Kathleen Gorham OBE 1928-1983

Kathleen Gorham

Kathleen Gorham

Miss Kathleen Gorham was born in the New South Wales Riverina town of Narrandera on 7 September 1928.

Gorham made her first public appearance as Tiger Lily and a member of the ballet in Peter Pan at the Minerva Theatre at Christmas 1945.

A protégé of Leon Kellaway, she moved to Melbourne in 1946 to study under Madame Borovansky.

 

Dedicated to dance

‘Kate Gorham was first and foremost a performer, from the flash of those great dark eyes to the tips of her long raven tresses,’ recalled William Akers, who was Borovansky’s stage director, and the Australian Ballet’s first production director. ‘Dramatic, capricious, temperamental and brilliant, she was always the entertainer, the public’s darling. But there were a dozen Kate Gorhams – one never knew what to expect. She wasn’t a ballerina’s ballerina – her mates were among the corps and the staff. Stagehands adored her. In many of the theatres throughout Australia and New Zealand there was a small barre in the OP corner that was always “Kathleen’s barre”, built and put there for her by her ever-loving crew members. They loved and respected her because she was little and tough and worked like they did. It was no surprise to see Kate Gorham in at 8am doing her own barre, before class started at 10. She has left us something more of herself than memories. She was an exciting and compelling teacher, and it is a fortunate student who, when asked the name of their teacher, can say with pride: “Miss Kathleen Gorham!”’ 

Miss Kathleen Gorham was born in the New South Wales Riverina town of Narrandera on 7 September 1928 – though in later life she tended to ‘adjust’ the date for professional reasons.

Gorham grew up in humble circumstances in the western suburbs of Sydney. Somehow her mother scraped up enough money to allow her to train with Lorraine Norton and Frances Scully. With other Scully students, Gorham made her first public appearance as Tiger Lily and a member of the ballet in Peter Pan at the Minerva Theatre at Christmas 1945. A protégé of Leon Kellaway, she moved to Melbourne in 1946 to study under Madame Borovansky. Her travel was financed by fellow members of Uncle Tom’s Gang, a children’s radio show. She made her Borovansky Ballet debut in May 1946 as a Circassian lad in Schéhérazade. Almost immediately the company was shoehorned into the musicals The Dancing Years and Gay Rosalinda. Gorham had tiny but featured roles in both. In 1947, promoted to the rank of junior ballerina, she danced a range of major roles including the Debutante in Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose, the mazurka and pas de deux in Les Sylphides, and the First Hand in Le Beau Danube. She also recreated Peggy Sager’s original role of the Spirit of Australia in Borovansky’s Terra Australis.

Media Gallery

Photograph courtesy National Library of Australia vn3064554-v

Biographical references

Barry Kitcher: From Gaolbird to Lyrebird, Front Page, 2003
Edward H. Pask: Ballet in Australia,Oxford, 1982
Edward H. Pask: ‘Kathleen Gorham’, in Dance Australia, September 1983
Frank Salter: Borovansky, Wildcat Press, 1980