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George Zoritch (1917–2009)
An extraordinary dancer who was one of the few living links to the Ballets Russes era, George Zoritch died in November. He was supremely elegant, with beautifully expressive épaulement, and he could play both princes and villians. He had partnered the great ballerinas of that period, including Danilova, Baronova, Toumanova, Markova, Maria Tallchief, and Krassovska. Beloved by audiences, he once took 18 curtain calls for a performance in Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose.
Born in Moscow, Zoritch began his career in Lithuania, where his mother immigrated to. When he moved to France at age 14, he studied with the famed Olga Preobrajenska, who had also trained the three dancers who became Balanchine’s “baby ballerinas.” In 1934 Anna Pavlova’s husband, Victor Dandré, took the teenaged Zoritch on tour with his company, the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet. It was on this tour that Zoritch saw Olga Spessivtseva and other Russian stars, strengthening his commitment to a professional ballet career.
Zoritch began dancing in the Ballets Russes company of Colonel de Basil in 1936, and then in the first generation of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938. He created major roles in ballets by Balanchine, Ashton, and Lifar. He became the protégé of Massine, who choreographed 18 ballets on him. The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas was one of the many other post-Diaghilev groups he toured with. He also spent time in Hollywood, where he appeared in several movies including Samson and Delilah and Night and Day.
After opening his own school in Los Angeles and founding the dance department at the University of Arizona (from which he retired in 1987), Zoritch returned to Russia to revisit his roots. At the invitation of Yuri Grigorovich, he participated several times as a juror in the Diaghilev Arabesque Competition at Perm (Diaghilev’s hometown). Even when he was quite elderly, he coached young Russian dancers in ballets he had danced, like Le Spectre de la Rose. He had a fabulous memory and a very clear mind.
Although he was soft-spoken, he had a wicked sense of humor. About Agnes de Milles’ work, he once quipped to a Dance Magazine interviewer, “Anyone who’s not lying in bed can do Agnes de Mille.”
With his wit and charm, Zorich was one of the shining lights of the popular 2005 documentary Ballets Russes. In the film, his former partners mention the fact that not only was he a natural dancer with a good physique, but was also a wonderful partner.
Zoritch was very concerned that the tradition of ballet as it was handed from generation to generation should not be lost. “Dance should live,” he said. “If it doesn’t come from the heart it is not dancing.” —Olga Smoak and Wendy Perron
Marjorie Mussman (1943–2009)
A dancer of dramatic potency who became a revered teacher, Marjorie Mussman died in September after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer.
A member of the Joffrey Ballet from 1965 to 1969, Mussman drew critical praise for her portrayals of the Old Mother in Jooss’ The Green Table, the Suicide role in Sokolow’s Rooms, and the pianist in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson. After dancing with the First Chamber Dance Quartet (now First Chamber Dance Company), she began teaching ballet classes at the Morelli Studio in NYC. Mussman served as an associate director of the Milwaukee Ballet and as director of New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet. She choreographed more than 35 ballets for the Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Kansas City Ballet, among others. In 2001, she joined the faculty of Mark Morris Dance Group to teach professional/advanced ballet (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” Jan. 2005).
“Marjorie had x-ray vision,” says Morris, “which allowed her to recognize and rectify a dancer’s posture and physical placement. She possessed an instinctive and educated sense of music and its corporeal manifestation. She was strict and kind. She treated each of her students with respect and clarity. She taught me how to dance. We who came in contact with Marjorie are better for it. And we miss her.” —Joseph Carman
Photo of George Zoritch in Le Spectre de la Rose by Castro, DM Archives