The 1990s
Artistic Directors Louise Hellewell & Christopher Gillard 1994-2000

The 1990s

The early 1990s consolidated changes that benefited BTQ both artistically and financially. Despite concerns from some Executive Committee members about Artistic Director Leslie White’s original concept for his new production of Cinderella, it was given the green light to proceed. With renowned artist Max Hurley on board as designer, White created a visually beautiful , entertaining and financially successful production of ten performances that were received with much acclaim in Brisbane and Toowoomba.

Leslie White’s productions took into account several changed circumstances for the company: apart from several grants towards professional fees, Queensland Government funding had not been available for some years so production choices had to cover costs and make income; and the lack of senior ballet dancers due to full time courses restricting their participation meant the main body of the company was of Pre-Elementary and Elementary standard.

White’s legacy was the strengthening of BTQ in both these areas. He moved away from the old policy of classics presented in the original form by either reworking them or creating new, exciting  productions to suit dancers of lesser technical standard. The Story of Elizabeth and Swan Lake, (re-presented at the Toowoomba City Hall in March 1990), established this new artistic policy, the condensed versions of Babes in Toyland for shopping centres established the new financial policy, and his 1991 production of Cinderella exemplified both.

A great loss to the company was the death of Founder Miss Phyllis Danaher MBE, FRAD on 31st May 1991 after a life-time dedication to her beloved Ballet Theatre of Queensland. Mrs Katherine Mackenzie-Forbes OAM, President in 1986 and 1986, also passed away and both ladies’ funerals were coincidentally held on the same day.

In its 55th year, BTQ produced a new and spectacular ballet Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs choreographed by Leslie White and designed by Max Hurley which toured to the Gold Coast, Redcliffe, Toowoomba and Gladstone. Toowoomba critic Geoff Harding described it as “a stunning production ... full of colour and vitality and with the young dancers of the Ballet Theatre of Queensland without exception all showing a standard of dancing which belies their years ... This is a quality Snow White that augers well for the future of ballet in the State of Queensland” (The Chronicle 5 October 1992). It opened its Brisbane season the following year at Twelfth Night Theatre.

After five hectic and enjoyable years as BTQ’s Artistic Director, Leslie White retired in 1993 and yet another era began under the co-artistic direction of Louise Hellewell and Christopher Gillard.

Louise and Christopher brought to BTQ many years of experience as professional dancers.  Louise danced in the UK and internationally for a period of 10 years with The Scottish Ballet before joining  the Scottish Dance Theatre, renowned for its contemporary and innovative dance style, as a founding member and principal dancer. After her marriage to Christopher in 1988, Louise made a new career for herself in dance and choreography in Brisbane. Christopher’s professional life began with Queensland Ballet before he joined The Scottish Ballet as soloist dancer and later senior artist, performing internationally with such great names as Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova and many choreographers such as Christopher Bruce and Robert North. Back in Brisbane, he joined Queensland Ballet as principal dancer.

Their first choreographic venture for BTQ (supported by a Queen’s Trust Grant of $8000) was a highly successful original production of Peter Pan performed at Redcliffe, Toowoomba and Brisbane’s Southbank Piazza in 1993 and at Brisbane’s Twelfth Night Theatre in 1994, to audiences totaling 4000. Their next production was a delightful Pinocchio, described by ballet critic Olivia Stewart as going way beyond “giving young people an opportunity to perform ... It is a full scale production containing plenty of professional values”. She described Max Hurley’s gorgeous costumes and colourful set design as “just as much the stars of the show as the performers” (The Courier-Mail, 24 January 1996).

Yet another loss to the company occurred in 1995 with the death of Jack Rodgers who for many decades had turned his hand at just about everything for BTQ – from building sets, to stage manager, lighting designer, to Treasurer (1970-71), to President (1965-70;1990-1993) and everything in between. His legacy to BTQ was enormous, especially his contribution to the high production standards that continue to characterize the company's public performances. Much loved, he was sorely missed by the BTQ community.

A great gain to the company however was the 1996 appointment of Mrs Marie-Ann Grosskreutz to the position of President, which she held with distinction until 2002.

In 1997 BTQ turned 60 and what better way to celebrate than with a new interpretation of an old favourite, The Nutcracker, directed by Louise and Christopher and designed by Max Hurley, at Suncorp Theatre. First presented by BTQ at the Rialto Theatre in 1964, it had been re-staged by Judith and Wendy Lowe in 1987 as part of the company’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Of The Nutcracker, critic Olivia Stewart wrote: “... the state’s oldest ballet company, which is celebrating its 60th year, has again mounted a youth-based performance about which it’s possible to applaud genuinely rather than just politely” and “In technical and artistic quality, the production values of this Nutcracker ... belie the company’s unfunded status” (The Courier-Mail, 7 April 1997). The year of 1997 included two other huge successes, Peter Pan at Brisbane City Hall and The Bush Faeries Convention at the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens.

BTQ’s final season at Suncorp Theatre was its 1998 production of The Wizard of Oz after which the company was fortunate enough to afford to move its productions to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s new Optus Playhouse (later, simply, the ‘Playhouse’). It opened its first season there in 1999 with Louise and Christopher’s stunning production of Cinderella with design by Max Hurley. It had the distinction of being the very first ballet to be performed on the Playhouse stage. Choosing the prestigious new state-of-the-art Playhouse theatre was very much in keeping with BTQ’s role since its inception of providing the most professional training ground possible.

For a long time BTQ had been hampered by having no space of its own, always relying on hiring premises for its operations, particularly in relation to costume and set storage and set building. However, in 1998 the good news went out to members that, with the support of the Queensland Arts Office, Jupiter’s Casino Community Benefit Fund and the Gaming Machine Fund, Ballet Theatre would soon have its own ‘headquarters’ at Haydon Street, Nudgee. A Sub-Committee headed by Fred Grosskreutz supervised the construction – called ‘The Shed Project’ - which was completed in 2000.

Fondly known as ‘Fred’s Shed’, it was officially opened on 18 June 2000 by the Minister for the Arts, The Honourable Matt Foley. About 200 friends, family and Brisbane dance community members attended making it a memorable occasion. A parade of BTQ costumes modelled by the current company was a highlight of the event. Minister Foley congratulated BTQ on its 63 year history and drew particular attention to its hardworking supporters, particularly its current President Marie-Ann Grosskreutz, to whom he presented Life Membership.

Louise and Christopher’s final production as BTQ’s very successful and dedicated Co-Artistic Directors since 1994 was Pinocchio which performed at the Caloundra Cultural Centre in 1999 and the Optus Playhouse in 2000.

 Researcher and writer: Dr Christine Comans



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