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Wed 15 June 2011 at the Ballet Centre


Michael Williams, Colin Peasley OAM, John Meehan, Frank Croese, Marilyn Rowe OBE, David McAllister AM.
Photograph courtesy of Jean Stewart.

Studios 7 and 8 at the Ballet Centre were crowded with Society Members and guests greatly excited in anticipation of a special evening on Wednesday 15 June. They certainly got what they were waiting for, plus a bit extra!

Marilyn Rowe, OBE., former Principal Artist of The Australian Ballet and present Director of The Australian Ballet School, together with John Meehan, former Principal Artist of The Australian Ballet made an entrance arm in arm into the Studio to huge applause. These two wonderful artists brought to life the lead roles in 'The Merry Widow' in 1975 when it opened at the Palais Theatre, St. Kilda to the most amazing response from the audience, who actually quietly sang along with the music at the end before giving a standing and rapturous ovation. It was a night that Marilyn and John have never forgotten as was very obvious as they spoke of the night with the other special guests at the function.

Colin Peasley, OAM., Artist in Residence, who performed the role of Baron Zeta with the original cast and is still performing it in 2011 spoke of his surprise and, most of the other dancers as well, that the production was so instantly popular. They all thought that it was a 'bit light and fluffy and not really ballet' so they were all totally taken aback by the response of the audiences at the first night performance as well as each following performance.

Michael Williams, Wardrobe Production Manager of The Australian Ballet, was Stage Manager at the time of the New York performances in 1976 and the Assistant Stage Manager was Frank Croese. Frank is now retired from The Australian Ballet but is responsible for the lighting design of Widow and many other ballets of the Company. Both men were 'knocked out' by the response of the audiences at every performance.

Mark Kay, Choreologist and Ballet Master, provided some wonderful black and white film of Marilyn and John dancing in Act 1 and Act 3 and when Paul Brickhill, Music and Audio Director of The Australian Ballet School showed the film the reaction from the audience was a wonderful mixture of nostalgic pleasure together with beaming smiles and lots of 'oohs and aahs'. There was also film of later performances featuring Lisa Pavane and Steven Heathcote, former Principal Artists in the lead roles. Of course Colin Peasley was there as well.

David McAllister, AM, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet was back on the screen as Camille much to the delight of the audience. David led the reminiscing and when he asked Marilyn for her memories of the rehearsing of the work, she produced a hand-written schedule of the weeks prior to the opening night. Marilyn had written down every call time and rehearsal detail as there was no copying equipment available in those days. As she read some of the details David was quite amazed at the hours and times the dancers worked.

There was a display of photographs of just about every Hanna and Danilo since the Widow first opened and a selection of costumes including the famous white cloak worn in the last scene of the ballet.

It was a wonderful function in every way and, after a very tasty supper, Members and guests left the Ballet Centre floating, or perhaps waltzing, to the music of Franz Lehar.

Josie Woodgate, OAM.


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