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Svetlana Beriosova


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I've been looking at photographs of the Royal Ballet in the 1960s and was struck, again, how lovely Beriosova is (beautiful as a woman, beautiful as a dancer). On my list of Dancers It's Not Fair That I Didn't Get To See, she's usually number one.

I know she did "Enigma Variations" (and have seen a film of it, and thought it was one of the most beautifully subtle performances I've ever seen). And I know she did the Bride in "Les Noces" and the photos are stunning. And created the role in "Persephone" about which (aside from the fact that Ashton reportedly created it because she had a beautiful speaking voice and spoke French). And I know she did the classics.

Can anyone who saw her dance talk a bit about her? It fascinates me that someone who looks so suited to "Swan Lake" was also a great "Swanhilda." Ashton made a "Raymonda" pas de deux for her, and she seems very suited to that, too -- so how was she as Aurora? Did she do "Ondine," "Sylvia"?

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I first saw Beriosova in the mid sixties in a MacMillan ballet called Images of Love in which she danced with her regular partner Donald McCleary. She danced a pas de deux which was based on a Shakespeare quote: "When love begins to sicken and decay it useth an enforced ceremony". It was a psychological piece about a couple who had fallen out of love. She was superb. The following season she danced in Balanchine’s Serenade and the leading role in Nijinska's Les Biche, but at this time it was fair to say she was winding down her performances.

Beriosova suffered from emotional problems that caused her to lose confidence in herself as a dancer and her early withdrawal from the major roles was a tragedy. She went on into the seventies in roles such as the Tsarina in Anastasia and her appearances in Les Noces and Enigma Variations were greatly appreciated.

She was very beautiful indeed, with the kind of physique we don't see today and a face of pure serenity.

She was a similar kind of dancer to Fonteyn, by which I mean that technique was a means to an end with both of them and the idea of presenting a role to an audience took precedence over all else. Along with Fonteyn, Beriosova was what I would call a creative instrument. Involved in the creation of works by major choreographers. It added a dimension to the work of these dancers, to be part of the creative process and to act as a choreographers muse. Something few dancers of today ever experience. But looking at Beriosova (and indeed Fonteyn) it's easy to see why they were such a source of inspiration.

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I didn't see her either. But I can answer the odd question. I understand that she did do Ondine, which was described as quite different from Fonteyn - "pre-Raphaelite" in style.

There is a snippet of film of Beriosova dancing Persephone in the recent DVD Ashton to Stravinsky, which was shown at the Linbury recently in their Ashton lecture series - a very striking pose balanced on her partner's thigh.

I also recall a film (truly deadful quality) of the pdd from Lady and the Fool, also shown on one occasion in the Linbury. So there are little bits and pieces out there.

I'm sure others can answer your questions about seeing her in performance. Mention of her name does elict some very wistful stares into the distance at Covent Garden.

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Here are some things at the library! (haven't included the pas de deux available on the Bell Telephone Hour tape with Nureyev).


Cinderella-Telecast April 29, 1957, on Producer's Showcase, NBC-TV. Cast Margot Fonteyn (Cinderella), Michael Somes (Prince), Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan (Ugly Sisters), Alexander Grant (Jester), Julia Farron (Fairy Godmother), Merle Park, Elaine Fifield, Annette Page, Svetlana Beriosova (Seasons), and artists of the Sadler's Wells Ballet.

Lady and the Fool-Narrator: Dino Galvani. Danced by the Royal Ballet: Svetlana Beriosova (the lady) ; Ronald Hynd (Moondog, the clown) ; Ray Powell (Bootface, the small clown) ; David Shields (Signor Midas, the wealthy suitor) ; Bob Stevenson (Capitano Adoncino, the handsome suitor) ; Peter Wright (Prince of Arroganza, the royal suitor) ; Norman Dixon (footman) ; and others. Credits Scenic design, Guy Sheppard ; costumes, Jane Scrase Dickins. Note Telecast by BBC-TV on May 3, 1959.

Ballet excerpts filmed in performance by Ann Barzel. Performed by the Royal Ballet. Contents CONTENTS: Excerpts from: Birthday offering (approx. 9 min., b&w and color). Chor: Frederick Ashton. Filmed in two performances at the Chicago Opera House (?), December 1957 (?). Cast of first segment headed by Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes; includes Rowena Jackson and Nadia Nerina. Second segment cast headed by Svetlana Beriosova and Philip Chatfield. -- The firebird (approx. 4 min., b&w). Chor: Michel Fokine, revised by Serge Grigoriev and Lubov Tchernicheva. Filmed at Chicago Opera House, December 1957. Perf. by Fonteyn (firebird), Somes (Prince Ivan), Beriosova (the beautiful Tsarevna), others. -- Solitaire (approx. 4 min., b&w). Chor: Kenneth MacMillan. Filmed at Chicago Opera House, December 1957. Perf. by Anya Linden (the girl), David Blair, Maryon Lane (polka), others. -- Le baiser de la fée (approx. 9 min., b&w). Chor: MacMillan. Filmed at Chicago Opera House, December 1960. Perf. by Beriosova (the fairy), Donald MacLeary (a young man), Antoinette Sibley (his fiancée), others. -- La fille mal gardée (approx. 13 min., color and b&w). Chor: Ashton. Filmed at Chicago Opera House, December 1960. Perf. by Nerina (Lise), Blair (Colas), Stanley Holden (Widow Simone), others. -- Checkmate (approx., 2 min., b&w). Chor: Ninette de Valois. Filming location/date not identified. Cast not identified. -- Unidentified pas de deux (approx. 20 sec., b&w). Filming location/date not identified. Cast not identified. -- Swan

