Paul Russell, a featured dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem and the San Francisco Ballet and one of the few black dancers to cross into the ranks of major American white companies, is dead of the complications of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Randy Griffin, his longtime companion, said Russell was 43 when he died Friday in a San Francisco hospital.
Known for his elegance, bravura technique and striking presence, Russell studied with Joseph Albano of the Hartford (Conn.) Ballet before joining the Dance Theater of Harlem School and then the Harlem Dance Theater. He left in 1977 to study with Natalya Dudinskaya, director of the Kirov Ballet School, and later recalled his years with the Harlem company with some bitterness.
He complained in a 1981 interview with The Times--a year after joining San Francisco--that "the emphasis just wasn't placed right at Dance Theater of Harlem. . . . If you were trained solely at Dance Theater of Harlem, you would be able to roll on the floor, but you might not necessarily be able to do a double tour to the knee.
"The people at Dance Theater of Harlem had a lack of knowledge about presenting classical ballet. The training was not geared to teaching you to be a classical dancer so you could compete on an international level with other classical dancers."
Although he may have had differences with instruction techniques, his performances with Dance Theater--which was formed to increase opportunities for blacks in classical dance--were hailed. He became a valued star of "Le Corsaire," John Taras' "Designs for Strings" and Stuart Sebastian's "Aftermath." He also won praise as the charming, scantily clad jazz dancer in Louis Johnson's "Forces of Rhythm."
With the Scottish Ballet from 1978 to 1980, Russell danced Siegfried in "Swan Lake," becoming one of the first, if not the first, black to perform that classic role.
With San Francisco, Russell was featured in Michael Smuin's "Mozart's C Minor Mass" and George Balanchine's "Symphony in C," to music by Bizet.