The history of ballet in New Zealand can be divided into two distinct periods: before, and after, the Second World War. In the first period, from 1840 to 1946, New Zealanders relied principally on overseas artists and companies to provide them with ballet entertainment, though in the twenties and thirties amateur dancers were active in a limited way; while in the second period, from 1946 until the present day, overseas companies have had to share honours with the New Zealand Ballet Co. and amateur ballet companies in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch.
Exactly when ballet–as distinct from amateur dance recitals–was first introduced into New Zealand is difficult to establish. Dancing was certainly part of the earliest theatrical productions, but it was not until 1926 when the celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova and a full company, including many international stars as well as the choreographer Michel Fokine, visited the Dominion, that theatregoers were given the opportunity of seeing full-length ballet of international standard. As in Australia, Pavlova's visit sowed the seeds of classical ballet in New Zealand. A New Zealander, Thurza Rogers, was a soloist with Pavlova's company, and after the tour young girls and would-be ballerinas flocked by the hundred to dancing classes in all the principal towns.
The Pavlova company's tour proved so successful that J. C. Williamson Theatres, who promoted the tour, had no hesitation in arranging tours in 1937 and 1939 by Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (the second company) and the Covent Garden Russian Ballet (de Basil's first company).
Thus, from 1926 until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, New Zealanders were not isolated from the influence of ballet at international level for the Covent Garden company included such famous ballet personalities as Irina Boronova, Anton Dolin, and David Lichine. These visits also paid rich dividends outside the box office; they kept interest in the art alive and provided a valuable stimulus to the strong body of amateur dancers who continued year after year to study the art without much hope of their ever being able to take up a professional career as a dancer.
After each visit by an overseas company, there was, of course, talk about the possible establishment of a ballet company in New Zealand but it was not until 1947 that any active move was made towards formation of a national ballet company. Throughout 1947 and well into the next year, letters were published in daily newspapers as well as weekly and monthly magazines and newspapers urging the Government to take active steps towards the establishment of a national theatre which would include drama, opera, ballet, and music. On all sides there seemed a keen demand for a national ballet company, and when the Government in 1947 made bursary grants to promising dancers to further their studies overseas the future looked bright. But six years later the enthusiasts were still talking and writing to the newspapers and nothing had been done in connection with the establishment of a national ballet company.