Foundation of Ballet Company
During this period interest in the art was kept alive by visits by the Ballet Rambert, the Borovansky Ballet, the Bodenweiser Ballet, and the Australian National Ballet Co. The Borovansky and Bodenweiser companies included New Zealanders in their ranks and this served to spur ballet enthusiasts into action. Early in 1954, therefore, a national ballet began to take shape. A School of Ballet was organised in Auckland by the Regional Council for Adult Education and conducted by Poul Gnatt, a distinguished dancer who, prior to his arrival in New Zealand, had been a principal danseur with the Royal Danish Ballet. Fired by the enthusiasm of the dancers who attended the school, Poul Gnatt founded the New Zealand Ballet Co. later in the year, and subsequently made limited tours throughout the country.
As with every other ballet company in the world, the New Zealand Ballet Co. was, and still is, seriously hampered in its activities by the lack of adequate finance. In its infancy it received invaluable support from the New Zealand Players Co., the Community Arts Service, and the various Regional Councils for Adult Education. The Government, too, assisted with generous grants from time to time, but it was not until the Government of the day established the Arts Advisory Council in 1960 and set aside the sum of £60,000 for the development of the arts generally, that the New Zealand Ballet Co. began to make financial headway. Certainly, in the years prior to 1960 the company would have foundered had it not been for the devoted enthusiasm of its founder and principal dancer/choreographer, Poul Gnatt.
The visit in 1959 of the Royal Ballet, headed by Dame Margot Fonteyn, served to whip up public interest in the art of ballet to a pitch previously unknown in the Dominion, and as a result the New Zealand Ballet Co. benefited. The company's first major national tour in 1960 was an outstanding success and demonstrated to New Zealanders in no uncertain manner that local dancers could present ballet on a professional scale. For this first national tour the company was fortunate in securing the services of Sara Neil (Wellingtonian Doreen Brown) who had returned home with her husband (Walter Rands-Trevor) after some years as a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Her husband had also been a soloist with the Royal Ballet and, together with Russell Kerr, who had also returned from overseas, Graeme Pickering, and Gloria Young, they provided a solid core around which Poul Gnatt was able to build a first-rate company. The programme included Les Patineurs, the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, Dream Visions, and Prismatic Variations.
Since 1960 the Company has made annual tours on a national scale presenting standard works and new ballets, notably Arthur Turnbull's Do Wack-A-Do and the Gnatt-Kerr ballet Prismatic Variations. In 1962 the company had the privilege of being the first company outside Denmark to produce the three-act Napoli ballet. Since 1962 the Company has added Petrouchka, One in Five, Casse Noisette, and Pavane to its repertoire.
While in recent years the New Zealand Ballet Co. has tended to dominate the ballet scene, a great deal of enterprising work has been performed by the United Ballet Co. and Ballet Workshop in Auckland and the Wellington City Ballet.