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Alexandra Danilova; Famed Russian Ballerina, Teacher

July 16, 1997|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alexandra Danilova, a famed ballerina in Europe and America and one of the last survivors of the Imperial Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg before the revolution, has died in New York. She was 93.

Danilova, who became a noted ballet teacher after her retirement as a dancer, died Sunday, a funeral chapel spokesman said.

In 1924, she left the Soviet Union with choreographer George Balanchine, her lover and lifelong friend, and joined Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris and Monte Carlo. She did not return to Russia for more than 60 years.

Settling in the United States in the 1930s, Danilova performed frequently in California and throughout the country, often dancing abroad in a career that lasted more than 40 years. She became a U.S. citizen in 1946.

She was often called by the nickname Choura.

"Danilova became a legend because of the wit and effervescence of her dance and in this regard she has never been surpassed or replaced--even by the legions of students she taught and inspired," Times dance critic Lewis Segal said Tuesday.

In 1989, she was honored at Washington's Kennedy Center in its annual tribute to living legends. Actor Gregory Peck called Danilova "the model of a ballerina" and said she had the gifts of "grace, dignity and genius."

The ballerina was proud of her glamorous image. At the age of 75, she said: "People say 'You are glamour puss.' In my youth, in St. Petersburg, I was brought up in dirt. We had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. So now I enjoy being glamour puss."

Danilova, born in St. Petersburg on Nov. 20, 1903, was orphaned at the age of 2 when consumption claimed her parents. She went to live with her godmother, who had a friend who had lost her own little girl. It was the friend, the wife of a general, who sent the child to a private school, where she was chosen to play a butterfly in a Christmas festival.

"It seems that I performed very successfully, and that I went on my toes, although I had never seen a ballet in my life," the ballerina said later. "After that, dancing was in my head."

Another key moment in her life came at St. Petersburg's Theatrical School when she met Balanchine, then 9 years old.

The two never married, due to the choreographer's neglecting to bring papers from his marriage in the Soviet Union, but they lived together in the West for seven years and were associated professionally for many years. Balanchine died in 1983.

As star of a succession of Ballet Russes, both in Europe and the United States, Danilova's most famous performances included "Gaite Parisienne," "Le Beau Danube," "Coppelia" and "Raymonda."

She had a second distinguished career at a teaching, working with the New York's School of American Ballet for many years and also as a guest teacher in many other institutions. Her teaching career was brought to life in the 1976 movie "Turning Point," in which she played herself.

"Do I miss performing?" she said. "I'm teaching. I'm doing Balanchine's workshop . . . and I'm busy all the time."

Both of Danilova's marriages, to Giuseppi Massera in 1934 and Casimir Kokitch in 1941, ended in divorce. She leaves no immediate survivors.

A funeral service will be held Thursday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York.

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