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Robert Helpmann
, 1969

by David Moore

montage of gelatin silver photographs (sheet (irregular): 31.5 cm x 93.0 cm, frame: 57.0 cm x 116.0 cm)

Sir Robert Helpmann CBE (1909-1986) was a dancer, actor and choreographer. The son of a sheep farmer and a frustrated actress, Helpmann grew up in Mount Gambier, South Australia. At the age of 11 he made his stage debut, dressed in a tutu, at a charity concert in front of Dame Nellie Melba. Soon after he joined Anna Pavlova's touring company and went to England where by 1934 he was lead male dancer at the Vic-Wells ballet (later Sadler's Wells). There, he formed a celebrated partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn. Renowned for his dramatic and innovative ballet choreography, Helpmann was artistic co-director of the Australian Ballet from 1965 to 1976; during this period, in 1965, he was Australian of the Year. He appeared in twelve films, including The Red Shoes, which he also choreographed. Renowned for flamboyance and wit, he was still dancing two months before his death in the role of the Red King in Checkmate. This collage, originally assembled for the art book In the Making, resulted from David Moore's short sitting with Helpmann in his Sydney hotel room. The cramped space limited Moore's creative options, so he took these silhouettes against the window.

Australian of the Year 1965

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1998
Accession number: 1998.18