Rehearsal footage from a gala performance organized by Margot Fonteyn, who brought together dancers from American Ballet Theatre, the Czech National Ballet, and Britain's Royal Ballet. Contents La sylphide. Act II [excerpts] (ca. 16 min.) / choreography after Bournonville, described as an "arrangement" of the Act II pas de deux ; danced by Margot Fonteyn (the sylphide) and Rudolf Nureyev (James). The first 3 min. are danced in rehearsal clothes under work lights ; the following 13 min. are danced in costume with follow spots. A substantial if not complete portion of the ballet begins at ca. 3 min. into the tape and runs for ca. 10 min. It is followed by shorter excerpts, out of sequence. Fantasia in C minor (ca. 8 min.) / choreography, Kenneth MacMillan ; danced by Rudolf Nureyev. Solo set to music by Bach. Kenneth MacMillan appears briefly, demonstrating a position. A full runthrough of the 2-min. solo begins at ca. 20 min. into the tape, signaled by the rise of the curtain. Diana and Acteon pas de deux [excerpts] (ca. 6 min.) / choreography, Rudolf Nureyev after Agrippina Vaganova ; danced by Svetlana Beriosova and Rudolf Nureyev. Excerpts not performed in sequence ; some are very brief. Flames of Paris pas de deux [excerpt] (ca. 2 min.) / choreography, Vasili Vainonen, rehearsed by Rudolf Nureyev. Nureyev dances an excerpt from the male variation, the last part of which is repeated by Christopher Gable. In the mist [excerpts] (ca. 2 min.) / choreography, Jirí Blazek ; danced by Marta Drottnerová and Jirí Blazek. Pas de deux set to music by Leos Janácek. Fancy free [excerpts] (ca. 1 min.) / choreography, Jerome Robbins ; set, Oliver Smith (from a revival of On the town) ; danced by John Kriza, Scott Douglas, and Basil Thompson (the sailors) ; Alexander Grant (the bartender). Only two of the three girls listed in the reviews (Diana Levy, Christine Mayer, Karen Krych) appear on the tape. Fest polonaise [excerpts] (ca. 4 min.) / choreography, Harald Lander ; danced by Toni Lander and Royes Fernandez. Pas de deux set to music by Johan Svendsen.

Soldier's Tale-Robert Helpmann (the Devil), Brian Phelan (the Soldier), Svetlana Beriosova (the Princess).

Twelfth night, II, 4 / danced by Svetlana Beriosova, Donald MacLeary, Georgina Parkinson, Deanne Bergsma, Monica Mason. Two gentlemen of Verona, II, 4 / danced by Nadia Nerina, Desmond Doyle, Keith Rosson, Derek Rencher. Taming of the shrew, I, 1 / danced by Georgina Parkinson, Desmond Doyle, Monica Mason, Deanne Bergsma, Derek Rencher, Keith Rosson, Vergie Derman, Rosalind Eyre, Carole Needham, David Jones, Geoffrey Cauley, Paul Brown. Two gentlemen of Verona, II, 1 / danced by Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable. Two gentlemen of Verona, II, 6 / danced by Nadia Nerina, Alexander Grant. Julius Caesar, IV, 2 / danced by Svetlana Beriosova, Donald MacLeary. Sonnet 144 / danced by Rudolf Nureyev, Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable. Two gentlemen of Verona, II, 4 / danced by Alexander Grant, Georgina Parkinson, Deanne Bergsma, Monica Mason, Vergie Derman, Rosalind Eyre, Carole Needham.

Les Biches-Performed by members of the Royal Ballet, London: Svetlana Beriosova (hostess); Georgina Parkinson (the girl in blue); David Blair, Keith Rosson, Robert Mead (athletes); Merle Park, Maryon Lane, and others.

Enigma Variations-Choreography: Frederick Ashton. Music: Edward Elgar. Performed by artists of the Royal Ballet including: Derek Rencher, Svetlana Beriosova, Stanley Holden, Brian Shaw, Alexander Grant, with Robert Mead, Vyvyan Lorrayne, Anthony Dowell, Georgina Parkinson, Desmond Doyle, Ann Jenner, Wayne Sleep, Leslie Edwards, Deanne Bergsma, Patricia Linton, Lesley Collier, Donald Kirkpatrick, Christine Aitken, Frank Treeman, Julie Wood, Ronald Plaisted, Gary Sinclaire, Lois Strike and John Haynes.

