Dame Margaret (Peggy) van Praagh, D.B.E. (1910-1990), dancer, répétiteur, teacher, author and artistic director, was born in Hampstead, London, on 1 September 1910. Educated at King Alfred School in Hampstead, she undertook her dance training with Amy Prescott, Aimée Phipps and Margaret Craske. Van Praagh began dancing in public from an early age, performing in charity functions from the age of six. Her professional debut, however, came on 16 September 1929, when she performed in Anton Dolin's Revolution at the London Coliseum. Her professional career started in earnest after she joined Marie Rambert's Ballet Club, later Ballet Rambert, in December 1933. Later she also danced with Antony Tudor's London Ballet and with the combined London-Rambert Ballet Company. Van Praagh created roles and performed in some of Tudor's best known works including Jardin aux Lilas (1936), Dark Elegies (1937), Gala Performance (1938), Soiree Musicale (1938) and The Planets (1939).
In 1941 she joined the Sadler's Wells Ballet, principally to teach company class, although van Praagh also danced in company productions, including Les Patineurs, Comus and Coppelia in which she danced the leading role of Swanilda. Between 1946 and 1955 van Praagh was ballet mistress and later assistant director of The Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet. In the late 1950s she staged ballets from the Sadler's Wells repertoire throughout England and in Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway in the 1950s.
In early 1960 van Praagh took up the position of artistic director of the Borovansky Ballet, following the death of Edouard Borovansky December in 1959. Following the disbanding of the Borovansky Ballet and its reformation and reorganisation as The Australian Ballet, van Praagh became its inaugural artistic director, a position she held position from until 1974, sharing it with Robert Helpmann between 1965 and 1974. She returned to direct the company again during 1978. Under her direction The Australian Ballet created a balanced repertoire of classics, contemporary international and new Australian works. She also encouraged Australian creative artists, established the Australian Ballet School and developed educational programs on ballet – bringing The Australian Ballet to national and international recognition.
Van Praagh was also an educator and an advocate for dance throughout her career. In 1967 she was instrumental in organising the first of a series of influential summer schools in dance. She also helped establish the national dance advocacy body, Ausdance (formerly Australian Association for Dance Education). She was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2000 Australian Dance Awards.
The Peggy van Praagh Collection forms part of The Australian Ballet Collection, donated to the Performing Arts Collection in 1998. The material was largely donated by van Praagh to The Australian Ballet's Australian Archives of Dance in the early 1980s.
The Collection includes: correspondence and personal documents (e.g. letters and first night cards, passport etc.); photographs, c.1875-1991, both professional and personal, documenting the full breadth of her career; costume designs and costume elements relating to her performances with the London Ballet and London-Rambert Ballet Company; objects, including a medal awarded to Peggy van Praagh for elocution in 1922; 125 annotated programmes for performances attended by van Praagh, 1921-1943; and newspaper clippings.
Associated material relating to van Praagh can also be found in J. C. Williamson Ltd. Collection and Garth Welch Collection, and includes scrapbooks on The Australian Ballet, costume and set designs for productions staged by van Praagh and correspondence with van Praagh.
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