Sisterhood and Spirit: International Women’s Day 2022

Posted on 08 March 2022 By Behind Ballet Editor

Inclusiveness, excellence, ambition. These are just few of many sentiments that arise when we discuss what International Women’s Day (IWD) means at The Australian Ballet.

We sat down with three of our remarkably generous Philanthropy leaders – Jane Freudenstein, Hayley Baillie and Natasha Bowness - to discover more about their involvement with The Australian Ballet, what it means to work alongside some of the most accomplished women in Australia, and the collective spirit of “sisterhood” that exists across all levels of the company.

Jane Freudenstein, Chair of the Foundation Board

“When I think about IWD, I feel warm and grateful for the fact when women come together, we can achieve anything. The power of the collective force of women should never be underestimated,” shares Jane Freudenstein, Chair of the Foundation Board.

Jane has fulfilled her role in the company for a number of years, a philanthropy leadership opportunity placing her alongside a group of likeminded women who strive to make a difference the lives of dancers, choreographers and creatives, and also audiences across the country who engage with the company. For Jane, IWD at The Australian Ballet is a chance to reflect on working with some of the most accomplished women in Australia. From the dancers who manage the physical demands of being an elite athlete with their family and personal lives, to creatives and executive leaders like Nicolette, Fraillon and Libby Christie, who are inspiring in their ongoing pursuit of excellence. “The Australian Ballet is all about community, and the women in this community are extraordinary,” Jane says.

Raised in a family with a strong appreciation for the role of the arts in society, Jane has always been deeply fascinated by how these performing arts unite people from all walks of life. With a tertiary background in sociology, and a professional career history in marketing and advertising, Jane has held roles on numerous arts and health boards over the past 15 years. “I was fortunate to have parents who very much believed in the arts. I went to my first ballet when I was five in New York. I just fell in love with the art form,” says Jane on her exposure to ballet and artistic appreciation in her formative years.

Turn the clock forward, and Jane is now honoured to play a vital role in supporting the growth and profile of what she calls a "world-class” ballet company. Her work with the Foundation Board strives to make ballet accessible to a wide variety of audiences, giving people the opportunity to engage with ballet and be inspired by creative feats that represent who we are as Australians. Jane’s involvement with the Artistic Director’s Circle, for example, supports David Hallberg’s creative vision for the company, ensuring he has a network of likeminded individuals around him to share ideas and growth aspirations.

“I feel the company is at a very significant turning point in its evolution. It’s drawing on the robust foundations established by David McAllister, and it’s now emboldened by the energetic and slightly audacious vision of David Hallberg. I’m so proud to be part of this journey, and to support the creation of new works that will ultimately uplift and inspire people across Australia,” she says.

Just for the fun of it, we ask Jane who her three ideal ballet dinner party guests might be… “David Hallberg, naturally, to understand more about the depth of his character. Nureyev, to bring these insights out of David and to compare notes about international dance experiences. My final guest would be Alice Topp, to explore her exquisite choreography and the process behind her creative journey.”

Jane pictured with daughter Isabel, Jane's ideal dinner part guest, Alice Topp, watches on during rehearsals of her work 'Logos' in 2020

Natasha Bowness, President of Annual Giving and Foundation Board Member

“I feel fortunate to work with a company that is so diverse and inclusive. The Australian Ballet truly values differences. I have the privilege of working with an inspiring group of women leaders who have passion and commitment to excellence across all levels of the company,” says Natasha Bowness, President of Annual Giving and Foundation Board Member. 

Affirming that every woman in The Australian Ballet is a role model for the company in her own way, Natasha approaches IWD with an immense sense of pride. To her, the day is about celebrating a collective commitment to the art form with a group of female professionals whose values and aspirations align across all levels. A highly esteemed ambassador herself, Natasha started attending the ballet decades ago as a subscriber. She gradually became more involved with philanthropic initiatives, supporting major gala balls and events. This eventually led her to become President of the Annual Giving program after Lady Potter “passed the baton” to her over five years ago.

A chartered accountant by profession, Natasha has always been deeply enthusiastic about the arts. Throughout her career, she has drawn upon her finance background to be involved in numerous visual and performing arts organisations including the Monash Gallery of Art and the National Museum of Australia. Her work with The Australian Ballet has presented many rewarding opportunities over the years, including the opportunity to support the company in its artistic evolution through the creation of new programs, touring opportunities, international commissions and educational initiatives.

Natasha's family has also supported The Australian Ballet via The Bowness Family Foundation Fund for Artist Development, an initiative created to support the dancers and David Hallberg in his role as Artistic Director. This leadership gift enables the dancers to not only reach their full artistic potential, but to explore new realms of dance expression through exposure to a program of classes and rehearsals delivered by world-class coaches and teachers. 

Natasha’s ultimate dinner party guests? “David Hallberg (popular choice!), Musette Molyneaux, Head of Costume, and….Wayne McGregor, to chat about extraordinary careers, global achievements and boundless creativity.”

Natasha pictured with Rosie Lew AM, Allan Fels AO, Sharyn Gilham.

Hayley Baillie, Foundation Board Member

Hayley first attended the ballet when she was 12, holding vivid memories of seeing the resplendent David McAllister and Steven Heathcote on stage. Her mother was patron for more than 40 years, and Hayley’s relationship with the company came full circle when her childhood friend, Edwina McCann, asked if she would join the Foundation Board.

“There is this real feeling of a sisterhood across the Foundation Board, and all levels of the company. It does feel like a family, and that connection continues to drive my passion for supporting the artists and the creative growth of the company. You can feel that we are all working towards a common cause, and that is so inspiring for me,” Hayley says.

Once a keen jazz and ballet dancer herself, Hayley is deeply attuned to the multi-sensory experience of the art form. This creative appreciation is reflected in her own professional career. Hayley and her husband have created a portfolio of luxury lodges in breathtaking natural settings including the Daintree Rainforest and Kangaroo Island. She reflects on the power of immersive experiences, particularly in the context of the ballet, which evokes connection and stimulation on many levels.

“For me it’s all about that connection with the dancers and forming friendships with them. It’s like a window into their world, and it’s such a privilege to get to know them. Things like Endowment Funds and Giving Circles allow me to better understand the dancers’ lives, and to appreciate them for the joy they bring us all,” she says.

Hayley’s favourite ballet? “Hands down, Alice Topp’s Aurum,” which she saw both in Australia and at The Joyce Theatre in New York when it toured internationally in 2019.  Hayley was sitting in the front row, overcome by emotion at seeing the creativity of an Australian artist and chorographer illuminate the world stage.

“I was just captivated. I appreciate how clever Alice’s mind is to create a work that spoke to so many people so deeply. I’ve met Alice several times, and I continue to be taken by her creativity and her ability to conceive a work so powerful."

Hayley recalls being overcome by emotion after watching Alice Topp's 'Aurum' in New York in 2019.