Our History

The Royal New Zealand Ballet was formed in 1953 by Danish Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Poul Gnatt. The company’s early days of touring embodied the New Zealand pioneering spirit. Performing night in night out, company members unloaded and repacked the set, rigged the lights and ironed the costumes, with local community members providing accommodation.

The spirit of those days survives, and the support of the New Zealand public remains. The Royal New Zealand Ballet is seen as an intrinsic part of the country’s national heritage, and has the largest following of all New Zealand performing arts companies.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet today has developed a reputation for strong characterisation in the staging of full-length dramatic works, which became a hallmark in the 1980s. To this base have been added the masterworks and major ballets of the 20th century, such as Balanchine’s works and the Stravinsky ballets.

In January 1998, the Royal New Zealand Ballet moved to its first ever permanent purpose-built premises at Wellington’s Westpac St James Theatre (now the St James Theatre). In June 2019, with the assistance of Wellington City Council, the RNZB moved to temporary premises on Wakefield Street (the RNZB Dance Centre, next to the Michael Fowler Centre) and Willeston Street (Dell EMC House), while the St James was closed for seismic strengthening.

The New Zealand Ballet Company on tour, 1959. From left: Carol Fletcher, Jacqui Oswald, Vivi James, Poul Gnatt, Leon Draper, Ernie Crisp, Gloria Young, Stuart Hall, Nerida Nichols, Stan Hoare. Front: Ean Boyd, Graeme Pickering.