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Vera Zorina has died

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I haven't seen an obituary yet, just a death notice in this morning's NY Times --

"Zorina - Vera. The Board of Directors and Staff of The Santa Fe Opera note with enormous sadness the death of Vera Zorina. Vera Zorina had a long association with the company, first as performer and director, and then as a member of the Board of Directors. She was an Honorary Director at the time of her death. Vera Zorina will be remembered as a woman of great spirit, great talent and great generosity. Her contribution to the Santa Fe Opera is immeasurable. The entire company expresses its deep sympathy to her family."

Born Brigitta Hartwig, she was a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, appeared in the London production of On Your Toes, and made Hollywood movies, notably Goldwyn Follies with choreography by Balanchine. She was on Broadway in I Married an Angel (choreography by Balanchine.) She was Mr. B's second wife (1938-46). She danced with Ballet Theatre for a year and participated in NYCB's Stravinsky celebration of 1982, performing the speaking role of Persephone. She wrote movingly of that experience in her autobiography, Zorina, published in 1986.

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I have all of her film appearances on tape. She was said to be a limited dancer, although she danced many leads with the Ballet Russe and Terpsichore in Apollo at ABT. From the films, she was very beautiful with long legs and a good figure. Technically, she seemed to be a good turner and Balanchine had turn combinations for her in Goldwyn Follies, Louisiana Purchase and I was an Adventuress.

I had been flipping through Sono Osato's book "Distant Dances" just the other day. Looking at it today, here's what she said about Zorina (whom Osato became close friends with) when she first arrived at De Basil's company:

"Summer was over and Zorina was the color of gold. Long, lithe legs, intensely blue eyes, and soft blonde hair falling to her shoulders a la Garbo made her a dazzling beauty. She was the first girl I ever saw who didn't wear a brassiere. The men surrounded her, like flies around honey, barely able to hide their lust. The women, particularly the balleras, eyed her more cautiously from a distance. I was struck by her composure. Despite our relentless inspection she remained poised and cheerful throughout the whole trip."

Before her marriage to Balanchine, she was involved with Massine. Later, she was married to one of the heads of Columbia records and worked on the Stravinsky collection.

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According to an article in Ballet Review, Louis B. Mayer used to drive by the house Zorina and Balanchine were renting in Hollywood just to see her come out of the door.

In trying to find something more about her than just her love affairs, I found this is John Gruen's book "The Private World of Ballet," Zorina speaking about her live after ballet:

"I'm now doing the long-delayed job of living. I never fret over somthing that's done with. I think my life is marvelous. I'm so happy. I'm plain old happy. I have two beautiful housees. I have a good marriage. I do things that most women do in their twenties. I do gardening. I'm interested in cooking. I lead a sort of leaisurely life. When you're in the theater, you work incredibly hard. You can't do anything. your life is regimented and you must store up your energy for that one burst of light. I've worked very hard. I sweated. When you're young, you don't know how to be afraid. That only happens when you are older...you know more. Now, my work is being alive. It's lovely just to live."

From what I understand, Zorina, who having become a star in musicals first with Dolin and then in Balanchine's On Your Toes while still only in her teens, had trouble living up to that star billing in ballet. She told Gruen about her time at ABT, "I also danced in Apollo, and the Ballerina in Petrouchka. Stravinsky conducted his own music. I thought that I danced better than I had ever danced before of after. But I remember with pain that people were quite bitchy about me. I was a `Star.' Hurok brought me in. I was getting top billing. I was making twice as much money as anybody else. I didn't ask for any of that. Hurok was busy making a business out of it. So, `Zorina came back,' and then a critic came - I forget his name - and said, 'Anybody who calls herself Zorina can't be a dancer.' It was cruel and unintelligent. You see, the ballet world didn't want you to go into any other medium. They get nasty. You're supposed to stay poor and in the background. Still, I loved that time."

She described what sort of dancer she was: "Dancing meant a great deal to me. I suppose I was what you could call a legato dancer. I was never very good at little, fast, birdlike steps. I do regret never having danced all the great roles that one should have danced. I never had the great title of prima ballerina. I didn't stay with one company long enough. I always wanted to dance in Les Sylphides. I would have developed in George's ballets. You know that long-legged thing. Dancing in Apollo was like a dream. In fact, anything George did would have been right for me. But, to tell you the truth, I've never been interested in standing still in one medium."

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She wrote an autobiography entitled simply "Zorina." I checked amazon trying to recall the title and they also sell a book called "Zorina Balllerina," for kids 4-8. Their sole reviewer writes "Fun book for dance and elephant lovers. The elephants were really trained to dance in a real circus."

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It's an interesting book. There's a picture of Balanchine and Zorina at about the time they were married, both of them looking touchingly young.

I remember reading somewhere -- it could have been her book -- that a critic dismissed her as a "soubrette," causing Balanchine to write a letter to the editor disputing the description. I can't say I blame the other ABT dancers for being resentful under the circumstances. She must have been pretty good, though. Balanchine wasn't in the habit of falling in love with lousy dancers.

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I did not see her with Ballet Theatre (a couple of years before my time of ballet-going), but I know she danced "Helen of Troy" and she must have been perfect for the role. I did, however, see her portrayal of Ariel in "The Tempest" and she was quite good in the part. I have seen a f ew 'Ariels' over the years, but no one seemed more suited to the part than Zorina.

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I don't have the issue handy, but there was a very nice article in, I think, the June issue of Opera News (with Susan Graham on the cover) that described Zorina's involvement with music in Santa Fe and her contributions there. I'm sorry I can't recall the author's name offhand.

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I am puzzled that there has been no obituary in the NYTimes.

Zorina danced the role of the ballerina in Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Ave.", but in London only, and in the movie version. Tamara Geva danced the role in NYC. However, in 1954 George Abbott and Balanchine put together a revival of the show with Zorina. Elaine Stritch was in that also, singing the interpolated song "You Took Advantage of Me." It lasted only two months and was considered very dated. 29 years later, however, it was revived again with Natalia Makarova, and that revival lasted longer than the original in 1936. Did anyone see any of those three shows?


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Reading through this old thread, Vera Zorina may not have been a typically classical ballerina, but her dancing in Slaughter was anything but typical and for me it is one of the most beautiful dance sequences ever filmed. You can't take your eyes off her! I just wish it were longer. And I agree with her assessment that her dancing would/may have developed under George. Didn't Tallchief write of her poor technique but after blossoming with Mr. B., became one of the greatest and beloved American dancers, and with a style all her own. I certainly don't know what sort of ballerina Ms Zorina would have developed into if she'd danced in Mr. B's companies, and her beauty is so dazzling that her star power may have taken center stage if she had continued with him, but it seems that many dancers working with Balanchine could grow, learn and develop if they were willing to.

Isn't that one of the things that makes a dancer great, his or her unique artistic talent and perspective and contribution to the dance? I would enjoy

hearing members' thoughts! - Karen

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