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Ballerinas/danseurs who met tragic ends in real life


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#16 mbjerk

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 01:57 PM

Darrell Barnett, Greg Huffman, Andrew Levinson, Greg Osborne, Philip Jerry - all dear friends and dancers - contemporaries of Chuck Ward, Peter and David, etc.

Great crop of American Dancers swept away.

David Peregrine from RWB died in a plane that he was flying, I believe.

#17 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 02:05 PM

Then, of course, there are the saddest of all, those who die a living death, having danced magnificently and crashed before they could reach full potential. The body lives on, the dancer is still there, but the hopes for a long career of magnificent performances is gone. The obvious example is, alas, Gelsey Kirkland. :)

#18 glebb

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 02:21 PM

Alexandra, were you thinking of Clara Webster?

#19 Estelle

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 02:34 PM

Mel, what you wrote reminded me of Ghislaine Fallou, a very promising POB première danseuse, who stopped dancing quite abruptly a few years ago when she was in her early 20s and never came back. (But I find it's a bit unfair and morbid to put such dancers with a "broken" career in the same category as those who passed away!)

Jacques Garnier had died of AIDS around 1989 when he was about 47 (he had been a POB sujet in the 1960s, then had left the company with Brigitte Lefèvre to create their own company the Théâtre du Silence, then had come back to the POB in the late 1970s to be the director of the GRCOP. Unfortunately, it seems that only one of his choreographies has survived). His mother had written a small book about him and especially about his last days, it really was heart-breaking.

Jorge Donn (principal dancer of Béjart's company) died from AIDS at 45 in november 1992- shortly before Dominique Bagouet (a prominent French modern dance choreographer) at 41, and Rudolf Nureyev at 54... I remember an issue of "Les Saisons de la Danse" with all those obituaries, and its late director André-Philippe Hersin, who was a close friend of Donn and Bagouet, had only written a few words instead of his usual editorials because it was too hard for him to write more...

The former POB principal Claire Motte died in 1986, when she was 49, from cancer. She had stopped performing, but was one of the POB's ballet masters, and left two young sons.

Well, that's really a depressing thread... :(

#20 liebs

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 05:23 PM

And AIDS claimed the lives of many modern dancers and choreographers as well - Arnie Zane, Chris Gillis and Jeff Waddlington - to name just a few. Alexandra, I can never watch that ABT Nutcracker without mourning Ward, Tippet and the others.

#21 Alina

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 05:51 PM

One of the most tragic I know of, mostly because extremely horrible circumstance was James Dunne, a former Harkness, Joffrey dancer who was murdered in Hawai in 1995. He had retired but was gaining reputation as a teacher. Very sad for me, he was a good friend with a lot more to give.

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 06:26 PM

I don't mean to belittle the death of anyone, but when a dancer is broken in the course of a career, it is as classically tragic (in the Aristotelean sense) as an actual death. (Œdipus did not die, but blinded himself, and lived out a "living death" in Colonus) Fortunately, Ms. Kirkland is still teaching, and is physically and emotionally well now, but there have been others, like Ivy Clear of an earlier Joffrey era, who retired in her twenties, and could not tolerate to be around or even talk about dancing.

#23 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 07:19 PM

Treading gently into this thread, I hope we won't get too morbid. The sorts of tragedies described here still in living memory can provoke very emotional reactions.

It's so important to remember these people and to avoid the wasteful loss of other lives, but to take Emma Livry as an example, isn't it sad and ironic for a talented dancer to have her death to be the thing that defined her life? Is that all she is to be remembered for?

#24 Alexandra

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 08:17 PM

Well, Livry was only 17, and many felt that her death ended the hope of reviving the Romantic ballet (imagine if there were a 17-year-old Farrellova who had an instinctive sense for dancing Balanchine and everyone was imagining her in all those roles, and anticipating the pleasure of watching her for the next 30 years).

So in a sense she's remembered because her death was so horrible (read Guest; he does a lovely blow by blow, right down to the butterfly fluttering over her casket all the way to the cemetery) but also because it was not only a thwarted life and a thwarted career, but a thwarted era, one of the great What Might Have Beens in dance history.

(And, after all, if you start a thread asking for tragic deaths, it's gonna be morbid :( )

#25 Marga

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 09:13 PM

Although I started the thread with historical references, it quickly elicited names of dancers who died too young who are in our current memory.

That it may evoke strong emotions, especially when we knew a dancer, is not a bad thing. It may be therapeutic to be able to have a moment to grieve again.

And, certainly, to talk about a deceased dancer who had so much more to do, allows their star to shine a little again.

I know it does me good to think about Joseph Duell, Patrick Bissell, Christopher Gillis, Jeff Duncan, and many others, from time to time. Just remembering their brilliance makes me happy they graced the dance world when they did and that I was there to see it.

That they died tragically is so very hard to take, but, that's the risk of being alive. Many of us may die tragically as well. It's built into the nature of life that some die sweetly, maybe even painlessly, at a ripe old age, and others have to go through hell, perhaps long before their time.

#26 Drew

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 09:23 PM

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.

#27 Alexandra

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Posted 03 July 2003 - 09:31 PM

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....")

#28 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 04 July 2003 - 05:03 PM

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?

#29 mbjerk

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Posted 04 July 2003 - 05:05 PM

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.

#30 Marga

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 08:36 PM

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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