Dame Margaret Scott AC DBE 1922

Margaret Scott

Dame Margaret Scott

In 1949 Scott was a foundation member of Gertrude Johnson’s Melbourne-based National
Theatre Ballet,

In 1951 Scott choreographed Apollon Musagète, with music by Stravinsky, for Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Guild.

The Australian Ballet debuted on 2 November 1962. Van Praagh appointed Margaret Scott to head the associated school.

 

In 1949 Scott was a foundation member of Gertrude Johnson’s Melbourne-based National
Theatre Ballet, which was directed by another Rambert principal, Joyce Graeme. At Christmas 1949 she was a featured dancer in The Glass Slipper, an elegant retelling of Cinderella, which the National and the CarrollFuller managements combined to present at the Princess in Melbourne. A few months later she was the Thipa Thipa Bird in Corroboree, the groundbreaking ballet choreographed by Rex Reid to John Antill’s music. Danced barefoot, Scott recalled it as ‘the most physical torture any dancer could endure’.

In 1951 Scott choreographed Apollon Musagète, with music by Stravinsky, for Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Guild. The following year she returned to Britain where she worked with a small experimental dance group established by John Cranko, and then rejoined Ballet Rambert as ballet mistress – the first time she was employed as anything but a dancer. In March 1953 Scott married an Australian doctor, Derek Denton, and settled in Melbourne. For two years she managed Paul Hammond’s dance school while Hammond and his wife, Peggy Sager, were away on tour. After that she ran her own school in a church hall in Toorak.

In the late 1950s Scott was a prominent member of a group brought together by Zara Holt to present a ballet and fashion display for television. Others involved were dancers Sally Gilmour and Rex Reid, designer Ann Church and administrator Geoffrey Ingram. Its success led to further meetings to plan a national ballet company and school. Derek Denton relayed progress to his friend, the Reserve Bank chairman and arts supporter H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, who had fostered the establishment of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1954.

With the demise of the Borovansky Ballet in 1961, the Elizabethan Trust retained the services of its director, Peggy Van Praagh, who was charged with the responsibility of setting up the Australian Ballet and School along the lines that the Scott’s group had recommended. Coombs commented: ‘It was an excellent illustration of the creativeness of a group of dedicated artists… The success reflects the drive and energy as well as the persuasiveness of Margaret Scott.’

The Australian Ballet debuted on 2 November 1962. Van Praagh appointed Margaret Scott to head the associated school, which was ready for its first pupils in 1964. Though the selection of Scott was controversial at the time – some better-established teachers were disappointed – it proved to be astute. The school has helped establish Australia’s international dance reputation and has turned out several generations of superb dancers.

Biographical references

H.C. Coombs: Trial Balance – Issues of My Working Life, Sun Books, 1983
Edward H. Pask: Ballet in Australia – The Second Act, 1940-1980, Oxford, 1982
Pamela Ruskin: Invitation to the Dance – The Story of the Australian Ballet School, Collins, 1989
Frank Van Straten: National Treasure – The Story of Gertrude Johnson and the National TheatreVictoria Press, 1994