Topic: Sir Jon Trimmer by Gaye Hemsley

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As a dance teacher for over fifty years the first person that jetes into my mind is Sir Jon Trimmer. When I was young, I watched him perform in Auckland as the youthful partner for young ballerinas with the New Zealand Ballet Company.

He was with the ballet company in their formative years under the watchful eye of their founder and director Paul Gnatt. Members toured the country performing at many provincial towns. I clearly remember the excitement when I was on holiday on Waiheke Island and the ballet company were to perform in the local hall.

We all turned up with our boyfriends and, yes, the boys enjoyed the performance, too. In those days the small cast of only eight dancers not only danced, they were also responsible for preparing the stage with scenery; rigging lights, and carefully unpacking and ironing costumes ready for the evening performance.

After all that it was rehearsal time for the show. Physically a dancer is as fit as any athlete. I was told by my dance teacher as a young student that a dancer’s body has to be kept in first class condition; as a musician’s instrument is, be it violin or piano, for a dancer’s instrument is their body.

In 1956 Jon was granted a scholarship to study overseas. He anxiously embarked on a journey by ship to the unknown. He studied at the Royal Ballet and was accepted to dance with Sadler Wells. His years overseas gave him invaluable experience through performing with prestigious companies. He gained a three year contract with the Royal Danish Ballet Company. Sir Jon has performed with great dancers like Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and many of the world’s top dancers. Before returning to ‘God’s Own’ he had a two year period with the Australia Ballet Company.

Jon returned to the New Zealand Ballet Company ready to devote his life and stick with them through times of trouble and triumph. He received an MBE award in 1974 and several years later in 1999, because of his dedicated work with the company, Jon was bestowed with the title of ‘Sir’ - about the same time the Company had ‘Royal’ added to their name. An honour indeed.

Luckily Jon came from a theatrical family, so his interest in being a professional dancer had all the backing it deserved. His mother danced in musicals; his great uncle was a stage hand at the St. James Theatre in Wellington and his father played in a dance band. Jon’s great grand-dad was a wool classer in Gisborne and one of Jon’s family stories is that his great granddad taught the other wool classers tap and clog dancing in their tea break.

At the age of twelve Jon commenced ballet lessons in Wellington at a dance school his eldest sister ran.

Early in his career Jon decided to take the ‘h’ from his name, thinking ‘John’ did not sound theatrical enough. Over the fifty odd years Jon has been involved with the New Zealand Ballet Company he has been a gracious ambassador for dance, regardless of his audience, whether a royal command performance or a visit to a country school. To him all deserve the same attention.  He is always happy to chat at the stage door after performances to appreciative fans young and old.

As much as Jon has excelled in classical roles, his established genre is for character parts. His rendition of the hundred year old story Petrouchka was a sensational display of emotion from a heartbroken puppet.  Over the years he has extended his talents to acting in dramatic roles in television and stage plays. In 2004 he toured New Zealand with the play Meeting Karpovsky.

To celebrate Sir Jon’s 50th anniversary with the Royal New Zealand Ballet he took to the stage as ‘The Don’ in Don Quixote and the following year delighted audiences with ‘Hook’ in Peter Pan. In 2010 he played a most appealing part as the Matron in The Nutcracker - he was hilarious. Not only is he a great dancer, he is a superb actor; the two must go together to portray memorable ballet.

In his own words he says that now in his senior years he has to forgo being the handsome prince, and that he relishes playing ‘old ladies and witches.’ Dance is his love and passion, the air that he breathes. Many before him have hung up their dance shoes for a less hectic life, but not our Jon.

In his time away from the stage Jon enjoys gardening, painting and pottering around with clay at his home on the Kapiti Coast. He manages to fit his life around his family, his career and his country.

Sir Jon Trimmer has definitely created memories for all ballet enthusiasts. He is someone to look up to.  A dancer’s mentor.


About the writer: Gaye Hemsley’s main occupation is as a children’s dance teacher, but over the years she has branched out into other activities related to children, including writing children’s books. Gaye believes we keep young by keeping the child within us alive. You can check her out further at

‘Sir Jon Trimmer’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


A young Jon Trimmer dancing classical ballet.


Sir Jon Trimmer with one of Gaye’s young students, Scott Milham.


Gaye and Katikati dance students with a dapper Sir Jon Trimmer in 2010.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Sir Jon Trimmer by Gaye Hemsley

First Names:Jon
Last Name:Trimmer
Occupation:Ballet Dancer