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Robert Helpmann (1909-1986)


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These quotes are from Conversation with Sir Robert Helpmann [sound recording]. Interviewer: Hazel de Berg. 1974. Tape 773, side 2 #10,057-8

About his desire to learn ballet as a child after moving to Adelaide, South Australia....

...I wanted to go to real dancing school, so I talked to Miss Stewart and she said ‘But I’ve never had a boy to dance before,’ so I said, ‘That doesn’t matter. I want to come to your ballet classes.’ So she said, ‘Well, all right, you can,’ but of course, never having had a boy pupil, I had to learn all the dances for the little girls, and dance on my points, and of course when it came time for her annual display, I had to dance because I was better than any of them, and so I always appeared as a little girl, on my points, and at the end of the number I would take off my wig, and this was a great success with the audience.”

About Anna Pavlova....

“Of course, to me Pavlova was a goddess....

I sat and watched her every night for 15 months, and to me she was just unbelievable, but I learnt from her. I used to go into the theatre at about half past 5, and standing on a barely lit stage, covered in woollen tights and woollen pullovers and shawls would be this lonely figure, practising right up to the moment they called ‘Quarter of an hour’ before the performance, then she would leave the stage and a few minutes later come back, this magic creature, and I realised then the tremendous, hard, gruelling, cruel work the ballet involves. I often wonder, even now today, whether the audience who sit there realise for one second the amount of work that you have to do to become an Anna Pavlova or a Margo Fonteyn.”
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