WORLD PREMIERE A New Staging of The Nutcracker
'The Nutcracker' repetiteurs Judith Lowe and Wendy Lowe

WORLD PREMIERE A New Staging of The Nutcracker

October 1st, 1987 — October 1st, 1987


By Lynette Cassells

Few people know that Australia’s oldest ballet company, founded and developed in Brisbane, is still on its toes. This year that company celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

Over the 50 years, the Ballet Theatre of Queensland has grown from a small group of local teachers organising irregular garden party recitals and financing overseas scholarships, to a full-scale company that has given theatrical starts to some of the world’s finest dancers.

Yet the survival of Ballet Theatre is made even more remarkable by the fact that the company is not professional. Ballet Theatre of Queensland, not to be confused with the professional Queensland Ballet Company, is a company of up and coming amateur dancers. Casts are gathered from dancing studios throughout the State through auditions for the company’s productions of classical and neo-classical works.

And for all the company’s 50 years there has been one woman who has kept the spirit alive – Phyllis Danaher. Now 79, Miss Danaher has dedicated her life to teaching ballet and ensuring Ballet Theatre has stayed afloat.

Although she retired as artistic director in 1984, Miss Danaher still keeps closely in touch with Ballet Theatre and her long-time assistant and ballet mistress, Wendy Lowe, still consults her for advice.

“No one else has done for dance what Miss Danaher has,” Miss Lowe said.

“A lot of the choreography we are still teaching is Miss Danaher’s original choreography. Over the years Ballet Theatre has given so many people the opportunity of performing full-length ballets and new works.

“Ballet Theatre was formed to give people who might not go on to professional companies, but love dancing anyway, the chance to perform. A lot of students would never have had that opportunity in their own studio.”

Over the years Ballet Theatre has nurtured some fine talent in the worlds of dance and show business. Garth Welch, John Meehan and Lucette Aldous began their exalted careers at Ballet Theatre under Miss Danaher.

Geraldine Turner went on to make a name in musical comedy and was recently in Brisbane in Pirates of Penzance. Inara Svalbe, another former Ballet Theatre soloist, founded the Australian Youth Ballet Company. 

Former dancing teacher Marjorie Lucas, now retired and living on the Sunshine Coast, has just finished a book on the history of Queensland dance. And of course, Phyllis Danaher and Ballet Theatre form a major chapter.

“I think Phyl was a genius,” Mrs Lucas said. “She could spot a fault immediately. She was very good with the men. Garth Welch was just one of her pupils.”

Mrs Lucas’ respect for Miss Danaher ran so deep that in 1969 she nominated her for a British Empire Award. Miss Danaher received an MBE for her outstanding contribution to dance. “Ballet Theatre has paved the way for various other companies to form in Queensland,” said Mrs Lucas, whose book traces back to Ballet Theatre’s beginning as the Australian Society of Operatic Dancing in 1937. “It was a natural sequence from then.”

To celebrate the Golden Jubilee, ballet Theatre has two special events planned. The company will use Miss Danaher’s original choreographic notes to reproduce Nutcracker, the family classic that has been a long-standing favourite in Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.

More than 250 dancers will take part in the eight performances at the Suncorp Theatre from Wednesday until Sunday. The Nutcracker is being produced by Wendy Lowe and her sister Judith, another former Ballet Theatre soloist and Miss Danaher trainee.

Many other former members are returning to appear in the production – as mother and fathers in the opening scenes. Ballet Theatre president Ken McCaffrey is one of them. He has played the role of the magician Drosselmeyer at least 134 times in Ballet Theatre shows.

Second on the bill is the special Ballet Gala at Suncorp Theatre on October 4. As a special tribute to Ballet Theatre, and in particular Miss Danaher, dancers from here and in New Zealand have joined forces for a one-off ballet event.

Heading the bill is Australia’s prima ballerina Marilyn Jones who will dance the Dying Swan. Marilyn appeared as guest artist in Ballet Theatre productions over the years and also choreographed Sylvia in the early seventies.

Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch’s teenage son, Stanton, will dance together in a ballet choreographed by Stanton called Mort de Jeune (Death of Youth). Stanton has also choreographed a contemporary ballet for senior Ballet Theatre members which will have its world premiere at the gala.

Royal New Zealand Ballet Company principals Kerry-Anne Gilbert and Stephen Nicholls will dance the Black Swan Pas De Deux. Also appearing will be Sian Stokes and Adam Marchant from the Australian Ballet, a troupe of former Australian Dance Theatre members, and the Gold Coast Youth ballet.

“This is our tribute to Phyllis Danaher”, said Mr McCaffrey. “It is one of the social events on the dance calendar. It will be a very special night.”

The Sunday Sun, 27 September 1987. Courtesy Judith & Wendy Lowe.


Review by Jean Sinclair

The Ballet Theatre of Queensland is staging its Golden Jubilee production, a new version of ‘The Nutcracker', at the Suncorp Theatre. Students of all ages from studios in and around Brisbane are gaining practical experience in public performance in the professional manner.

The opening night on Thursday was highly successful, with the enthusiasm of the young giving this old classic plenty of verve and freshness.

Ballet Theatre has to work on a shoestring budget, so the music was on tape. The Tchaikovsky score naturally lost quite a deal of its charm under this treatment, especially as at times the music became unbearably loud.

There are some very good young dancers showing great promise, particularly Suzanne Grosskreutz, for her interpretation of an Arabian dance, Tammy Gibney, for her clarity of execution, Grainger Laffin, as a dramatic Nutcracker, and Sharyn Winney, who danced the most sensitive and imaginative Clara, gracefully partnered by Martin Ceslis.

Marnie Boreham, the Sugar Plum Fairy, deserves special congratulations for a swift recovery from the effects of a stage left slippery from an oversupply of snowflakes. In Corps de Ballet work, the Snowflakes and the Polichinelles provided some excellent highlights.

The Telegraph, 2 October 1987


Suncorp Theatre, Brisbane
Artistic Director
Leslie White
Reproduced from the notes of Phyllis Danaher MBE by Wendy Lowe & Judith Lowe
Original choreography by Lev Ivanov
Costume Designer
Judith and Wendy Lowe
Costume Co-ordinator: Theda Lowe
Scenic Designer
Rodney Clarke and Karen Trott
Properties by Fred and Marie-Ann Grosskreutz
Lighting Designer
Paddy Teuma
Kenneth J. McCaffrey


  • Sharyn Winney
  • Mike Kurylewski
  • Martin Ceslis
  • Andrew Hull
  • Bernadette Ceravolo
  • Grainger Laffin,
  • Suzanne Grosskreutz
  • Tammy Gibney
  • Marnie Boreham
  • Ken McCaffrey
  • Daniel Thompson
  • Jean McEwan
  • Desley Hammond
  • Ian Hadley
  • Jason Roth
  • Donna Cooper
  • Robert Tomaschewski
  • Veronique Bosquet
  • Bianca Peltola
  • Janet Nelson
  • Meaghan Cooper
  • Sonya Townson
  • Elissa Gibbs
  • Alia Darmansjah

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