Laurentia pas de six [excerpts] (ca. 7 min.) / filmed in performance in spring 1965 ; choreography, Rudolf Nureyev after Vakhtang Chabukiani, to music by Aleksandr Krein ; scenery and costumes, Nicholas Georgiadis ; danced by Svetlana Beriosova, Rudolf Nureyev, Merle Park, Brian Shaw, Antoinette Sibley, and Graham Usher.

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On my list of Dancers It's Not Fair That I Didn't Get To See, she's usually number one.

I have always felt the same way. My problem is that I did see her dance many times in the classroom but never on the stage, and I know only too well what I have missed. Her adagio classes at Vilzak-Shollar were not to be missed. She had the same serenity as a 14 year old that were written about her later; it can be called serenity, I suppose, but there was something a bit sad about her demeanor even then.

Mme. Hermine---are all those tapes you cited from the library available for circulation?

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Thanks for that list, Mme. Hermine! (Gosh! They're almost worth a trip to New York! :angry2: ) And thanks for the memories and information eveyrone. More, please!

(p.s. atm -- I'm posting this becuase others have had the same problem -- to make the quote thing work, you start your quotation with the word QUOTE in brackets and end it with /QUOTE in brackets. It's the missing back slash at the end that messes it up.)

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I did get to see her, in her last years of performing, and to me she was ballet. Several people have said to me, in almost the same words, "You know, Fonteyn was wonderful, but the one I really loved was Beriosiva." (The is by no means a put down of Fonteyn, but Beriosova had a mystical, personal effect on people.) She had an amazing combination of weight and otherworldiness. She was simply magical as the beautiful Tsarena in Fokine's Firebird, and she had a timeless, impassive suffering quality in Les Noces. The only full length I saw her in was Cinderella, but I understand she was wonderful in Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. She did Coppelia when she was young, like Fonteyn, and was supposed to be adorable. I got a glimpse of her quality sometimes in Van Hamel, and Part has a remoteness that reminds me of her a bit.

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I saw what I think was her last ever Swanilda, and she was indeed just lovely. She could convey a very pure sense of happiness on stage, although a lot of people think of her more in serious roles like Odette or Lady Elgar. The only commercially available film that gives an idea of her in lighter mood is The Soldier's Tale, which has just been released on DVD - even if you don't like the piece or can't stand Robert Helpmann, it's worth it just for Beriosova's solo.

I saw her as Aurora, Odette/Odile and Giselle as well as in Ondine and Cinderella, but never as Sylvia. She does seem to have affected people strongly - when she died, Anthony Dowell wrote a piece in the Covent Garden programme that was astonishingly open for him, about the privilege of working with such a wonderful woman.

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With Fonteyn officially Guest Artist, Svetlana Beriosova was the Empress of the Royal Ballet and Antoinette Sibley the Crown Princess.

Beriosova was truly imperial - the last in the line of the majestic Ballet Russes style dancers of the old tradition.

She was magnificent in everything she did, but my most enduring memory of her is the moment of wide-eyed wonderment when, as Cinderella, she found the glass slipper in her ragged skirt in the kitchen scene after the ball. No one else ever captured this magic moment as movingly.

Persephone, Les Biches, Lady Elgar and Lady and the Fool were other roles in which she was magical.


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I was thinking about her recently, watching Les Sylphides. I saw her do it, and there was a simply magical moment, when she entered from stage left (in the pas de deux, I think), with her arm stretched forward and her head back, and with her eyes and wonderful carriage, it really seemed like someone from another world. The person sitting next to me and I just gasped at the same time. She was also incredible as the beautiful Tsarena in Firebird (though she didn't always catch the golden apples!), but I have never seen a more story book queen. Veronkia Part has some of that timeless quality.

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As Svetlana Beriosova was my all time favourite I read everything I can find about her. Occasionally I sweep the Internet and now I have found a new thing. It is a very long and - at least to me - boring document about her husband. It is about him, but there are a few references to her. It makes me so sad to read it, she must have had a terrible life. For those interested,

here is the link:- http://www.bostonreview.net/BR27.6/boynton.html

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That was absolutely devastating. Only yesterday I was looking at my tape of Beriosova and Nureyev performing 'Diana and Actaeon' and 'Black Swan' and my memories of the beautiful 14-year old Beriosova are still strong. I always wanted to know more a bout her, and tried unsuccessfully to get a copy of a biography; when I finally tracked it down at my library, they no longer had a copy. Recently, it was hinted here that it was an emotional problem.

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I just saw that Maina Gielgud has posted this on her youtube channel.  "Steps, Notes, and Squeaks" was a program she devised about 25 years ago, and one of the versions has Beriosova coaching the grand pas de deux from "The Sleeping Beauty".  She doesn't dance it, but she does move, so it is possible to get a glimpse of what she must have been like.  Her part starts about about 27:50.


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