Dame Margaret Scott was the founding director of The Australian Ballet School in 1964, one of her many achievements in an eminent dance career spanning over half a century.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dame Margaret began her professional dance career with Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London, where she was appointed principal in 1941. She then joined Ballet Rambert, also in London, and was principal there from 1943 to 1948. She arrived in Australia in 1947 as part of Ballet Rambert’s overseas tour and chose to remain.
Dame Margaret was a founding member of the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne and danced in its early seasons as a principal. In the late 1950s, she was involved in negotiations with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, which lead to the formation of The Australian Ballet. In 1964, she was appointed founding director of The Australian Ballet School and continued in that role until 1990.
Following her retirement in 1990, Dame Margaret Scott remained a driving force in Australian dance. Her main aim was to foster emerging Australian creatives and choreographers; she oversaw the Dance Creation program presented by the AICD (Australian Institute of Classical Dance) Victorian Committee, which she chaired for many years.
In 1992 Graeme Murphy, a former student of The Australian Ballet School, created the role of Clara the Elder for her in his production Nutcracker – The Story of Clara, commissioned by The Australian Ballet; she performed it in 1992, 1994 and 2000.
Dame Margaret Scott was invested as a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1981 for services to ballet. This followed the earlier award of an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1976. In 2005, she was honoured as a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC).
In 2013, The Australian Ballet created the Dame Margaret Scott Fund in her honour, to recognise her dedication to ballet in Australia. This Fund has nurtured a new generation of choreographers in Australia and will shape the creative life of dance for generations to come.
“Our thoughts are with Dame Margaret’s family, including her husband Professor Derek Denton and their two sons Matthew and Angus, during this sad time, says Lisa Pavane, director of The Australian Ballet School.
She set the foundations of The Australian Ballet School, which paved the way for the School to become one of the world’s top ballet training schools. From the establishment of the curriculum, the health and wellbeing programme, the administration and many other areas. She was my teacher, friend and mentor. I am deeply honoured to carry on her incredible legacy”.
The artistic director of The Australian Ballet, David McAllister AM, says, “Dame Margaret Scott was a woman of vision and passion. She was one of the leading forces behind the foundation of The Australian Ballet and the founding director of The Australian Ballet School. The legacy of her amazing commitment to ballet in Australia will endure far into the future. She lifted talented dancers from around Australia and set them on a course to amazing careers both at home and across the globe. She worked with the master choreographers of her generation, such as John Cranko and Anthony Tudor, and she was passionate about nurturing new choreography. Her memory will very much live on through The Dame Margaret Scott fund for choreographers, which will continue to power creativity at The Australian Ballet.
“Dame Margaret Scott (Maggie) enhanced our lives in so many ways, says Graeme Murphy AO. She was our teacher, our mentor and the greatest champion of choreographers I know. Her legacy reaches into eternity, everyone she worked with has spread her wisdom, love and incredible insight; into the profession that we love so much, the world of dance.
She has changed the landscape of the arts forever in our country and we’re eternally grateful”.
The Australian Ballet, together with The Australian Ballet School, will be organising a special memorial for Dame Margaret Scott in the coming weeks. It will be a celebration of her extraordinary life in dance. Details to be announced shortly.
“It was an excellent illustration of the creativeness of a group of dedicated artists … The success reflects the drive and energy as well as the persuasiveness of Margaret Scott” - Dr H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs on the establishment of The Australian Ballet and The Australian Ballet School. From Dame Maggie Scott: A Life in Dance by Michelle Potter.