive Producer, Veronica Fury. Director, Andy Southwell. Writer & Story Producer, Samantha Dinning. Lead Editor, Hilary Balmond. Narrator, Lisa McCune.