Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gorham, Kathleen Ann (Kathy) (1928–1983)

by Robin Grove

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Kathleen Ann (Kathy) Gorham (1928-1983), dancer, was born on 7 September 1928 at Narrandera, New South Wales, second of four children of Marcus Gorham, an Irish-born railway employee, and his wife Hilda Muriel Florence, née Somers, from England. Kathy grew up at Bankstown, Sydney, and was educated at Bethlehem College, Ashfield. She began learning ballet aged 7 but, severely injured in a motor accident, had to begin again a year later. From the Kathleen Danetree School of Dance she went to Leon Kellaway’s George Street studio to strengthen her pirouettes. Soon, under his tuition, multiple turns of every kind were her specialty.

When she was only 15, Gorham caught the attention of Edouard Borovansky, whose young company had recently completed its first tour of Australia and New Zealand. In 1946 she was taken to Melbourne and given a small part in his production of Schéhérazade, but by an oversight was not signed up on a contract, so that for two weeks she existed on broken biscuits. The following year she was made a junior ballerina with the Borovansky Ballet. When the English Ballet Rambert was making its successful Australian tour (1947-49), Gorham was invited to join the company, which she did under an adapted family name, Ann Somers. She returned with Rambert to London, took lessons with the celebrated Russian teacher Vera Volkova, and gained a scholarship to the Sadlers Wells School. On leaving she toured Britain with Roland Petit’s Ballet de Paris, and performed with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet.

In 1951 Gorham returned briefly to Australia for a Borovansky season, in which she first danced her most famous role, Giselle. By 1953, as a leading dancer with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in Paris, she was, Le Figaro reported, `a revelation’ but, although she was to dance with de Cuevas again, she returned to head the Borovansky company, joining them in Pineapple Poll for their 1954 season. She remained with the company until its demise early in 1961.

After another year abroad dancing with various companies, Gorham joined the new Australian Ballet in 1962 as its first prima ballerina. She played a significant part in its artistic development. Working in close association with (Sir) Robert Helpmann, who declared her his favourite dancer, she created the female lead roles in his ballets The Display (1964) and Yugen (1965) and danced the lead in the Australian première of his Elektra (1966). She travelled to Britain and Europe with the young company in 1965. Retiring next year, she was appointed OBE in 1968.

Gorham was small—five feet (152 cm) in height—but in movement her intensity inscribed every gesture on the mind. To speed and brio she added an exactitude that gave her dancing its compact, faceted brilliance. Her large, dark, expressive eyes and her capacity for mime inspired her popularity in tragic roles such as Giselle. The critic Geoffrey Hutton praised her `beautifully articulated and intensely moving’ performance in 1960. It was `a complete Giselle, ranging from innocent gaiety to terrifying madness and resolved in pure dancing’. With `Boro’, and later with the Australian Ballet, her repertoire also included Swan Lake, The Sleeping Princess, The Nutcracker and Coppélia.

On 18 November 1958 Gorham had married Robert Michel Pomie, a French choreographer and dancer, at the district registrar’s office, Parramatta, Sydney; they had one son. Divorced in 1964, she married Barney Frank Marrows, an engineer, on 6 September 1967 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. In retirement she appeared in plays and television drama, and became a co-director of the Kathleen Gorham-Rex Reid Ballet Academy and then of the National Theatre Ballet School, Melbourne. After a stroke in 1979, perhaps brought on by years of overwork and heavy smoking, she settled in 1981 at Southport, Queensland, and continued to teach. She died there of myocardial infarction on 30 April 1983 and was cremated with Catholic rites. Her husband and son survived her. For two decades she was the best loved of Australian classical dancers.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Pask, Ballet in Australia (1982)
  • Dance Australia, no 13, 1983, p 8
  • Sunday-Herald (Sydney), 8 Apr 1951, p 12
  • Sydney Morning Hearld, 15 Dec 1959, p 25, 3 May 1983, p 13
  • People (Sydney), 28 July 1954, p 28
  • Bulletin, 10 Oct 1964, p 35
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 29 Apr 1981, p 22
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 May 1983, p 12.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robin Grove, 'Gorham, Kathleen Ann (Kathy) (1928–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gorham-kathleen-ann-kathy-12555/text22601, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Marrows, Kathy
  • Pomie, Kathy
  • Somers, Ann
Birth

7 September 1928
Narrandera, New South Wales, Australia

Death

30 April 1983
Southport, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation