Strictly Ballroom started its life on stage, as a student production at NIDA in 1984. Luhrmann drew heavily from his childhood experiences as a competitive ballroom dancer, but says that the film's message about freedom and following your dreams was a reaction against the Cold War. "In those days the show had more Brechtian stuff – Ronald Reagan doing Semper Fi, stuff like that," says Luhrmann, now 50.
In 1986 the production toured to a student drama festival in Czechoslavakia, where Luhrmann recalls it made a big impression on the students from communist Bulgaria.
In 1988 Strictly Ballroom debuted at Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf theatre, secured a film deal, and by 1990 it had started filming – but as Luhrmann recalls, the original distributor, after watching the finished product, said it was the worst film he'd ever seen. It was only after legendary film critic and programmer Pierre Rissient programmed the film at Cannes – for just one screening – that the film took off, and ultimately became a huge domestic and international success.
In bringing it to the stage, Luhrmann says he will be aiming to break new ground theatrically and do more than just recreate the film – "[otherwise] why would you bother?"