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9 April 1909 Sir Robert Helpmann

 9 April 1909   Sir Robert Helpmann

Robert Helpmann was born in Mount Gambier on 9 April 1909. When he was five the family moved to Adelaide and Bob took dancing lessons from Nora Stewart. His father James, known as Sam, a stock and station man, was not amused at the idea of his son becoming a dancer.

At eight Helpman (he added another 'n' later) appeared as a gnome in a travelling company's production of A Midsummer's Night Dream and from then on was destined for a theatrical career. In 1927 he joined J.C. Williamson in Sydney and went into the company of the visiting Pavlova. Although she recommended that Helpmann should go to London to further his study it was not until 1933 that the opportunity, and the finance, became available.

In London he was accepted into the Sadlers Wells Ballet School and was soon promoted, becoming the leading dancer in his second year. Over the years he performed all the great male roles in ballet, became a choreographer, and developed his dramatic acting ability with roles in Shakespeare. He also appeared in films, notably The Red Shoes and much later Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 55 Days in Peking.

In 1965 he became joint artistic director, with Peggy Van Praagh, of the Australian Ballet. Knighted in 1968, he was artistic director of the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1970. He died in Sydney on 28 September 1986.

Gwen Cunnigham, 'Robert Helpmann',100 Famous Australian Lives, Paul Hamlyn, Sydney, 1969, pp. 449-506.

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