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Svetlana Beriosova

In the chain of the Royal Ballet's great classical ballerinas - now sadly broken - Svetlana Beriosova was the link in between Fonteyn and Antoinette Sibley. Tall, serene and beautiful, she danced the classics with a slightly remote, mysterious air, through which on rare occasions broke a wonderful sense of humour - she was for instance the great Swanilda of her generation; and towards the end of her career she created a series of roles which wonderfully used her maturity.

Beriosova was born in Lithuania in 1932, into a family of dancers. By the time she was 8 she had already travelled the world: her father, Nicholas Beriosoff, was a dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, so that the great dancers of the time were familiar friends to the child, and legend has it that she sat on Fokine's knee as he took rehearsals. With such a background it's hardly surprising that she became a dancer herself. She had her early training in New York, and made her debut with the Ottawa Ballet Company at 14. Only 2 years later she became one of the leading dancers of a small company called Metropolitan Ballet, and it was with them that she was first seen - and much admired - in London. (Another young unknown in the company was called Erik Bruhn - some company!) After Metropolitan Ballet folded, Ninette de Valois invited Beriosova to join the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, where she made her debut in 1950 as Odette in Swan Lake Act ll. She led the company for 2 years, along with Elaine Fifield and David Blair, and then moved to Covent Garden, where she spent the rest of her career. Her debut there, as the Lilac Fairy, is still remembered for the confidence with which she took to the big stage as if it was her birthright.

She was soon given all of the great classics. At that stage of her career, perhaps Aurora suited her best. For Act 1 she had the great gift of being able to look radiant without smiling all the time, and for the Act lll pas de deux she had the grand ballerina manner: the way in which she gave her hand to her partner encapsulated the whole world of Petipa. Later, she was more famous as Odette. Her stage personality was rather reserved - indeed some thought her cold - and it was easy to think of her frozen for ever in a perfect arabesque, so that it was always a happy surprise to be reminded how beautifully she moved, with a wonderful amplitude and generosity. (As with every ballerina of the time, if you want to know how she moved, see her variation in Ashton's 'Birthday Offering'.) She was the first of her generation to have a full length ballet created for her - Cranko's Prince of the Pagodas - and was the first, and probably still the best, Tsarevna in the Royal Ballet's revival of Firebird. She danced with a variety of partners until Donald Macleary emerged from the touring company around 1960, after which they almost always appeared together.

 The later stages of Beriosova's career were clouded by problems in her private life, and for a time it seemed as if she would be lost to the stage far too early. She came back, though, in some unforgettable performances as Cinderella, and to dance some of her own parts: in particular Lady Elgar, which you will often see described as her greatest role. Although it is certainly a wonderful encapsulation of her warmth and supportiveness, I personally remember her with more fondness in less passive roles. Until her death in 1998 she taught - or more often, coached - and was occasionally brought in by the RB management to help their young dancers. I remember an American, listening to the ovation that greeted her 'comeback' Cinderella, saying "But they love her!" And we did. {top}

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