The Australian Ballet

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A fond farewell to the State Theatre

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Act Drop – State Theatre
Public Art Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

It's the end of an era as the State Theatre closes for major renovations.

As the curtain came down on the closing night performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland©, it was not only the end of a stellar season of ballet, but the end of an era for the State Theatre. Melbourne’s stunning red velvet clad theatre is preparing for its first major renovations since it opened in 1984 as part of a bigger Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation. Before we move to our temporary home at the Regent Theatre, we look back at some of the iconic moments in Arts Centre Melbourne’s history.

The Melbourne Arts Precinct and Arts Centre Melbourne, sits on the land of Kulin Nations who for thousands of years have danced dances, sung songs and told stories. We pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land and their elders, past and present.

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Joe Attard and David Jack from Melbourne Mural Studio created the mosaic to commemorate 150 years of circus and entertainment in Victoria.
Photo Sandra Brown

1877 – The Circus Comes to Town

Cooper and Bailey’s Great American International Circus arrives and pitches their big top on the site. In 1901 The Fitzgerald Brothers’ Circus built a permanent structure called Olympia, before the Wirth Brothers’ Circus took over the site in 1907. Over the next five decades the precinct would be home to a Japanese tea house, open-air theatre, miniature train, roller skating rink, cinema and dance hall.

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Victorian Arts Centre construction
Photo Victorian Arts Centre Trust

1960 – 1983 Best Laid Plans

Plans for an art gallery, 1,000 seat auditorium and spire were approved, and construction of phase one, The National Gallery was completed in 1968.

Phase two was more complicated. Geographical difficulties due to the soil meant a redesign was required. The original concept of an underground theatre and concert hall was altered. The theatres were raised above ground, and the concert hall was moved further down Saint Kilda Road to what is now Hamer Hall.

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Christine Walsh and David Ashmole, The Sleeping Beauty (Gielgud) 1984
Photo Richard Wallis

1984 – Opening Night

The Australian Ballet was honoured to open the State Theatre on the 30th of October 1984. The company premiered Maina Gielgud's production of The Sleeping Beauty with Christine Walsh as Princess Aurora and David Ashmole as Prince Florimund. The company was accompanied by the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra with guest conductor Barry Wordsworth.

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Arts Centre Melbourne's famous Spire
Photo Mark Gambino

The Spire

Designed to look like a ballerina's tutu, the now famous Melbourne landmark is a prominent feature of the city skyline. Intricate gold webbing flows down from the spire and over the building, with the mast reaching a height of 162 metres above street level. Weighing over 97 tonnes, the Spire is lit up at night by over 14,000 lights to spectacular effect.

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Kevin Pierce painting the curtain at Scenic Studios, Melbourne, 1984
Top insert: Kevin Pierce, Peter Pettit and Nicholas Register working on the curtain
Lower insert: Ross Turner, Founder Scenic Studios and Head of the project
Image: provided by Kevin Pierce courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

The Curtain

The opulent red velvet curtain was gifted to by the State Bank of Victoria for the theatre’s opening in 1984. Graham Bennet designed the beloved curtain that features hand painted Victorian wildflowers, the Victorian Coat of Arms and the impressive span of a lyrebird tail. Truly something to behold, the curtain is a defining feature of the State Theatre.

Closing Night Credit Kate Longley

Artists, crew and staff of Arts Centre Melbourne and The Australian Ballet take their bow at the closing night of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland© (Wheeldon) 2024
Photo Kate Longley

2024 – Closing Night

The Australian Ballet performed for the final time in the State Theatre on the 26th of March 2024. Artistic Director, David Hallberg welcomed all cast, crew, musicians and staff on stage for a final bow at the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland©. Closed until 2028, we look forward to returning to our home theatre and experiencing the improved facilities that include more accessible seating, new rehearsal spaces and back of house upgrades to make the technical process smoother.

Until then, you can experience the joy of ballet at another historic arts and culture icon, Melbourne’s Regent Theatre.

To learn more about the reimagining of Arts Centre Melbourne

Arts Centre Melbourne