Obituary: Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild

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IN MARTHA Graham's autobiography, Blood Memory (1991), she reports saying to Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, "I have never had a wardrobe woman who wore Dior and smoked Dunhill cigarettes. And," Graham continues, "she was an excellent wardrobe mistress because she would not allow a wrinkle. Not one wrinkle!" Rothschild was listed as wardrobe mistress during a Graham company tour sponsored by the US State Department because everyone had to have an official function; but the great early patron and friend of the modern dance pioneer clearly took this role seriously.

Likewise, she approached with great seriousness her role as patron, foremost of Graham and of modern dance in Israel. Batsheva de Rothschild was a daughter of Baron Edouard de Rothschild and granddaughter of Baron James de Rothschild, the founder of the French branch of the Rothschild banking family. She recalled that her family home in Paris was filled with music, often played by great artists.

She graduated from the Sorbonne in biology and was a research biologist at a laboratory in Paris until the Second World War began, when she left France with her family. She told Graham that each person could take only one small suitcase: "I had the most beautiful Vermeer by my bed table. It would have fitted in my suitcase, and I started to pack it and then I put it back. I realised if I took one thing like that I would miss all the rest."

She began post-graduate studies in biology at Columbia University in New York, then worked for the Free French both in New York and in London, and joined the French army, landing at Normandy after the invasion and becoming a liaison in Paris between the French and American forces.

In New York, she was quietly taking classes at Graham's school when she is said to have been invited to contribute $500 toward the orchestration of Graham's Deaths and Entrances. This modest beginning led to many years of generous and active support for Graham's company and school, including the purchase of the premises on East 63rd Street that until recently were home to the school.

An example of the Rothschild's active care occurred during an abortive 1950 European tour, which was to have included a first season in London. It was undertaken largely because of the Rothschild's enthusiasm and support; she had even published a book she had written on modern dance, La Danse Artistique aux USA, in France the previous year. The tour ended abruptly with an injury sustained by Graham (who had not yet reconciled herself to having understudies for her roles), but Rothschild took her to recuperate at her family home in Paris and at Graham's request took her on a tour of the family bank. Later when Graham considered adopting an American Indian baby, Rothschild reportedly offered to pay the expenses.

In the early 1950s Rothschild established a New York-based Batsheva de Rothschild Foundation for Arts and Sciences, which sponsored two showcases for modern dance in a Broadway theatre and helped establish a company headed by another modern dance pioneer, Doris Humphrey, as well as underwriting Graham's tours, among its many activities.

As a result of tours to Israel with the Graham company, Rothschild's interest in the country was kindled, and she settled there in 1962. She founded two companies seminal to the thriving dance culture of Israel. Batsheva Dance Company was formed in Tel Aviv in 1964 with Graham as its first artistic advisor, and was a full-blown modern dance company that toured internationally. Rothschild withdrew her support in 1974 when the company refused to take her protege Jeannette Ordman, as director.

In 1967 Rothschild had founded the Bat-Dor Studio of Dance in Tel Aviv with Ordman, a teacher and dancer, stressing modern dance and ballet equally; the Bat-Dor Dance Company followed the next year, with Ordmann as artistic director and active participation by Rothschild. As seen in a 1983 visit to New York, the company featured a kind of allegro, barefoot ballet with modern dance's expressive torso, danced by gutsy, attractive performers, strong movers with an inward intensity and excellent partnering abilities.

Batsheva de Rothschild's support of Israeli life, its arts and sciences, extended into many spheres. She was awarded the Israel Prize in 1989.

Marilyn Hunt

Batsheva de Rothschild, arts patron: born London 23 September 1914; married 1948 Donald Bloomingdale (marriage dissolved); died Tel Aviv 20 April 1999.