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Sep 18, 2011

OBITUARY: Harold Collins MBE

The Courier-Mail

September 12, 2011 12:00AM

The Courier Mail has published an obituary for Harold Collins. We reproduce it here.

INFLUENTIAL: Harold Collins was pivotal in making ballet the thriving art form it is today in Queensland. Picture: David Kelly. Source: The Courier-Mail

BALLET choreographer, teacher Harold Collins, MBE, was born on June 28, 1940, in Armidale and died on July 30, 2011, in Brisbane.

Queensland's ballet community owes a huge debt to the energy and vision of Harold Collins, a founding member of the Queensland Ballet and its longest-serving artistic director.

A highly influential figure in the development of Queensland dance and talent over four decades, he was greatly esteemed and liked by the dance community.

During his 19 years at the helm of Queensland Ballet he fostered the talents of numerous dance and acclaimed choreographic talents.

They included Natalie Weir, now artistic director of Expressions Dance Company, and Rosetta Cook, who made the transition from Queensland Ballet principal to Sydney Dance Company to become an award-winning choreographer.

Mr Collins also brought the Queensland Dance School of Excellence under the arm of the company he served as artistic director for an extraordinary two decades, from 1978 to 1997.

But what he hoped would be his lasting achievement was helping foster a love for dance among the general public.

Born in Armidale, NSW, he began his dance training with his mother, who at one time danced with the Kirsova Ballet. Both his parents were also champion ballroom dancers, but it was when he was taken to a performance of the Borovansky Ballet that his love of ballet began.

From the moment he first saw ballet, he was determined to have a career in the art form.

His teachers included Avril Binzer and Charles Lisner, and he was trained for a time at the Royal Ballet School in London.

When Mr Lisner established the Lisner Ballet Company in 1960 (renamed Queensland Ballet in 1962) in Brisbane, Mr Collins joined as a founding member.

Mr Collins was a lead dancer for the fledgling company and toured the state countless times, sometimes for three months at a time.

Touring could be tough. He often recounted some of their challenges, such as having to run across a field to enter the stage from another door.

In 1963 he married Marlene, who became his loyal soul mate.

They travelled overseas together after Mr Collins left Queensland Ballet in the mid-1960s to dance with the San Francisco Ballet, London Festival Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet.

She vividly recalled the four years she spent with him in London, where he danced with the Festival Ballet.

There, he met and worked with all the famous choreographers of the era, including Tetley and Rambert.

"We went every night to every dance event we could in London and soaked it all in. It was an exhilarating time for us," Marlene said in a recent online tribute to her husband.

From 1965 to 1974, Mr Collins worked with ballet companies from the US to continental Europe and England, before returning to Australia where he took up a position as a principal dancer with the Queensland Ballet, and then later as its artistic director.

In that role, Mr Collins set out to follow the policy established by his mentor, and the company's founder, Mr Lisner, by encouraging choreographers to work within the classical medium.

At the time, Queensland Ballet was not particularly well resourced, but he managed to put the company on the map both artistically and financially.

As a choreographer he produced many works for it, including the full-length ballets Carmen(1980), Romeo and Juliet (1982) and Salome (1986). His Salome was also staged by the Finnish National Ballet in 1990.

They were a hit at the box office, as well as attracting great artistic acclaim.

It was not uncommon for the company to sell out, with an audience of 12,000 people attending the Lyric Theatre seasons.

Then Queensland Ballet chairman John Matthews said of Mr Collins in the tribute on the 2ballerinas website: "Harold had honesty, integrity and decency. He outlasted and outperformed us all.

"He found talent and confounded his critics. QB had the best ratio of audience numbers and box office of any performing arts company in Australia."

Dancer and former Queensland Ballet rehearsal director Anthony Shearsmith said in another tribute: "Harold was not only interested in furthering dancers' careers and helping them to become some of the best dancers that this country has produced, but he also made it his goal to make the experience of being in his company one that they would never forget."

Mr Collins, who died after a long battle with cancer, is survived by his wife Marlene.


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