Sir Robert Helpmann co-directed with Rudolf Nureyev, The Australian Ballet film of Don Quixote in Hangar 5 during a steamy Melbourne summer between 1971 and 1972.

Director Sir Robert Helpmann alongside co-director Rudolf Nureyev, set out to film a version of the classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote. However, finding a suitable location for filming proved to be a challenge. Nureyev wanted an open and expansive space to capture the grandeur and scale of Don Quixote’s epic journey. After scouting various locations, he found the perfect setting in Hangar 5 at Essendon Fields Airport.

An enormous space with a high ceiling and vast open area, the hangar was ideal for filming the grand battle scenes and sweeping landscapes that Nureyev envisioned. Sweeping shots of the Spanish countryside were able to be created alongside epic battle scenes that brought the story to life. The production team constructed intricate sets and brought in live animals, including horses, to add to the realism of the film.

The cast and crew worked tirelessly throughout the summer months to complete filming, often enduring challenging conditions of a sweltering hangar. The result was a stunning adaptation of Don Quixote that captured the heart and soul of the classic novel.

The film premiered to critical acclaim and remains a classic of Australian cinema. Hangar 5 also remains operational today, with Shortstop Jets the current holder of her keys. In 2023 Essendon Fields Airport worked with The Age and The Australian Ballet to recreate this Melbourne memory in a series of photos.

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