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Diana Adams; Ballerina Starred for Balanchine, De Mille

January 15, 1993|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Diana Adams, a favorite ballerina of such dance legends as George Balanchine and Agnes De Mille and who earned additional accolades for her teaching abilities, is dead.

It was reported this week that she died Sunday in Mark Twain-St. Joseph's Hospital in San Andreas near Sacramento. She was 66 and had lived in nearby Arnold. A hospital spokeswoman said she died of cancer.

Although she danced leading roles in most of the standard classic ballet repertory with several prominent American companies, including the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, she may be best remembered for an agonizingly difficult pas de deux with Arthur Mitchell in the 1957 premiere of Balanchine's "Agon."

Her onstage intensity was credited with making their pairing what critics have called one of the century's most innovative and significant sequences.

She was born in Stanton, Va., to a father who taught English. Her stepmother taught dance. The family moved to New York City when she was 12 and she studied with De Mille at the Ballet Arts School. De Mille put the 17-year-old protege on stage in 1943 in one of De Mille's major choreography credits, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Oklahoma!"

The following year Miss Adams joined Ballet Theater, later known as American Ballet Theater.

She danced the title role in "Helen of Troy" for Ballet Theater and her portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis in "Giselle" brought her favorable reviews.

With that company, she also danced in such diverse ballets as "Les Sylphides" and "Undertow," "Swan Lake" and "Jardin aux Lilas," conquering the demands of both classical purity and contemporary technique.

In 1948 she created the role of the mother in De Mille's "Fall River Legend" and two years later joined Balanchine's New York City Ballet.

For Balanchine she danced "Agon," "Lady of the Camellias," "Caracole," "Opus 34," "Episodes 50," "La Valse" and "Liebeslieder Walzer." She remained a lead dancer until 1963 and then became the widely respected dean of students at Balanchine's School of American Ballet until her retirement in 1971.

Miss Adams also was seen in films, including the 1954 movie "Knock on Wood" with Danny Kaye and the 1956 "Invitation to the Dance," directed by Gene Kelly.

She was first married to dancer Hugh Laing and after their divorce in 1953 married stage manager Ronald Bates. That marriage, which also ended in divorce, produced a daughter, Georgina, who survives her.

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