Marga

Ballerinas/danseurs who met tragic ends in real life

93 posts in this topic

Tanaquil LeClerq led a very rich life both before and after being struck by polio -- but the ballet community certainly mourned the interuption of her career as a dancer.

I didn't exactly feel morbid reading over this thread, but I did find it rather upsetting...the impact of AIDS on the generation of dancers I, so to speak, grew up with -- William Carter is yet another-- was particularly devastating.

On a lighter note (sort of) I do think popular culture tends to encourage a view of ballet and ballet dancers as somehow 'tragic,' or, at any rate, melodramatic. I'm thinking of The Red Shoes or even the Turning Pointe. And Kirkland's first book, the one detailing her failed love affairs and drug addiction, was the best seller, not the second one where she details her ideas about interpretation.

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Drew, I second your last point. I think the Kirkland I story is the only story publishers, at least, want to read, at least American publishers (I wonder if it is different in other countries)? The Fonteyn Story -- little girl wants to be a ballerina, has perfect body for ballet, no known eating disorders, works hard, lands in the right place at the right time, inspires great choreographer, has late career great partnership and generally has glorious career -- is not what they want. They want the "ballet is awful, it breaks the body and the spirit" story.

(The Eddie Stierle story is another -- not saying that he was self-destructive, not at all, but the story is very much about "they said he didn't have the right body for dance...") If Emma Livry had been American, she would have inspired the muckrakers. ("Evil theater owners who install unsafe gas lamps purely for Profit and Greed destroy the Life of our little Butterfly....")

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i don't know much about his death but i recall that heinz bosl died about six months after guesting in ruth page's nutcracker, and how wonderful he was, really like nothing i'd ever seen before; 1975 or so?

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Yes, Heinz was a beautiful dancer. I remember him from Page's Nutcracker also. I think he had leukemia or some other similar disease. He did the Snow Pas with Patricia Klekovic and they were fantastic.

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Alexander Godunov, who gained fame first in ballet (we all remember his defection to the U.S. in 1979) and later as an actor, died at age 45 of "acute alcoholism" on May 18th, 1995.

He won a gold medal at the 1973 Moscow International Competition and danced with the Bolshoi for 13 years. In New York, he danced 3 years with ABT and even with Alvin Ailey.

I remember him best in "Witness," where he made his film debut in 1985. What a striking figure he was -- tall, blond, chiseled good looks with a very fine line and superb technique in ballet!

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There is a most tragic story in the history of the Colon Theatre (Buenos Aires - Argentina). I think it was around 1970-1971, when I think seven of the ballet's most important figures (including 2 principals that were known internationally: Norma Fontenla and Jose Neglia) died in an air accident.

They were travelling south, to dance in one of the provinces, when the aircraft plunged into the River Plate. They all died drowned.

After this was that Liliana Belfiore took the place of prima ballerina at the theatre, as this place was left vacant after Fontenla's death.

There is a memorial of them near the theatre now.

Silvy

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Here are the names of the dancers who died in the accident I described in my last post (nine dancers):

José Neglia, Norma Fontenla, Margarita Fernández, Carlos Schiaffino, Rubén Estanga, Martha Raspanti, Carlos Santamarina, Sara Bochkovsky and Antonio Zambrana.

It was October 10, 1971

silvy

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Michael Batchelor, ex-Royal Ballet and Sadler's Wells Royal Ballets had retired and was enjoying the first year of a university degree course (archeology?) when he died of AIDS. A wonderful dancer, and a kind and gentle man.

Jane

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Thank you for that, Jane -- I remember him as a dancer; very clean and understated.

And thank you for your story, silvy. That happened before I was interested in dance, and so I have no memory of it. It's horrible -- a personal tragedy, of coruse, for many, but a tragedy for the country's ballet life as well.

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This thread makes me sad. I am looking at a newspaper clipping from 1974, with the headline, "Marriage is a Pas de Deaux." It's about my dearest teacher ever, Jury Gotshalks, during a happier time in his life with his gorgeous model/dancer wife, Judy. Jury was trained in Latvia; after moving to Canada, he had his own ballet school and ballet company in Halifax. He danced with virtually every major ballet company in the U.S. and Canada, and had his own tv show and produced a number of shows for CBC in Toronto and Montreal, where he met his wife-to-be. He taught at the National Ballet School of Canada and the Philadelphia Academy of Dance. He danced at Radio City, where the exaggerated lifts in a theater of that size, as he related to me, led to degenerated discs in years to come. He was handsome and dapper, and he and his wife were an incredible, head-turning couple. They had strong ties to ABT, and so, friends of his from that company would come to perform as guest artists at student concerts at the U. of Wisconsin when I was there. He could be brutal with me in class, but he would bring his closest friends to see me perform, and boast about his talented student to them. Knowing that couple made my life feel special and elevated.

As he got older and tried to cope with the problems of being separated from his wife, and of no longer being the young, vital dancer he once was, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Tragically, not many years later, his wife died while piloting a plane in France. To this day, I miss them both.

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erik bruhn?

john cranko?

macmillan's relatively early and dramatic death might belong in this thread category...

choo san goh's loss is a massive one to contemporary (i.e. today's) ballet, in my view.

beriosova's demise, after years of visible alcoholism in london, was sad.

elaine fifield, the original RB pineapple poll, died here in perth (western australia), a few years back. she resolutely avoided anything to do with ballet for the last 'half' (loosely speaking) of her life.

