A lifetime commitment to ballet in Western Australia

Perth dance teacher and writer Adam Penn reflects on the career and life of renowned former ballerina and teacher Terri Charlesworth.

WELL respected Perth ballerina and dance teacher Terri Charlesworth started dancing aged five, growing up in Melbourne.

Her teacher was a Mrs Longthorpe who quickly saw the potential in the tiny dancer.

Terri remembers her first role being a sailor, carried around the stage in splits, which she held for the entire time.

After two years with Mrs Longthorpe, Terri’s mother moved her dancing to Malvern where she learnt from Miss Lawrence, after which the mayor of Malvern set up a course for talented pupils of ballet.

It was here as a young girl that Terri first met Dame Kira Bousloff.

A founding member of the WA Ballet, Terri was 17 when she joined the company in 1953.

Within a few years she was elevated to soloist, with the role of The
Brolga being choreographed especially for her, by Kira Bousloff and danced to a musical score composed by James Pemberthy.

The storyline and suggestions came from renowned naturalist Harry Butler.

Terri had trained in Melbourne with Kira, husband Serge, and Leon Kelloway, Lucy Saranova and Xenia Borovansky, learning many of the wonderful intricacies of classical dance. Her great talent enabled her to perform these with ease.

This was evident in 1957, when Terri was chosen to represent Australia at the Moscow international arts competition.

Before she took part in the prestigious event, she toured through China, performing in concerts and travelling on the Trans Siberian railway for seven days.

She eventually made her way to Moscow, where her stunning performance of The
Brolga won her the coveted Ulanova Laureate Prize, awarded and presented by renowned ballerina Galina Ulanova herself.

During her time in Russia, Terri studied the teaching methods of the world renowned Bolshoi Ballet where she became familiar with the Vaganova method, which she brought back to Australia and took internationally as she toured and taught.

Terri toured through Italy, finally making her way to continue studying in London.

Returning home to WA in early 1958, she was appointed WA Ballet’s first ballerina and only a year later assistant artistic director for the entire company, remaining with WA Ballet for the following decade.

Her involvement and influence in dance education ranges from appointments from the WA Department of Education and Training in 1970 and, in 1972, co-founding the WA Graduate College of Dance, introducing and directing WA’s first three- year tertiary course.

She helped develop dance courses for Scarborough and Swanbourne Senior High Schools and, in 1989, wrote the course for the Year 11 and 12 ballet studies for the Curriculum Council of WA.

In 1971 she was appointed a member of the Australian Council of the Arts.

In 1960 Terri opened the renowned Terri Charlesworth School of Ballet, now known as the Charlesworth Ballet Institute, directed by her daughter Sonya Shepherd, which continues to develop some of Australia’s best classical dancers.

In 1978 Terri opened one of WA’s first professional contemporary dance companies the Kinetikos Dance Theatre.

In 1977 she was invited by the former USSR Ministry of Culture to spend several months studying there, visiting many of the country’s notable and famous teaching establishments.

Terri established WA’s first junior professional course, a rigorous course for talented students aged between 10 and 17 years.

She represented WA at the first national conference for dance education in 1978, known today as Ausdance.

In 1980, Terri, with the Graduate College of Dance, produced the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker which has become a yearly tradition for the past 38 years.

She was appointed a senior classical teacher at the Australian Ballet School from 1981-86.

After this she went to Hong Kong where she choreographed and produced Cinderella and Coppelia.

She taught in Italy, Japan, Greece and Monaco where she spent three years teaching at the world acclaimed Academy de Danse Classique Princess Grace.

She was asked by Prince Rainier to choreograph and produce the ballet Circus performed at the Theatre Salle Garnier, the home of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Terri has helped develop notable Australian dancers such as Sian Stokes, Miranda Coney, Jacinta Ross and Briana Shepherd, now a news presenter and journalist with the ABC.

She organised numerous international study tours for students and brought internationally renowned teachers and dancers to WA.

In 1994 Terri was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to dance.

In 2006 she was named WA Citizen of the Year for services to arts and culture.

She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Ausdance in 2016.

This remarkable lady of dance continues to be recognised for her incredible talent and drive and is still actively involved in the dance world.

If anyone in the Perth dance scene has historic photos and information for Adam Penn’s dance series, please contact Adam at tophat97@optusnet.com.au or on mobile 0412 361 917.