BTQ's Golden Jubilee in 1987
The Ballet Gala 1987 with Stanton Welch, Marilyn Jones, Wendy Lowe, Phyllis Danaher and Judy Lowe. Courtesy QPAC Museum

BTQ's Golden Jubilee in 1987

The Ballet Gala

Ballet Theatre’s Golden Jubilee Ballet Gala event at Suncorp Theatre was a magnificent celebration for all the teachers, young dancers, professional soloists, choreographers, producers, audiences and the army of volunteers who had brought wonderful ballets to Brisbane and regional south-east Queensland for the last 50 years. Overwhelmingly however, the gala event was a spectacular tribute to the Company’s former Artistic Director and co-founder Miss Phyllis Danaher, MBE, FRAD.  Only relinquishing her directorial role in 1985, she had been the driving force behind Australia’s oldest dance company and, indeed, the only company of its kind in this country.

And magnificent it was! The centrepiece of The Ballet Gala was Marilyn Jones dancing The Dying Swan from Swan Lake and the world premiere of Hades , the first ballet choreographed by her son Stanton Welch and danced by Stanton and senior members of Ballet Theatre. The evening also featured guest artists from the Bolshoi Ballet, The Australian Ballet, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, Human Veins Dance Theatre from Canberra, and Gold Coast Youth Ballet among others.

In the gala program The Royal New Zealand Ballet Artistic Director Harry Haythorne paid special tribute to “the group’s moving spirit Phyllis Danaher”:

I first worked with a Danaher trained dancer in Britain in 1950 and during the ensuing years have been fortunate enough to be associated with artists trained by her and others who have benefited from the experience which Ballet Theatre of Queensland provides. ... There are surely very few dance companies in Australasia which have not numbered Ballet Theatre graduates among their members at some time and of course we are all aware of those graduates who have gone on to attain star status and international fame.  Without Ballet Theatre of Queensland dance in Australasia would have undoubtedly been poorer; may it keep its standards high and go on to achieve another fifty years of providing valuable stage experience to many generations of aspiring dance artists.

Such an event as this one, with dancers from various national and international companies taking part, had never been staged in Australia before and its uniqueness and outstanding quality was a fitting tribute to Miss Danaher who had done so much for ballet in this country.

Other Golden Jubilee Events

Whilst The Ballet Gala was the climax of celebrations for the Jubilee year, a set of other special celebratory events and productions were organised. These included a Golden Jubilee Dinner, a Combined Teacher Recital, and a new staging of Nutcracker produced by Wendy Lowe and Judith Lowe. Marjorie Hollinshed in her book In Search of Ballet in Australia devotes a chapter to Miss Danaher and BTQ and her first-hand account of these three events (page 120) is worth quoting in full:

“The election of officers in February 1987 brought Ken McCaffrey back to Ballet Theatre’s Executive Committee for the first time in over twenty years. In his position as President he immediately organised the committee into special events, the first of these being The Golden Jubilee Dinner held in the Windsor Ballroom at the Mayfair Crest International Hotel. For this event former dancers from all over Australia flew in for this special evening, which was also a tribute to Miss Danaher, but unfortunately she was, at the last moment, unable to attend due to ill health. Entertainment for the evening was provided by present senior members of the Ballet Theatre and background music by pianist, Joan Ivanoff. The evening was a most memorable one and was thoroughly enjoyed by all those who attended.

“On a lovely Sunday afternoon in July, a Combined teacher Recital organised by Sue McNutt and Marianne Grosskreutz with assistance from other Committee members was staged at the Rialto Theatre, where many former Ballet Theatre productions were presented. Some sixteen teachers provided numbers for the afternoon concert and 1000 dancers took part.

“Next in the Jubilee events  is the staging of the Russian masterpiece The Nutcracker reproduced by Judith and Wendy Lowe from Miss Danaher’s original choreographic notes. Many former dancers including Desley Hammond, Judy Casey, Jean McEwan, Allyson Ridgewell, April Perkins and Jenny Stanfield will return to Brisbane to be ‘parents’ in Act 1 ... . Ken McCaffrey rturns to the role of Herr Dosselmayer, after an absence of some fifteen years. Leading scenic artists Rodney Clarke and Karen Trott are flying to Brisbane to paint the scenery ...  Altogether nearly three hundred dancers will be involved in the season with some 165 taking part in each performance. “

Researcher and writer: Dr Christine Comans

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