With great sadness, Sydney Eisteddfod mourns the passing of Andris Toppe who died in Melbourne on 20 February last. A man of many talents, Andris lived his life in dance and enjoyed an international career as a performer, choreographer and teacher.
His career encompassed classical ballet, contemporary dance, cabaret, films, opera, puppetry, television, theatre and ice skating. He began with Victorian Ballet Guild, Borovansky School and then The Australian Ballet. Following this, a period in Canada and the United States, studying and performing with the American Ballet Theatre School, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. On his return, he joined Ballet Victoria, touring with international guest artists Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Andris has had a lengthy association with Janet Vernon and Graeme Murphy, in inaugural seasons of Sydney Dance Company, where he taught, choreographed, and received a grant to take up a study period at The Juillard School New York, then freelanced. Until their retirement from performing, Andris was personal coach and rehearsal director for Torvill and Dean, working on all their tours and shows, choreographing and directing a number of these 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. Andris’ recent work has been as Company Manager for the visits to Australia of Paris Opera Ballet (2009 & 2013), Ballet National de Cuba, Hamburg Opera, Philharmonie and Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet and last year the tour to Australia by American Ballet Theatre.
He was a regular adjudicator for Sydney Eisteddfod and, as this time last year he was performing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre with The Australian Ballet in Graeme Murphy’s production of Swan Lake, the news of his death has come as a shock to the wider dance community.
As Andris maintained that all developing dancers learned something from every performance opportunity, he delighted in what the Sydney Eisteddfod program offers, and whenever possible, enjoyed serving as an adjudicator. With his friendly personality, he was a popular judge, one who encouraged everyone with his beaming smile and sent every entrant home brimming with exciting ideas about how to improve their performance.
When Sydney Eisteddfod celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2013, Andris judged the Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship with Marilyn Jones OBE and said he regarded the experience as an honour. He contributed so much to dance in Australia, that he will be ever remembered as one of its champions.