The Australian Ballet

Halloween Special: Clowns of Ballet

What’s more terrifying than … a clown? Ballet, with its carnivals, commedia and parties, yields up a goodly harvest of them. For your Halloween fright-delight, here are some of the spookiest.


Marc Cassidy
Photo Alex Makayev


Michel Fokine’s ballet Petrushka, set to Stravinsky’s score, was one of the Diaghilev Ballet Russes’ greatest hits. Petrushka is one of three puppets who perform in a show run by a cruel magician. The poor floppy-limbed clown is in unrequited love with the ballerina doll. He’s more tragic than terrifying, but his ghost does get to give his master a good scare at the end.

TAB Nutcracker Wright Adelaide Photo Kate Longley 2019 b33

Yichuan Wang in Sir Peter Wright's Nutcracker
Photo Kate Longley

Nutcracker Toy

In the Christmas party at the start of The Nutcracker, the mysterious, slightly sinister Herr Drosselmeyer brings a selection of life-sized toys to perform for the children. While they’re not, strictly speaking, clowns … this one comes close enough for us.

TAB HARLEQUINADE 2022 photo Jeff Busby 1710 CROP

Callum Linnane in Alexei Ratmansky's Harlequinade
Photo Jeff Busby


Poor old Pierrot, in the commedia dell’ arte-inspired ballet Harlequinade, can’t cut a break. Defied and tricked at every turn, he’s tied into knots – almost literally, as his trailing white sleeves wind around him.

Clowns Hero Shot

Brodie James and Artists of The Australian Ballet
Photo Kate Longley

Romeo and Juliet Carnival Clowns

The carnival in Act II of John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet is a brief moment of relief before a whole lot of tension and tragedy … but even as the clowns cavort, there’s something unsettling in that tinkling festive music. It’s no surprise that about ten minutes later, they’re loading a body on to a bier. (Not their fault! In fact, the clowns nobly step in because there’s no one in that Montague-heavy crowd who will lift a Capulet corpse.)

Nijinsky Rabiko dress Reh Act2 photo Kate Longley0 G4 A73332016 81 1

Andrew Killian
Photo Kate Longley

Nijinsky as Petrushka

John Neumeier’s Nijinsky examines the life of the great dancer, and the fracturing of his mind, through the roles that made him famous. As Nijinsky’s mental collapse accelerates, the forlorn figure of Petrushka appears to dance on a battlefield of fallen men.

The Lady and The Fool 06909

Caj Selling and Ray Powell in 1962
Photo Darryl Smythe

Moondog and Bootface

Another Cranko ballet, another clown. In The Lady and the Fool, the sad clowns Moondog and Bootface are sleeping on a bench when they’re discovered by La Capricciosa, a masked beauty who whisks them off to a ball. Love wins the day, and La Capricciosa leaves her rich suitors to run away with the clowns.