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Drama was much more popular than dance during the first half of the 19th century, though some incidental stage choreography is recorded from 1833 onwards and in 1840 Mme Velbein was appointed to oversee dance at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre, with Mme Rosine becoming ballet mistress at Melbourne's Royal Theatre in the same year. Dance performances became voguish around this time and the first European ballet companies began to visit. La Sylphide was danced in Melbourne during the 1840s and La Fille mal gardée in Sydney and Melbourne in 1855. In the same year, the visiting Lola Montez attracted extraordinary audiences. In 1889 an Australian corps de ballet appeared in a Melbourne production of Sinbad the Sailor and was retained as the corps of the Royal Comic Opera Company with ballerina Mary Weir. New ballets arranged for the Royal Comic Opera and the Melba Opera Company at the beginning of the 20th century were critically well received, but ballet still remained a minority enthusiasm. In 1913, however, A. Genée performed in Melbourne with dancers from the Imperial Russian Ballet in performances of Coppélia and Les Sylphides and sparked widespread public interest in the art. This was rekindled in 1926 and 1927 when Pavlova toured the country. During the 1920s some distinguished dancers and teachers also settled in Australia including Mischa Burlakov, who with Louise Lightfoot founded the First Australian Ballet, which staged several Fokine ballets. In 1934 Victor Dandré presented the Levitoff Russian Ballet with Spessivtseva and Vilzak and in the same year Molly Lake established an Australian branch of the Cecchetti Society. In 1938 the first Royal Academy of Dancing examiner was appointed and de Basil's Ballets Russes had a highly successful tour which they repeated in 1938 (under the name Covent Garden Russian Ballet) and in 1940 (as the Original Ballet Russe). It was on this tour that Lichine premiered his Graduation Ball in Sydney. Two important members of this company stayed on in Australia—Helene Kirsova, who opened a studio in Sydney, followed by her own company, the Kirsova Ballet (1941–6), and Borovansky, who opened a school in Melbourne in 1939. A company emerged from the school in 1940, becoming fully professional in 1944. Its repertoire was predominantly Russian but it also featured work by Australian choreographers Laurel Martyn and Dorothy Stevenson whose Sea Legend was the first all-Australian ballet. Premiered in 1943 in Melbourne it had music by Esther Rofe, and designs by Alan McCulloch and Jean Oberhansli. Though struggling with constant financial difficulties (it had to disband after every season) the company produced several fine dancers including Kathleen Gorham and Garth Welch, and built up a solid audience for dance. Following Borovansky's death in 1959 the company's final season was directed by van Praagh. It was then absorbed into Australian Ballet which she founded in 1962 with Government subsidy.

After the 1940s interest in ballet gathered momentum with the founding of many clubs, guilds, and new companies. Two Melbourne ballet groups were founded in 1940, West Australian Ballet was established in 1952 and Queensland Ballet (orig. Lisner Ballet) in 1960. Australia also became firmly established on the international touring circuit.

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Subjects: Dance.


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