Page 2855 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 17 August 2005

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post-war Australia and recognition of the important role that government appropriation can play in nurturing cultural life.

The Canberra Theatre was, in fact, the market leader in Australian performing arts, opening before the Sydney Opera House, the Adelaide Festival Centre and the Victorian Arts Centre, making it the first government-funded performing arts centre in the country. Whilst Canberra’s population at the time may have been only 90,000, the new Canberra Theatre Centre provided a very strong cultural focus for a growing and maturing city rich with citizens demanding cultural and intellectual outlets.

Building on the extensive multicultural history of the city, the centre provided an initial opportunity for a growing number of embassies to showcase the culture and the talents of their home countries. Combined with the facilities of the centre itself, the Playhouse, with its galleries, meeting rooms and restaurants, provided an additional cultural centre for such an international showcase. The diversity of the Playhouse was evident from the early stages, with the first ever exhibition by the National Gallery of Australia being held in its foyer. Add to that the hosting of orchestras, plays, musicals, dance and concerts and one can understand why the Playhouse has such a positive international reputation.

A key feature of the centre has been the variety of performers and diversity of product, ranging from international and Australian drama to popular music, dance and classical music. The theatre itself has hosted some of the world’s most reputable acts over its life, starting with a gala performance of the Australian Ballet Company on the opening night of 1965. The creation of the centre meant that Canberra audiences would no longer feel the isolation and distance from Melbourne and Sydney.

During the first decade of its life, the Canberra Theatre Centre hosted many touring orchestras, until the building of Llewellwyn Hall provided a purpose-built concert venue in Canberra. Dame Margot Fonteyn performed with the Australian Ballet at the centre in October 1970. The era from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s saw the presentation of many international artists, including Dame Joan Sutherland, while Canberra Opera presented a full-scale production of La Traviata and the Canberra Theatre Trust presented a performance of HMS Pinafore. In 1983 the controversial all-female comedy-drama Steaming ended its very successful 12-month national tour in Canberra. Other performers during this time included the Bell Shakespeare Company, the Black Theatre of Prague and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

The period from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s saw seasons of the English Shakespeare Company, Dizzy Gillespie, Canberra’s own Doug Anthony All Stars and the first tour of the Bangarra Dance Company. During this time, the production of Les Miserables by the Canberra Philharmonic Society was a major triumph. Thirteen shows of this 1994 production sold out in advance of the season opening, creating a new box office record. The late-1990s saw the demolition of the old Playhouse and the new Playhouse opened in April 1998 with a wonderful season of the production Fish by the Bangarra Dance Company. The Playhouse is now acclaimed as the best venue in Australia for spoken word.

In 1997 the Canberra Theatre Trust Act was repealed and the Cultural Facilities Corporation was created. The corporation now has management responsibility for the Canberra Theatre Centre, together with the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the Nolan

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