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Obituaries

Ruthanna Boris, 88; ballerina, choreographer in 1940s, '50s

January 17, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Ruthanna Boris, an American-born ballerina and choreographer who became a lead dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1940s and choreographed several popular ballets, including "Cakewalk" and "Cirque de Deux," died Jan. 5. She was 88.

Boris died of cancer at an assisted living home in El Cerrito, Calif., according to Amanda Vaill, a longtime friend.

She danced with the American Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City in the 1930s before joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

She danced in traditional ballets, such as "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker," as well as more abstract works. She also choreographed several ballets in the 1940s.

Her "Cirque de Deux" of 1947 spoofs ballet stars who overplay their roles and behave like circus performers.

"It's witty, perceptive and character driven," Vaill said of Boris' choreography.

"In many ways Ruthanna was a pioneer," said Vaill, a dance writer. Few women had the opportunity to choreograph classical ballet in the 1940s and '50s in what traditionally has been a male-dominated field, she added.

Boris created "Cakewalk" in 1951, mixing ballet's form with the oversized, earthy moves of minstrel shows. It was performed by the New York City Ballet and later revived by the Joffrey Ballet in the mid-1960s and the Kansas City Ballet in 2003.

" 'Cakewalk' is strong, high-kicking, energetic and funny," said William Whitener, the Kansas City Ballet's artistic director.

Boris was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 17, 1918. She studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and the School of American Ballet, where her teacher was George Balanchine.

She married Maurice Bialkin, a cellist. Their marriage ended in divorce. She later married Frank Hobi, a ballet dancer. He died in 1967.

Boris left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1950 but continued dancing. For a time, she and Hobi led their own touring dance group. She was briefly director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

She gave up dance in the late 1950s, in part because of injuries that required hip surgery. She became interested in dance therapy and studied psychology and therapy at the University of Washington in Seattle. She taught dance there in the 1980s.

"Ruthanna wanted to know what dance does to the psyche and how one's psychological makeup is reflected in one's movements," Vaill said.

In the mid-1980s Boris helped to found the now defunct Center for Dance Development and Research in Albany, Calif.

Boris is survived by her brother, Paul, of The Villages, Fla.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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