Dancer, actor in theatre, film and television, choreographer for stage and film, revue artist, director of ballet, opera, drama, pantomime, musicals, comedy: Robert Helpmann (1909-1986) exuberantly realised a career that encompassed a phenomenal range. In ballet and dance he grew beyond his early years as Ninette de Valois' protege within the Vic-Wells Ballet in the 1930s, to become premier danseur with the Company in the 1940s, guest artist with The Royal Ballet in the 1950s and 1960s, and finally director of Australian Ballet. In drama he acted with the Old Vic and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, collaborated frequently with his partner, Michael Benthall, with Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and with Katharine Hepburn. In film his many performances brought him international celebrity, particularly in The Red Shoes, The Tales of Hoffmann and as the demonic Child-Catcher in Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang.
Helpmann's creative stamina was legendary. His personality embraced enigmas, complexities, a delight in continuous shape-changing and role-play (he was a master of stage-makeup); but these qualities accompanied a profound, whole-hearted and life-long commitment to all that we understand by the `theatre'.
Clearly no one writer could do full justice to all the manifestations of Helpmann's genius. This was the reason for drawing on the many specialists and one-time colleagues whose essays and reminiscences make up this publication. But, as it is over thirty years since Helpmann's death and few are alive who experienced his early triumphs, the writers' verbal evocations of his theatrical persona are supported by over seventy photographs. To supplement these, a DVD offers filmed material of archival value and engages with the challenges facing attempts to revive Helpmann's choreographies today.