The Australian Ballet will celebrate its 50th birthday next year with a Perth season of the full-length ballet Romeo and Juliet created by Graeme Murphy.
After presenting Murphy's internationally acclaimed Swan Lake in Perth in 2009, the company is bringing the choreographer's take on Shakespeare's love story for seven performances at the Burswood Theatre from October 10-14, next year.
Reuniting with fashion designer Akira Isogawa, who has designed more than 250 costumes for the show, Murphy will give the production its world premiere in Melbourne next month before it tours to Sydney in December and then Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth for the company's golden jubilee next year.
Composed by Prokofiev in 1935 and first performed by the Kirov Ballet in 1938, Romeo and Juliet was not really celebrated in the West until John Cranko's version in 1962, which was followed by interpretations by Kenneth MacMillan and Angelin Preljocaj.
Dedicating this version to living dance legend Dame Margaret Scott, a key player in the Australian Ballet's development, Murphy said he had taken the tale of the star-crossed lovers out of Renaissance Verona and applied it to all corners of the world and no particular time — a nod to the story's global themes of love, war, greed and factionalism.
"The main premise is that war kills our youth; and just like in the Shakespeare tale, old men start conflicts which our young are responsible for fighting," Murphy said. "No one has freed the story to the ultimate extent that it can be freed."
The WA season of Romeo and Juliet is among the works unveiled by Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister at its 2012 program and 50th anniversary launch in Melbourne yesterday.
McAllister said the company was thrilled to be visiting WA in such a milestone year, with the lead roles taken by the company's Perth-born principal artists Kevin Jackson and Madeleine Eastoe.
"This really is our biggest season ever, so it was important to us to share our 50th birthday with as many people as possible," he said.
The 2012 program also features a new production of Swan Lake by resident chorographer Stephen Baynes, which brings the company full circle to its origins when founding artistic director Peggy van Praagh presented the classic ballet as its inaugural production in November 1962. Swan Lake also was re-imagined by Murphy for the company's 40th anniversary in 2002.
The Australian Ballet will honour its past in another way with its Icons triple bill of pivotal works from Robert Helpmann (The Display), Glenn Tetley (Gemini) and Murphy (Beyond Twelve). Murphy features again in Infinity, a triple bill of new works by leading contemporary dance-makers alongside Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page.
Cranko's Onegin, an audience favourite since its Australian debut in 1976, also returns next year.
Two showcase events round out the 2012 program: the company's 50th anniversary international gala and a performance featuring leading dancers and companies from around Australia, including the WA Ballet (which marks its 60th anniversary next year).
As to his own future, McAllister will have been at the helm for 13 years when his current contract expires in 2014. He said the board would decide when it was time for a change.
"I am very excited about being with this company at this pivotal time," he said. "I guess as long as they will have me, I will be here — though it sounds a bit like John Howard to say so."
2012 season details: australianballet.com.au