Paul Szilard (1912–2013)

August 3, 2013

Szilard with Nora Kaye, Dance Magazine Archives


As a dancer, Paul Szilard performed in Europe and Japan, partnering such leading lights as Nora Kaye, Colette Marchand, and Sonia Arova. As a major impresario, he presented dance companies from Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham to New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. He also booked Dancers of Bali, Madrid’s Ballet Víctor Ullate, Universal Ballet as well as individual artists Mikhail Baryshnikov, Eric Bruhn, Judith Jamison, John Taras, and Violette Verdy. He died peacefully at home in Manhattan on July 26 at the age of 100.  


Szilard was born in Budapest, Hungary, and began studying ballet there with  V. G. Troyanoff, in whose company he danced. While still a young man, he went to Paris, where he studied at the famed Studio Wacker. There his teachers included Preobrajenska and Egorava. In London he gave recitals of his own in the manner, as he writes in his book Under My Wings: My Life as an Impresario, of German expressionist Harald Kreutzberg. In New York he studied at Ballet Arts and later taught there. He became a United States citizen in the 1950s.


As the sole international representative of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for almost 40 years, Szilard was instrumental in the company’s phenomenal worldwide success. He was also close friends with Alvin Ailey and advised him on artistic and business matters. According to Judith Jamison, writing in the foreword of Under My Wings, it was Szilard who had the idea for Jamison and Baryshnikov to dance together in Ailey’s Pas de Duke (1976). It was also Szilard who suggested to Ailey that Jamison succeed him as the artistic director.

Under My Wings
(“as told to” by Howard Kaplan), is entertaining not only as a record of Szilard’s fascinating life, but also for his colorful personality. In the introduction, Clive Barnes writes that “gossip to Paul is mother’s milk.” And readers get plenty of quips like this one about Antony Tudor: “Since I was always bitchy and so was Tudor, we got along famously.” 

Szilard’s opinions were his own. About Agnes de Mille, he says, “I hated all those too-Americanized ballets she did.” And Margot Fonteyn? “She was a great artist, a great personality, a wonderful performer, but if I compare her today to other artists—to me, Makarova stands on a much higher pedestal.”

Beyond representing Ailey and other companies, Szilard organized countless galas and cultural events in Europe, Australia, the United States, and Asia—including a wildly successful Japanese tour of West Side Story.


He was honored by New York City Ballet; the mayor of Gyor, Hungary; and the French Ministry of Culture. Last September a gathering of dance and theater luminaries celebrated his 100th birthday. —Wendy Perron


Above: a moment of cultural diplomacy, Dance Magazine Archives

At right: a recent portrait, Courtesy KPM Associates