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Thanks for mentioning Elaine Fifield, Grace. I knew there was an Australian ballerina who died recently but for the life of me I could not remember her name. I even dusted off old Dance Australia mags but couldn't find the one that mentioned her. We could also add Russell Page, a wonderful dancer and choreographer who took his own life last year.

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I keep reading this thread with hopes of reading of Mlle. Mousseline de Soie, the great Empire ballerina, who died of a broken skull when she slipped and cracked her head on the steel bustle of Lady Buff-Orpington in a receiving line after a performance. Death is always a wrench, but are there any dancers whose careers were cut short or lives cut short for truly dumb reasons?

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One of the saddest ends for a ballerina would have to be amputation, and Adele Granzow who, if fate hadn't intervened, would have been the first Swanilda, died after losing one (or both) her legs--in Berlin, if I'm not mistaken.

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Well, I was thinking more along the lines of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who in addition to being a distinguished composer was also a gifted dancer/choreographer who worked closely with Molière on comedy-ballets. He was conducting a performance of a Te Deum when he speared his foot with the point of a cane he was using to beat time, gangrene set in, and Lully left this vale of our sorrows. See what happens when you get religion?

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To Grace, or whoever knows:

What did Erik Bruhn die of? And John Cranko?

thanks

silvy

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I was told that Eric Bruhn, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer. John Cranko died after a seizure on a plane journey.

John Gilpin's death I also consider tragic: after battling with alcoholism and surviving thrombosis (he was lucky not to lose his leg), he at last found happiness after marrying his long time friend and confidante, Princess Antoinette of Monaco. He died of a heart attack only months after the wedding.

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Perhaps one ought not to post speculatively, but I am pretty sure I read in one of the Nureyev biographies that EB's cancer might have been hurried on by an HIV infection.

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Mel, did you you see that superb film, Le Roi danse? I was in ecstasy throughout, but poor Heather HATED it. It seemed to suggest that that Lully died impenitent, but perhaps I'm misremembering. Lully used to wear a rather shocking talisman (of sorts) around his neck (and NO, I'm not going to reveal here what it was). Surprisingly enough, the film didn't include this detail.

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I didn't see the film, but I do know that Lully wasn't terribly sincere about his religious output. Even Louis XIV, who didn't much care about what other people did, was fairly disgusted with Lully, for whom the term "flaming queen" might have been invented. He had married, but that was viewed as a political move. But he was the Music Master to the Royal Family, and his religious music was a supply response to client demand.

Now, as to Bruhn's death, in 1986, at that time AIDS/HIV was still a Great Unspeakable in many quarters, and it wasn't until the death of Robert Joffrey the following year that the "cover stories" of previous cases started unraveling. In Joffrey's case, the cover was particularly outlandish - a liver failure brought on by antiasthmatic medication. It blew apart in hours, when medical reporters expressed ignorance of any such drug with lethal hepatic side-effects.

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I suppose the same might be said for Auber's religious music, which I have never heard, even though there is volumes of it. Hoever, he had the most civilized way of praying that I have ever encountered. Every morning he would compose a little andante, or adagietto, or something of that sort. No "smite my enemies" stuff in that!

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and then there's spessivstseva. and pavlova.

i must say i am surprised at HOW MANY we are coming up with...

and even fonteyn's end was not what every little girl's fantasy would have wished for her - too soon, too impoverished, and probably (speculatively:) lonely.

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Death is always a wrench, but are there any dancers whose careers were cut short or lives cut short for truly dumb reasons?

I've been looking through my old Dance Magazines and came across a brief account of a ballerina's death that responds to this query. There is a small photo of her dancing with 2 male partners. She looks strong and accomplished with lovely lines. I don't remember ever reading her name or hearing of her, but then, I was only 14 when she died. The notice appeared in the September 1961 issue of Dance Magazine and is but a caption under her picture:

From "In The News" on page 53:

"TRAGEDY: Maria Fris, 29-year-old ballerina, one of Germany's leading dancers, plunged to death from the stage catwalk of the Hamburg Opera House during May 27 rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. She had had to withdraw from role of Juliet because of recurrent ankle trouble. Shown here with long-time partner Rainier Kochermann and Paul Herbinger."

From her pose in the picture, she looks absolutely beautiful. I'm sure someone here must know of her. Her death must have devastated her admirers. It makes me feel sad! Seeing her photograph makes her real to me. Her death was truly senseless.

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I don't think anybody who ever studied at the Old Metropolitan Opera House can forget The Bridge. It was a lighting apparatus, but everybody had to use it to cross from left to right when certain operas were hung. The old house had a fire early in its life, and they never got around to completely repairing the backstage cross-corridor behind the stage area. It always occurred to me that it would be awful to have a performance of "Gioconda" and have Enzo taken out by a falling ballerina from the Dance of the Hours.

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Yes, Marga, I have a very faint recollection of Maria Fris, she was lovely. I was very briefly at the Hamburg Opera end 1959. Very sad, as I have heard, she didnt fall accidentally, she threw herself down.

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