Presented by Ausdance

Noel Tovey AM

  • Sunny Side Up

Australia's first male ballet dancer of Indigenous heritage, Noel was inspired by a performance of Les Sylphides at the National Theatre in Melbourne.

He took classes at the National Theatre Ballet School, studied ballet with Madame Borovansky, Drew Hardy, London Afro Cuban with Katherine Dunham, jazz with Matt Mattox, singing with Joan Arnold at the Melbourne Conservatorium and Rita Godfrey in London, and acting with Hayes Gordon.

In the 1960s, Noel lived in London where he was a principal dancer with Sadler's Wells Opera, and the same year made his West End debut with Stella Adler in a production of Oh Dad, Poor Dad. His career steadily gathered momentum. As an actor he shared the stage with Vera Lynn, Judy Garland and Steven Berkoff, while also teaching movement at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Noel’s work as a choreographer accelerated in 1966 when he was asked to choreograph Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend, which toured Britain and Australia in 1968. Noel subsequently choreographed many musicals throughout the UK, and worked consistently in theatre in London. In 1969 he devised, directed and choreographed the drag revue, Birds of a Feather.

Around the same time Noel and his partner opened a gallery specialising in twentieth-century decorative art, which grew to become one of the top galleries in London by the 1980s.

After three decades in London, Noel returned to Australia in 1991 where he established a performing arts course at Eora Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Sydney. Around this time Noel directed several Indigenous plays including State of Shock, a play about violence and drinking problems in the Aboriginal community, The Aboriginal Protesters, and A Midsummer Night's Dream with an entirely Indigenous cast for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival of The Dreaming.

In 2001 The Noel Tovey Scholarship Foundation was formed in association with The Flying Fruit Fly Circus and since 2006 a Noel Tovey Achievement Award is given each year to a talented emerging artist doing outstanding work in one of the Community Arts and Cultural Development projects offered by Phunktional Ltd.

After publishing his autobiography Little Black Bastard in 2004, Noel wrote and performed his internationally acclaimed live theatre version of his story, directed by his lifelong friend, Robina Beard.

In 2014 Noel was the recipient of the Uncle Bob Maza Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Indigenous Theatre. In 2015 Noel was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

Noel can be proud of a brilliant and creative career spanning 60 years in Europe and Australia as an acclaimed dancer, actor, choreographer, singer, director, designer, author, activist and teacher. His resilience, artistry, passion and talents have been inspiring and influential for many generations of professional Indigenous and non-Indigenous dancers and artists. We applaud and recognise Noel’s stellar career!

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