Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harold Lionel (Leon) Kellaway (1897–1990)

by Noël Pelly

This article was published:

Harold Lionel (Leon) Kellaway (1897?-1990), ballet dancer and teacher, was born possibly in 1897 in London. He was always secretive about his birth but his parents may have been Edwin John Kellaway, caretaker at Parliament House, Cape Town, and his wife Rebecca Annie, née Brebner. He spent his childhood in South Africa, gaining billing as `Baby Kellaway’ in a professional theatrical troupe that included his three elder brothers, two of whom—Cecil and Alec (d.1973) —became actors in Australia. His interest in dance developed in his teenage years. After studying in London with Serafina Astafieva and Nicolai Legat, he toured the variety circuit in England, Australia and the United States of America with Ivy Schilling, and then partnered Lydia Kyasht. He danced with Anna Pavlova’s company in 1929-31. Returning to Australia in 1934, he performed with Olga Spessivtzeva in the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet under the stage name of Jan Kowsky (or Kowski). At the end of that tour he decided to settle in Sydney.

After appearing in musical productions and operettas with J. C. Williamson Ltd, in 1937 Kellaway opened a ballet school. He was a popular and inspiring teacher, attentive to fine details of movement and expression, and often spicing his instruction with blunt and memorable advice. As Christine Perry recalls, he `taught ballet scientifically long before it became fashionable to do so’. Welcoming the sheer enthusiasm of Australian dancers, he was an inventive choreographer to his own small, skilled and dedicated company, Ballet Nationale. He became a mentor to many students who would gain significant reputations, notably Kathleen Gorham and Elaine Fifield. During World War II he worked with Ernest C. Rolls in the production of musicals, and after the war he danced with the Borovansky Ballet Company as a character artist.

Appointed maître de danse of the National Theatre Ballet, Melbourne, in 1949, Kellaway contributed significantly to building the company and encouraging dancers including Lynne Golding, Margaret Scott and Alison Lee. Returning to the Borovansky Ballet in 1954, he was assistant to the ballet master, Harcourt Algeranoff in 1959. On the foundation of the Australian Ballet, in 1962, he was invited by the director, (Dame) Peggy van Praagh, to become associate ballet master. A skilled mime, he continued to take character parts in the company’s productions until 1968, appearing as `the Wowser’ in Melbourne Cup in 1962—a memorable role re­peated at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, in 1965—and as `the Duke’ in Giselle (1964) with Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. He was loved and respected by such artists, who sought his advice on matters of technique. When the Australian Ballet School opened in 1964, he joined the staff. He retired as emeritus professor of dance in 1980 and was awarded the OAM in 1986.

Kellaway was humorous, even tempered, unfailingly direct and keenly interested in the lives of his students. He was a gifted raconteur. Severe arthritis afflicted him in his last years of teaching; in retirement he took up drawing until that too became impossible. Leon Kellaway died at Murrumbeena on 30 April 1990 and was cremated. He was unmarried. As both a teacher and a character dancer, he had made an immense contribution to Australian ballet.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Salter, Borovansky (1980)
  • E. Pask, Ballet in Australia (1982)
  • F. van Straten, National Treasure (1994)
  • Dance Australia, Aug-Sept 1990, p 25
  • personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Noël Pelly, 'Kellaway, Harold Lionel (Leon) (1897–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


30 April, 1990 (aged ~ 93)
Murrumbeena, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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