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Sir Robert Helpmann (1909 - 1986)

Australian ballet dancer, choreographer, actor, and director, who played a major role in the early years of the Sadler's Wells Ballet and is credited with bringing classical ballet to his native land.
He was knighted in 1968.

When Anna Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand in 1923, Helpmann joined her company and then spent five years touring Australia with J. C. Williamson's troupe. In 1933 he came to England and joined the Vic-Wells (later the Sadler's Wells) Ballet; the same year he was given his first major role, as Satan in de Valois's Job. He became the company's principal dancer in 1934 and partnered Alicia Markova in The Haunted Ballroom. The following year marked the start of a long partnership between Helpmann and the new prima ballerina, Margot Fonteyn, with whom he danced a large classical repertoire. Helpmann's dramatic ability was used to great effect in such ballets as Checkmate (1937), The Prospect Before Us (1940), and the immensely popular Cinderella (1948), which was choreographed by Frederick Ashton and featured Helpmann as one of the ugly sisters. Helpmann also began to choreograph ballets himself and achieved great success in Comus (1942), Hamlet (1942), and Miracle in the Gorbals (1944). He also appeared in the ballet films The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

In 1950 Helpmann resigned from the Sadler's Wells Ballet, although he still appeared as a guest artist. He continued to work as a choreographer, dancer, director, and actor, appearing as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream , in which he played opposite Vivien Leigh, and in the title role in Hamlet. In 1963 Helpmann became a co-director of the Australian Ballet with Dame Peggy Van Praagh (1910-90) and produced such works as Display , based on Australian legend, and Yugen, based on Japanese legend. In 1976, after the success of his The Merry Widow (1975), he retired.

Who's Who in the Twentieth Century: Oxford University Press, © Market House Books Ltd 1999

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