a dancer, choreographer and teacher, Andris Toppe travelled the
world in a career encompassing classical ballet, contemporary dance,
cabaret, films, opera, puppetry, television, theatre and ice skating.
He began as dancer with Victorian Ballet Guild during its pro-am period
in early 1960s, then The Australian Ballet from 1964 to 1969. Following
this, he lived in Canada and the United States for five years, studying
and performing with the American Ballet Theatre School, Royal Winnipeg
Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, including three seasons in New
York of their hit production of Tommy.
On his return to Australia in 1975 Andris joined Ballet Victoria, with
which he enjoyed many solo and lead roles, and toured with
international guest artists Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Andris had a lengthy association with former Artistic Directors of
Sydney Dance Company, Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, firstly as
friends and colleagues in The Australian Ballet and later, upon Graeme
and Janet’s appointment as Artistic Director and Associate Director, as
a dancer in inaugural seasons of Sydney Dance Company (then called
Dance Company of NSW).
During this time Janet and Graeme also offered Andris his first
opportunities to extend himself as a teacher and choreographer with
Sydney Dance Company, resulting in the ballets Toccata and Suite For A
Lonely Child. Following this, having received a grant, he took the
opportunity for a study period at The Juillard School New York, and
upon his return to Australia he began to freelance, working with all
the major state dance companies around Australia, plus many commercial
stage film and TV situations (see career credits page).
Many years later their working association continued when Graeme,
having choreographed the first show for the British ice-skaters Torvill
and Dean, asked Andris to work with them and their company of skaters
as rehearsal director. Until their retirement from performing, Andris
was personal coach and rehearsal director for Torvill and Dean, working
on all their world tours and shows between 1985 and 1998,
choreographing and directing a number of these shows and assisting with
their TV and video specials.
Upon returning to Australia, Andris had successful engagements as
choreographer of the hit musicals A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To
The Forum and The Merry Widow for Simon Gallaher and Essgee
Entertainment, which toured Australia and New Zealand in 1999.
Andris enjoyed a happy re-acquaintance with Graeme Murphy’s work in the
world premiere and several return seasons of Graeme’s Nutcracker, the
story of Clara for The Australian Ballet, most recently in 2009 for
seasons in Sydney and Melbourne. He renewed artistic collaboration with
Janet and Graeme at Sydney Dance Company in 2004, performing the role
of the photographer (Andy Warhol) in Shades of Gray, and in 2006 as one
of the two Victorian ladies in Glimpses during seasons at the Sydney
Opera House and on tour. These performances were undertaken whilst
simultaneously fulfilling his duties as Company Manager/Assistant to
Artistic Directors of Sydney Dance Company, a position to which he was
appointed in 2000.
Andris was Company Manager of Sydney Dance until December 2008, a
position which limited his partaking of choreographic endeavours,
however he was able to do some out-of-hours work with several
Australian ice-skaters for their amateur competitions and he assisted
Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Revue team on one of their annual
During June and July 2009, Andris undertook the position of Company
Manager for the Paris Opera Ballet’s visit to Australia, and during
October 2009 he had similar duties with Melbourne International Arts
Festival. Early 2010 he was the artist liaison person for Toumani
Diabate and his band for their Sydney Festival performances. He
also became stage manager for PACT House production’s Melbourne season
of the play Proof, adjudicated several dance events at Sydney
Eisteddfod and followed by again undertaking the position of Company
Manager, this time for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s visit to
This was followed by a return to performing again in Graeme Murphy’s
Nutcracker, the story of Clara for The Australian Ballet’s tour to
Tokyo in October 2010 and was followed in December by Andris’ participation
with the Young Dancers of Central Queensland production of a
traditional Nutcracker in the role of Drosselmeier. 2011 again
had Andris performing with YDCQ in Harry Haythorne’s production of La
Sylphide in the role of Madge the witch. In April 2012 Andris
co-choreographed and performed in a revised version of Nutcracker Act 2
for the YDCQ production of Dance Round the World.
was Company Manager for the 2012 exclusive Brisbane season of the
Hamburg Opera, Philharmonic Orchestra and Ballet at Queensland
Performing Arts Centre, and
Company Manager for the 2013 exclusive Sydney season of
the Paris Opera Ballet at the Capitol Theatre. He was invited
back by Queensland Performing Arts Centre to be Company Manager of the
exclusive Brisbane seasons of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2013 and American
Ballet Theatre in 2014.
Also in 2014, Andris performed with The Australian Ballet in the Melbourne season of Manon,
and during that year he travelled often to Central Queensland to
choreograph and rehearse the dancers for Harry Haythorne's 2015 production
of The Magic Toyshop for the
Young Dancers Association, for which Wendy Barker was Artistic
Director. Andris also performed the role of the Shop Keeper.
In 2015 Andris made his last appearance with The Australian Ballet in the Sydney season of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake, more than 50 years after he began his professional dancing career with the company in 1964.
From 2011 to 2015, between his performing and choreographic
engagements, Andris also worked as a
Duty Manager for shows at Melbourne’s historic Palais Theatre, and was
their honorary archivist, spending many happy hours researching and
gathering information to add to the collection.
died of cancer in Melbourne on 20 February 2016, aged 70. He is
survived by his beloved partner of 40 years, Shane Hewitt, and a worldwide family of friends.