Ballet, Broadway and TV Dancer Ilona Murai Dies, 96

April 20, 2020

Ilona Murai (Kerman) died of COVID-19 and dementia on April 8 at the age of 96 at Parker Jewish in New Hyde Park, NY. Born Ellen Josephine Muray in Passaic, NJ, she changed her name to Ilona Murai when she started her career as a soloist for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. At 15 years old, she was the youngest member ever to be accepted into the company.

After eight years there, she went on to dance for the Ballets Russes and worked in three original ballets for Herbert Ross: Caprichos, The Thief Who Loved a Ghost and The Maids. Murai performed in Donald Saddler’s Winesburg, Ohio and Herbert Ross’ The Rose House and Caprichos at Jacob’s Pillow.

On Broadway, Murai was a featured dancer in Inside USA, Touch and Go, Bless You All and By the Beautiful Sea (choreographed by Helen Tamiris), Paint Your Wagon, Oklahoma (European Tour and at City Center) and Goldilocks (choreographed by Agnes de Mille), John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, Shangri-La (choreographed by Donald Saddler) and The Girl Who Came To Supper (choreographed by Joe Layton).

Murai was also the star of General Motors’ Motorama, and had featured TV appearances on “The Ray Bolger Show,” “Omnibus” and “The Seven Lively Arts,” choreographed by Agnes de Mille.

In 1969, Murai choreographed a promotional film for Coca-Cola’s Bottlers Convention at the Civic Center in Atlanta, Georgia, for a corporate musical called The Tune of the Time to music composed by Marvin Hamlisch.

When Murai and her family moved to Mellville, Long Island, in 1970 she became a choreographer for the P.A.F. Playhouse, and taught at various studios such as The New Dance Group, Lake Placid Music Center, The Nora Kovach Ballet Academy, The New Dance Circle, Northshore Studio of Dance and USDAN Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Ilona Murai was married to Sheppard Kerman, a playwright/actor who was known for his eye-popping visual effects for various musicals on Broadway such as Seesaw, Platinum and Beatlemania. She is survived by her daughter, Christina Kerman, a photographer and graphic designer.