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The luminous and elegant Nina Ananiashvili was one of American Ballet Theatre’s most beloved principals—lyrical and witty (a delightful Kitri and a warm Lise in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée) as well as dramatic. When a role called for flamboyance, she was a technical spitfire, with a space-devouring jump and rock-solid fouettés. Swan Lake, which she performed for a teary, cheering audience at her U.S. farewell on June 27 at the Metropolitan Opera House, was her signature ballet, but she excelled in modern works as well. She originated roles in pieces by choreographers such as Alexei Ratmansky, Mark Morris, Stanton Welch, and others.
Ananiashvili’s ballet career began in her native Tbilisi, Georgia, studying with the former Kirov star Vakhtang Chabukiani. She transferred to the Bolshoi school in 1976, joined the company in 1981, and became a principal in 1985. Her outsized onstage personality quickly made her a household name in Russia. During the Bolshoi’s 1987 tour of the U.S. her combination of strength, musicality, and open-hearted naturalism captivated audiences. Glasnost meant that she could work abroad without cutting her home ties. In addition to her 16 years with ABT, she danced Balanchine with the New York City Ballet, Ashton with The Royal Ballet, and Bournonville with the Danes.
The 46-year-old ballerina has left ABT in order to move home, where she will spend more time with her husband (Georgia’s minister of foreign affairs) and their 5-year-old daughter. She will devote her professional energies to directing the State Ballet of Georgia, a role she took on in 2004 (see “Georgia on Her Mind,” June 2007). Her Western experiences are reflected in the repertory, which includes many Ashton and Balanchine ballets. Last month the company worked with the Royal Danish Ballet on a joint revival of Bournonville’s long-lost From Siberia to Moscow. She plans to film her Odette/Odile this year. The world is fortunate that, although she has retired from ABT, she hasn’t left ballet. —Mary Cargill
Larry Long (1936–2009)
If Woody Allen, Constantin Stanislavsky, and Felix Mendelssohn morphed into a ballet teacher, that might begin to approximate Larry Long. But he was uniquely himself. Dancers from the concert stage to Broadway who flocked to his classes at the Ruth Page Foundation in Chicago didn’t need Baryshnikov to tell them that Long was “one of the six best teachers in America who was developing students of the dance” (as Baryshnikov told The New York Times). Long died in August from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
Born in Des Moines, Long trained with former Ballets Russes ballerina Alexandra Baldina in L.A. He moved to Chicago in 1958. With Delores Lipinski, his wife of 47 years, the couple danced, choreographed, directed, and taught together throughout a career that included Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet and International Ballet companies, National Ballet of Washington, DC, Harkness Ballet, Chicago Ballet, Ballet International of London, and, for 32 years, the Chicago Tribune Charities production of the Nutcracker.
This wiry guy with dark curly hair, huge black-rimmed glasses, and a gift for seeing dance in its essence was a physical comedian—his humor made you laugh and work hard all at once. He would begin center floor with a slightly off-center smile that expanded into a smirk as a kooky idea popped into his head. He’d then launch into a choreographic rhapsody that would challenge and inspire. His body was a veritable musical instrument—he danced his corrections and sang melodic syllables, beating time on the floor with his legendary stick. Always self-effacing, Larry exemplified his maxim that “a good teacher is willing to learn while he is teaching.” Generations of students carry his legacy of wisdom, teaching excellence, and a lifelong quest for learning in careers across all facets of the dance world. —Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Richard Cook (1951–2009)
A SUNY Purchase faculty member since 1997 and former associate artistic director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Richard Cook died in July. He performed with the San Francisco Opera and Pennsylvania Ballet before becoming a teacher and choreographer, and his works have been performed by CPYB, Atlanta Ballet, and Dayton Ballet. His students have gone on to New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
André Prokovsky (1939–2009)
A former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, André Prokovsky died in August. He originated roles in Balanchine’s Pas de Deux and Divertissement (1965) and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (1966) opposite Melissa Hayden. He also performed with the London Festival Ballet and founded the now-defunct New London Ballet with then-wife Galina Samsova in 1962. He choreographed full-length works for the Australian Ballet, London City Ballet, and the Paris Opéra.
Ernest Brown (1916–2009)
The last surviving member of the original Copasetics, hoofer Ernest “Brownie” Brown died in August in his hometown of Chicago. The troupe, whose name comes from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s frequent quip, “Everything’s copasetic” (or very satisfactory), included Charles “Honi” Coles and Charles “Cookie” Cook. Formed in 1949, the group would showcase the individual styles of its members in energetic performances. Cook and Brown enjoyed a 30-year partnership as a vaudeville tap duo—Brown was just under 5' tall while Cook was 6' tall and lanky. Brown’s last performance was with his tap protégé Reginald “Regio the Hoofer” McLaughlin, at Tap City last year, when he and Cook were inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tap Dance Hall of Fame.
Shawneequa Baker-Scott (1932–2009)
Shawneequa Baker-Scott began her career with the Donald McKayle Dance Company in 1951, and went on to dance with the New Dance Group, Eleo Pomare, Dianne McIntyre, and various companies in Europe. A Bronx native, she taught dance and choreographed in New York for more than 20 years. She died in August.
Elena Shapiro (1988–2009)
Elena Bright Shapiro was a trainee entering her second year with Carolina Ballet. A Winston-Salem native and graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she had also danced with Boston Ballet. Tragically she was killed in a car accident in September after a rehearsal for CB’s Swan Lake. The company dedicated the performances to her.
Patrick Swayze died as we were going to print. Look for an obituary on him in the next issue.
Pictured: Nina Ananiashvili and Marcelo Gomes in Giselle. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT