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About the Change

Svetlana Beriosova

RB principal Dancer
Died 10th November 1998

A Personal Appreciation
by Jane Simpson

Svetlana Beriosova - Legend
Times Obituary
'Beriosova' in Postings

In every ballet-goers life there is one dancer who means more than any other. He or she is not necessarily the greatest or the most famous; often instead it is the first dancer who showed what ballet could be, and who is seen or remembered with gratitude and love for ever afterwards. For me that dancer was Svetlana Beriosova.

I first saw her on November 7th, 1959. I don't need to look that date up - it was red-letter day in my life. Already, through television and photographs, I knew what she looked like and how she moved, and I 'd read dozens of reviews describing her unique qualities. To see her in person, in Swan Lake on the huge stage at Covent Garden, was still a revelation. She was only 27, but had already been dancing leading roles in London for more than ten years, and had the authority and stage presence of the true ballerina. She had no problems with the Black Swan, but it was in the white acts that she came most truly into her own, with a grandeur and air of mystery that set her completely apart from her attendant swan-maidens.

Odette was her most famous role at that time , but I came to prefer her Aurora. In the great Act lll pas de deux in particular she was the perfect embodiment of the role, combining the warmth and happiness of the young woman with the radiance and style of the princess. I can still see her giving her hand to the Prince after she makes her reverence, and I judge every subsequent Aurora by that moment! I was just in time to see her as Swanhilda, one of the roles she'd made her own in her days with the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet - she appeared completely unheralded one Saturday evening, with the touring company in Oxford, on a night when she was actually scheduled to be dancing something else at Covent Garden. Here all her ballerina dignity and authority were forgotten and she was a happy and mischievous village girl: it was sad that she never danced the role again and rarely had opportunities to show her sense of humour. She could be dramatic as well as elegiac and made a frighteningly evil Black Queen in Checkmate. Later in her career her technique became more uncertain and watching her could be nerve-racking, but earlier reviews talk of 'arabesques so high that the audience gasped', and in Coppelia she introduced a virtuoso step all of her own, never repeated so far as I know.

After a long absence from the stage she came back as Ashton's Cinderella, always one of her best roles. The ovation at the end was unforgettable and must surely have told her of the deep affection in which she was held. Donald Macleary, her perfect partner for most of her career, brought her out for a call and then sneaked off and left her there to take the cheers on her own, and I think there were many of the audience in tears. She never returned to the classics, but still brought her own inimitable grace to the stage in the roles made for in her maturity, most notably Lady Elgar in Ashton's Enigma.

Today's dancers, who so hate being compared with earlier generations, might well understand more about why it happens if they would study the tributes to Beriosova, and listen to what's said about her. They could notice how many times the word 'love' occurs, and what small importance technique has in what she meant to audiences. What earned her their love was primarily what she brought to her roles - her own spirit and intelligence, and a nobility that made her unique and unforgettable.

The funeral service will be at All Saints Russian Orthodox Cathedral,
Ennismore Gardens, on Thursday 19 November at 12.30.

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