A new book reminds us, perhaps unintentionally, that not everything that has mattered in the performing arts started with the Australia Council or the Whitlam government. The establishment of the Australia Council was important but it was not created by Whitlam; it had been brought into being in 1970 by Gorton, followed up by McMahon. The book in question is Dancing Under The Southern Skies by Valerie Lawson (Australian Scholarly Publishing). A distinguished author and journalist, Lawson is particularly noted for her dance writing for which she won a Walkley Award.
In this, her third book, she traces the history of dance in Australia through the stories of the dancers, the directors and the touring Russian-named companies, the way in which ballet evolved here and the establishment of distinctive Australian companies, most notably The Australian Ballet. Founded in 1962, it grew out of the ashes of the Borovansky Ballet which had been presented by J. C. Williamson for a number of years but was no longer viable. Robert Menzies accepted the proposition that the government should support The Australian Ballet. In 1964 Robert Helpmann created The Display with music by Malcolm Williamson and designs by Sidney Nolan. Valerie Lawson reminds us also of Helpmann’s commercial acumen with the production of The Merry Widow; for years a money-spinner and international calling card for the company. One is grateful to Lawson for drawing together this important story.
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