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Janina Cunova 1914-2007

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A brief obituary of a very great lady and master teacher...

Janina Drazdauskaite-Ciunovas, known to most as Madame Cunova, former Lithuanian Ballet soloist, one of Australia's foremost ballet teachers of the Russian and RAD methods passed away peacefully on August 1, 2007. In 1996 she was described as "one of the world's 10 best ballet teachers of the 20th Century" in the book, 'The Art of Teaching Ballet - Ten Twentieth Century Masters' by Gretchen Ward Warren.

Born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1914 and having trained at the Kaunas National Ballet School for nine years, she joined the Lithuanian Ballet Company and married her late husband Boris Ciunovas in 1934. In 1935 she began working with the new adminstrator Rene Blum touring London and Monte Carlo working with Alexandra Fokina, Vera Nemtchinova, Anatole Ohuhoff and artistic director Nikolai Zverev. By 1944 the political situation forced most ballet dancers to move west. Madame Cunova, her husband and her sister Regina joined the Vienna Stae Opera Ballet. At the end of the War they joined the entertainment unit of the USA Occupation Forces. Later in Augburg, West Germany they were forming members of the Lithuanian Dance Company performing throughout West Germany.

In 1949 the family migrated to Perth, Australia joining the staff of Linley Wilson's Ballet School where Madame studied and taught the RAD. In 1958 she moved to Melbourne joining the RAD. Having taught in every Australian capital city and many regional centers she prepared students for examinations as well as being involved in RAD seminars.While in Melbourne she taught for Edouard Borovansky Academy, Ballet Victoria, the Victoria College of the Arts and the Australian Ballet School. In 1985 she performed as a Guest Artist with the Australian Ballet in the cameo role of "Ballet Mistress" in Gaitee Parisienne.

In 1978, ABT ballet master, the late Jurgen Schneider, invited Madame to join him as his partner in Russian Ballet Teaching Seminars held through out the US, Australia, the Philippines and Japan until Mr. Schneider's untimely death in 1995. She was a beloved addition and a guiding light to Mr. Schneider's passion for the training of ballet teachers.

In 1997 Madame Cunova was able to return to the National Vilnius Ballet School and the Lithuanian Ballet Company as a guest teacher. While in Lithuania she donated a life-size portrait of herself painted in 1939 to the Kaunas Musical Theatre, home of the orignal Lithuanian Ballet, where it now hangs in the lobby of the theatre.

In 1998 Madame Cunova was invited to work in Bayamon, Puerto Rico at the Vaganova Method Workshop.

Madame Cunova taught ballet until a few weeks prior to her death believing that discipline and strength would keep her strong. Her continuing efforts toward perfection were reflected in her everyday behavior and attitudes, including politeness, grooming, respect for others and grace. "A dancer should look special" was her motto. Her contributions to ballet were immense and a lifetime effort. She will be remembered and missed for her energetic nature, sparkling voice, imparting her valuable knowledge of ballet with strength and conviction to the very end. She leaves behind her loving daughter Inga, grand daughter Ingrid, great grand children Darcy and Tiara as well as her niece Ramona.

Her many friends and students will miss our Janina dearly. May she find peace.

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Many thanks for your post on Madame Cunova, vrsfanatic.

We focus so much on performers, with an honorable mention for artistic directors, and it's important to remember and recognize the people who are the spine of ballet: those who teach and pass on their heritage and provide inspiration and support to the next generations.

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