After many discussions, several drafts of a written application, a nerve-wracking interview, a “nail-biting waiting period” – and lots of coffee – Libby McDonnell and Timothy Brown received “the most wonderful news” of their careers. They had won the post of co-Artistic Directors of Ballet Theatre of Queensland.
By Rain Francis.
Having performed and created together in various capacities over the years, Libby and Timothy have what they call “an unstoppable creative connection”. With their fresh, youthful energy and an obvious commitment to the professional development of young dancers and performers, they seem a wise choice to take the reins of Australia’s longest continuing dance company.
Now entering its 76th year, Ballet Theatre of Queensland is a not-for-profit organisation which provides “professional performance and stagecraft opportunities to nurture talented young dancers, as well as fostering an appreciation of ballet amongst young and old audiences alike.” The company was founded by Phyllis Danaher (MBE, FRAD), who was the first Queensland teacher to gain the Advanced Teacher Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dance. An influential force in Australian ballet history, Miss Danaher taught several dancers who would go on to become dance icons, such as Garth Welch and Lucette Aldous.
Every Artistic Director to succeed Miss Danaher has been a professional dancer; this is something the company prides itself on. For the last decade, the post has belonged to dedicated husband-and-wife team Jodie Anne White-Bivona and Boris Bivona. Sadly, Jodie passed away on the last day of performances in January this year.
Knowing inside-out the demands and enormity of the role, it was under Boris’ recommendation that the title of Artistic Director was again shared by a partnership. And what better partnership in this instance than two friends who are artistically in tune? As Libby and Timothy say, “there are a few people in your lifetime that you have a genuine creative connection with. We share a deep mutual respect for one another and we are very fortunate to have this opportunity.”
Libby grew up dancing with BTQ, has since worked as an independent contemporary choreographer and costume designer, and is resident choreographer at Blue Roo Theatre Company. Timothy has danced with Queensland Ballet and Expressions Dance Company and has created works for both companies, as well as The Australian Ballet’s Bodytorque programme. BTQ President Michelle Platz says, “We are so excited to have this young dynamic duo join us. Between their choreography and design skills, they will start another amazing chapter in BTQ’s history.”
That chapter began with Libby and Timothy’s first task: to audition for the new season’s company. Each year, BTQ presents six performances, utilising all dancers in two casts. This gives all the dancers the opportunity to learn and perform in a variety of roles. After seeing 123 talented young dancers over 4 auditions, the “incredibly challenging” task was complete, and the co-Artistic Directors are now embarking on their first artistic adventure, creating Peter Pan. This engagement comes with added importance and significance, being the first ballet that Jodie and Boris created together. Libby and Timothy wish to pay their respects to their predecessors by delivering “an exceptional new storybook ballet”.
Libby and Timothy acknowledge that BTQ is a training ground, offering professional company experience for young performers: “We can’t expect them to know all the things we take for granted as adult professionals, such as how to conduct yourself in a theatre and how to emotionally deal with auditioning for lead roles in a professional manner. It is a part of our job to equip them with the tools to conduct themselves as professionals in a dance company, and hopefully inspire them to continue performing in ways they have not yet experienced at a dance school level.”
As Michelle adds, these young dancers learn to work as team, forming “friendships and memories that will last a life time”. In the process, the standard of the work they produce and the expectations placed on them are not far removed from the world of professional ballet. These opportunities provided by BTQ – to learn in such a relevant way – would not otherwise be available to the young dancers of Queensland. The fact that they are, is thanks largely to a dedicated group of volunteers who “love the company [and] who donate extraordinarily” to ensure its continuation.
Libby and Timothy are enthusiastic about getting to know their new company, and about the exciting projects that lie ahead. They say, “BTQ has a long history, and enormous soul. With two of us at its helm, we can support and challenge one another to deliver the best possible experiences for our performers and the highest quality of artistic product.”
Top photo: Dancer from Ballet Theatre of Queensland