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Kenneth Gillespie
, 2005

by Dean Beletich

silver gelatin photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 35.7 cm x 51.0 cm, image: 32.0 cm x 47.9 cm)

Kenneth Gillespie (1929–2010), ballet dancer and teacher, left his native Launceston as a teenager to join the Borovansky Ballet in Melbourne. Soon a lead dancer, he performed with the Sadler's Wells and Festival Ballet companies in London, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the American Festival Ballet before returning to Tasmania in 1960. In Launceston, behind his house, he created Tasmania’s first ballet studio. He ran the Tasmanian Ballet School for many years; from it, the performing group known as the Tasmanian Ballet emerged. Gillespie travelled indefatigably to give classes around Tasmania. His students included not only Graeme Murphy, who credits him as his mentor, but also Michelle Hawkins, Natasha Middleton, Claire McHugh and Glenn Murray. The Tasmanian Ballet performed all over the place, including in many primary schools, with Gillespie involved in every aspect of all its productions from 1961. By 1975 it was a state- and federally funded professional company. Gillespie was its director until he retired in 1979 and moved to Newcastle for the climate. He received a knighthood from the Order of St John of Malta and of Rhodes in 1989.

Dean Beletich sought to photograph ‘Sir’ Kenneth Gillespie after seeing him at exhibition openings and events around Newcastle. At their portrait session he found him to be generous and charming, an expansive raconteur. Beletich observed that from the outside, Gillespie’s cottage in Newcastle looked like any other.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2015
Accession number: 2015.133