Sir Jon Trimmer’s appearance on stage with the Royal New Zealand Ballet later this year as the ageing Don Quixote, in the ballet of the same name, will surely be greeted with tumultuous applause. Though there may not be quite as much bounce in the body these days, sixty-nine-year-old Sir Jon is just as popular with the public as when he joined the company in 1958 – on the same day as Jacqui Oswald, who later became his wife.
Jonty, as he’s known backstage, was born in the Petone house near the beach in which his parents married in 1939. His mother, whose family were gypsies from Spain, danced in musicals in Wellington and his father was a wool classer who played the violin in orchestras round town. All six kids – three girls and three boys – danced, sang and did a little acting at home.
The boy who enrolled at his sister Pam’s dance school at the age of twelve went on to perform with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in an international career spanning eleven years and several continents.
Sir Jon initially thought he would retire at the age of thirty-six but dance stars are rare in this part of the world so he returned home in 1970 to help revive the ailing national company. Jacqui became company ballet mistress and Sir Jon became principal male dancer, taking on the great character roles, such as the Russian doll come to life in Petrouchka and Albrecht in Giselle.
That commitment to ballet in New Zealand has seen the dancer, knighted in 1999, carry on performing well past the age when most have packed away their pumps. Contributing to this artistic longevity was a latent acting ability that led to success as a stage and screen actor in non-dancing parts. Sir Jon’s performance as the sinister pyromaniac in the 1986 television series The Fire-Raiser (based on Maurice Gee’s children’s novel) earned him a best actor nomination.
For two years he toured with actress Helen Moulder in the play Meeting Karpovsky, acting the role of a mysterious dance tutor. The creative talent doesn’t stop there. Jon and Jacqui both have art studios at the rambling Paekakariki property they’ve called home since 1984. Their work, like their professional lives, crosses over, intertwines and diverges.
Both have worked in clay and in paint; both have sold their work and between them their output covers a broad range of themes and styles, from mythology to still life to portraiture. The Trimmers seem the epitome of urbane city dwellers, yet they haven’t missed the metropolis in the twenty-four years since they left a central Wellington apartment for their home close to the sea on the Kapiti Coast.
Watercolours of ballet sets, a beaded fringe from the ballet company’s wardrobe, books, dolls, stones, old specs, framed black and white family photographs and his-and-hers honours citations all jostle for attention. Outside, that love of colour extends to the garden where Sir Jon cross-pollinates yellow, orange, red and pink hibiscus – producing surprising seedlings. He also cultivates palms of every sort and keeps the kitchen pantry full of silverbeet, tomatoes, potatoes and string beans. Gnarled vines on the faded terracotta walls of the old stucco house groan under an abundance of grapes.
As for retirement, the signs are all good for Sir Jon’s many fans. His mother was never a “ballet mum”, unlike some who follow their offspring around. She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven and could still dance well into her eighties, like a “slightly elderly Ginger Rogers”. He has every intention of following in her footsteps. Please viewthe photo gallery for all the images from this story.