Performing Arts Collection
Helpmann, Robert
Helpmann, Robert

Biography

Sir Robert Murray Helpmann CBE (1909-1986) was born in Mount Gambier, South Australia, and pursued a national and international career as an actor, dancer, director, entrepreneur and choreographer. After taking ballet lessons in Australia from a variety of teachers, including members of Anna Pavlova's company during her Australian tours, he performed as a dancer in J. C. Williamson comic operas, musical comedies, vaudeville and pantomime.

In 1932 Helpmann left Australia for London, and over the next thirty years performed as a dancer and actor for the stage and film, as well as choreographing and directing numerous dance and theatre works. As a principal dancer with the Vic-Wells Ballet, later Sadler's Wells Ballet from 1939, he created lead roles in works by (Sir) Frederick Ashton and (Dame) Ninette de Valois, including the Red King in de Valois' Checkmate (1937); and formed an enduring enduring partnership with (Dame) Margot Fonteyn. Helpmann made his first choreography, Comus, for the company in 1942, followed by a series of works including Hamlet (1942), The Birds (1942), Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), Caravan (1946), Adam Zero (1946) and Elektra in 1962. With Helpmann giving his final performance as a regular company member in 1950, he increasingly concentrated on acting and directing for theatre and opera into the 1950s.

After an absence of twenty-two years Helpmann returned to Australia with the Old Vic company in 1955 to lead with Katharine Hepburn three Shakespearean works. Helpmann returned again in 1958 with The Royal Ballet, formerly Sadler's Wells till 1956, and returned once more with the Old Vic in 1962 with Vivien Leigh.  In 1965 Helpmann was appointed co-artistic director of the company, with (Dame) Peggy van Praagh, sharing the position with Peggy van Praagh until 1974. He directed the company alone during 1975.  For the Australian Ballet Helpmann choreographed his iconic Display in 1964, Yugen (1965), Sun Music (1968) and Perisynthyon (1974). He also co-directed, with Rudolf Nureyev, a film of Nureyev's version of the ballet Don Quixote, released in 1973, in which he played the title role; and in 1975 produced and directed The Merry Widow, the first balletic interpretation of Franz Lehar's opera.

Following his forced departure from The Australian Ballet, Helpmann made various guest appearances in ballets in Australia and abroad, and continued to act, produce and direct. His last appearance on stage, was in July 1986 as the Red King in the Australian Ballet's production of Checkmate, shortly before his death Sydney on 28 September 1986.

Collection Holdings

Photographs, postcards. Date Range: 1940s - 1960s