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Sir Robert Helpmann
, c.1965 (printed 2015)

by Jozef Vissel

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 30.4 cm x 40.5 cm, image: 25.7 cm x 30.5 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). He produced and performed there until 1950, with partners including Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. 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, and in 1974, King of Moomba. 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.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Jozef Vissel 2015
Accession number: 2015.46