All the World’s a Stage in a Mid-Century Trans-Continental Age

Hans Wild | Svetlana Beriosova

Hans Wild | Svetlana Beriosova

[Svetlana Beriosova photographed by Hans Wild (1957)]

Lithuanian-British prima ballerina Svetlana Nikolayevna Beriosova was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, on 24 September 1932. Svetlana Beriosova was the daughter of Nicolas Beriosoff, a Lithuanian ballet master of ethnic Russian descent, who immigrated to England. Beriosova went to the United States in 1940, where she studied ballet. Her mother died in New York, when she was 10 years old.

Beriosova danced with The Royal Ballet for over 20 years. She made her professional debut in 1947 with the Ottawa Ballet. In 1952, after appearing with several major companies, including the Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo and the Metropolitan Ballet, Beriosova joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where she became prima ballerina in 1955.

Notable among her leading roles were Swanilda in Coppélia, which allowed Beriosova to showcase her rarely used comic talent. She was better known for her eloquent and elegant classical style, which was highlighted in her many leading roles, such as:

  • Princess Belle Rose in John Cranko’s The Prince of the Pagodas (1957),
  • the Fairy in Kenneth MacMillan’s Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss, 1960), and
  • Lady Elgar in Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations (1968).
  • She also performed as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and the title role in Giselle.

As well as dancing the entire classical repertoire, Beriosova created the leading part in several modern ballets, notably the title role in Cranko’s Antigone (1959). In one of her more unusual modern parts, the title role of Ashton’s Persephone (1961), she recited André Gide’s poetry in French, whilst dancing to the music of Igor Stravinsky.

Beriosova’s was married to psychoanalyst Masud Khan in 1959, ending in divorce after 15 years, in 1974. Plagued by illness and injuries, Beriosova performed very little in the 1970s. She retired in 1975, but continued to coach young dancers. On her retirement from dancing, she became a popular teacher and dancers’ coach, working in public onstage in Maina Gielgud’s Steps, Notes and Squeaks in 1978 and 1980.

  • Beriosova sadly died from cancer, on 10 November, 1998, aged 66, in Kensington, London.

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“Is It Art?”

Source: Haskell, Arnold L. The Ballet Annual 1957

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