Peggy! The Australian Ballet in 2010

When the Australian Ballet announced its 2010 season in September 2009, one of the most appealing aspects of the year long program was the prospect of a tribute season called Peggy! The ‘Peggy’ of the title is of course the Australian Ballet’s inaugural artistic director, Dame Peggy van Praagh. The program features works with which she is closely associated in some way and is also a centenary celebration of her birth in 1910. Peggy! will be seen only in Melbourne in eleven performances between 25 June and 5 July 2010.

Perhaps the most interesting of the works on the program is a pas de deux choreographed by Dame Peggy in 1973, which she made to be inserted into Act I of her 1965 production of Giselle. The pas de deux is not well known. Recent Australian Ballet audiences are probably more familiar with Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle, which she first staged for the Australian Ballet in 1986. Van Praagh’s  pas de deux does not appear in this production. The Gielgud production remained a mainstay of company repertoire throughout Gielgud’s reign as artistic director and beyond. After leaving the company at the end of 1996, Gielgud returned ten years later in 2006 to stage it once more for the Australian Ballet. The van Praagh production of Giselle, with its distinctive pas de deux, was revived briefly by Ross Stretton for the Australian Ballet in 2001, but has not been staged since.

In a program note for the 1973 season, the company’s then musical director, John Lanchbery, wrote: ‘As a novelty there is a new pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht in Act I which I have orchestrated and adapted from Soviet sources’. The pas de deux is rather more than the ‘novelty’ of Lanchbery’s note, unless one considers that Lanchbery was using the term in its less popular sense of ‘something new’. It is certainly not a ‘decorative trinket’, to use the word in its more popular sense. Choreographically, its Cecchetti-inspired use of epaulement and its light as a feather jumps are a delight, as is its denouement into its final, charming pose. Dramatically, it serves to establish early on, and in more depth than is usual in other productions, the relationship between Giselle and Albrecht. It also anticipates their Act II pas de deux and, as a result, the dramatic tension of the work is heightened when the Act II pas de deux is performed.

Marilyn Jones and Johnathon Kelly in the van Praagh pas de deux from Giselle. The Australian Ballet, 1973. Photograph reproduced by courtesy of  the Australian Ballet

Van Praagh’s biographer notes that, while she could probably not be considered a choreographer in her own right, she was adept at ‘imitating a choreographic style in the mode of either Petipa, Bournonville or Cecchetti’. This is probably true, but it is sad in many ways to be seeing the van Praagh Giselle pas de deux out of context. Its charm, however, makes it worth seeing, even as a kind of divertissement.

The Peggy! program also includes a staging of Antony Tudor’s 1938 ballet Gala Performance, in which Van Praagh created the role of the Russian ballerina. She also staged the work on various companies and her choreographic notes from her staging for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1957 exist in her collection of papers at the National Library of Australia. They can be seen online at this link.

Peggy! also includes the Garland Dance from van Praagh’s 1973 production of The Sleeping Beauty, made in conjunction with Robert Helpmann, the pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella and Mark Annear’s work from 2004, Birthday Celebration.

© Michelle Potter, 29 September 2009


  • Christopher Sexton, Peggy van Praagh: a life of dance (Melbourne: Macmillan, 1985)

5 thoughts on “Peggy! The Australian Ballet in 2010

  1. Dear Michelle,
    During my own research on Cecchetti and his legacy, I interviewed a foundation dancer with the Australian Ballet who discussed Cecchetti’s influence in regards Van Praagh. She recalled how Van Praagh stressed the use of the upper back throughout. Giselle was a lesson in Cecchetti Principles, the balance of the arms in the 4th port de bras in the Wilis was especially recalled and how the dancers had such a hard time learning to accomplish this.
    In terms of celebrating Van Praagh, you may be interested to know that as recently as 2008, Cecchetti Ballet Australia dedicated their conference in her memory – entitled – Dame Peggy Van Praagh – A Woman of Vision. Through various talks, panels, video presentations etc, her life was explored and passed onto future generations. I look forward to the Australian Ballet’s special season in 2010.
    Michelle thankyou for your most interesting article.

  2. I will also be looking forward to seeing again her Giselle Act 1 PDD. The last time that I saw it in it’s original Kenneth Rowell setting was at the Princess’ Theatre Melbourne danced by the Dancer’s Company. I seem to recall the sadly missed Ulrike Lytton as Myrtha and Fiona Tonkin as Giselle. And I think Rachel Cameron did some coaching. Soon after this I believe the physical production was destroyed by fire as it was travelling to another location for the Dancer’s Company. I also wanted the get a recording of the music for this PDD as it is not from Adam’s original score. I finally found it on a 2 LP set of Giselle played by the Bolshoi orchestra conducted by Algis Zshuraitis and recorded in 1970. Sadly I can’t find that this recording has been reissued onto CD. It was certainly interesting to see the revival under Ross Streeton inside Peter Farmer’s settings for Maina Gielgud’s production but these 2 productions had quite different characters dictated in part by their 2 different settings.
    When I saw the word Birthday my heart leapt at the prospect of a revival of the magnificent “Birthday Offering” but it is not to be. Can you imagine the delights in seeing our full crop of current ballerinas tackling the brilliant variations in Ashton’s work ?

  3. I think Australia should stage an Ashton Conference – including all his works staged by Australian Ballet – performances, discussions by dancers etc etc. Could our dancers today perform Ashton works? What
    happened to the chasse? After Ashton let’s then discover Tudor.

  4. Great idea. We aren’t good in this country at organising wide open dance conferences, in my opinion. I guess money is an ongoing issue? And there needs to be the backing of an organisation, similar I think to the American groups Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS) or Congress on Research in Dance (CORD). They bestow some kind of an imprimateur oin such things.

    I understand however that there will be a small exhibition of items from the Performing Arts Centre’s material relating to PVP during the Peggy! season. It will be I believe in the Smorgon Plaza area and is to be curated by Nick Henderson.

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