Nathalie Krassovska

Star ballerina of rare talent and charm

Natasha Leslie (Nathalie Krassovska), dancer and teacher: born Petrograd 1 June 1918; married; died Dallas, Texas 8 February 2005.

Natasha Leslie (Nathalie Krassovska), dancer and teacher: born Petrograd 1 June 1918; married; died Dallas, Texas 8 February 2005.

A ballerina of rare talent, physical beauty and personal charm, Nathalie Krassovska danced with many companies and became a star in America and Britain during the 1940s and 1950s.

She worked with most of the greatest choreographers - among them Mikhail Fokine, Léonide Massine and George Balanchine. And the fact that she danced the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's 1948 company premiere of Anton Dolin's Pas de quatre at the New York Met is some measure of the esteem that she enjoyed. The piece may be slight, but it is an evocation of four legendary ballerinas from the Romantic era, and in this staging Krassovska was dancing alongside no lesser personalities than Alicia Markova, Alexandra Danilova and Mia Slavenska.

She was born Natasha Leslie (a surname under which she performed in her early days) in Petrograd in 1919. Her father was Scottish and her mother the Russian dancer Lydia Krassovska, who performed with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Natasha began her ballet studies with her grandmother, a former member of the Bolshoi Ballet. But her formative training was in Europe. In Paris she trained with Olga Preobrajenska; in London with Nikolai Legat.

Her professional career started at a time of great ferment, when aspiring company directors were attempting to fill the void created by Diaghilev's death. She made her stage début in 1932, in the new company, the Théâtre de Danse, formed in Paris by the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska, sister of Vaslav. In 1933 she joined the short-lived Les Ballets 1933, headed by Balanchine; in 1934 she toured South America with Serge Lifar, then director of the Paris Opéra Ballet.

Nathalie Krassovska, as she had become, was one of the founding dancers of the Ballets de Monte Carlo when it launched its first season in Monte Carlo in 1936. What gave the company its distinction was its Fokine repertoire, staged under Fokine's personal supervision, so that she was able to gain at first hand the thinking behind works such as Les Sylphides, Petrushka, Carnaval and Spectre de la rose, as well as behind the new works he created. The same year the company opened a London season at the Alhambra; two further British seasons followed, both in 1937.

When in 1938 the Ballets de Monte Carlo was transformed into a vehicle for the choreographer Léonide Massine and renamed the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (one of several confusingly small titular differentations in those confusing times), Krassovska stayed on. So as a member of this newly dubbed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, she appeared again in London in 1938. And when, the same year, with war imminent, the company emigrated to the United States, she went with them.

In North America, the company became committed to lengthy and exhausting touring the length and breadth of the continent, by train and (even worse) by bus. Krassovska, however, found herself among highly distinguished associates. Her fellow dancers included Alicia Markova, Alexandra Danilova and Tamara Toumanova. Promoted to ballerina, she danced a wide repertoire that included classics such as Swan Lake, Coppélia and The Nutcracker, Fokine pieces such as The Firebird and Balanchine's Serenade and Ballet Imperial.

She also danced many ballets by Massine, the leading choreographer of the day. (Balanchine was still getting himself established.) And she appeared in films of Massine's Gaîté Parisienne (1941) and Capriccio Espagnol (1942). Massine was a hard taskmaster. For her role as a debutante in his new ballet The New Yorker (1940), she had to take tap-dance lessons. When Tamara Toumanova unexpectedly resigned she had to learn several of his ballets virtually overnight. (To thank her, Massine bought her two evening gowns.) Balanchine was a less stressful choreographer, even if he led her into the unexpected experience of dancing on Broadway. Invited to create the dances for the 1944 musical Song of Norway, he commandeered the Ballet Russe company to perform.

A consummate professional, Krassovska overcame a fever to trudge through blizzards and wait in a draughty railway station in order to honour a scheduled performance in Chicago, then discovered after dancing that she had pneumonia. Years later, when she had moved back to Europe and joined the London Festival Ballet, she was eulogised by the company's founder director Julian Braunsweg in his memoir Braunsweg's Ballet Scandals (1973).

He tells one story about how the Marquis de Cuevas spotted her dancing Giselle with Festival Ballet and, impressed, invited her to dance the role with his own company in Paris. But, when de Cuevas's prima ballerina Rosella Hightower saw Krassovska's Giselle, she said, "Either she goes or I go." So Krassovska returned to Festival Ballet, yet even in her disappointment she remembered to bring back a small gift for every member of the company.

Giselle was one of her signature ballets, after her début in 1949, in Montreal, with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, when a reviewer described her as having "a purity of line not often seen nowadays". Not long after, she moved back to Europe and was engaged by Braunsweg for the new company he was organising with Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. She was then 31, was always to be seen darning point shoes and went under the diminutive "Tata". She was a true beauty, with luminous blue eyes, and spoke English with a deep-throated Russian accent. That accent, Braunsweg claims, had one unintentionally obscene side effect on her (justified) pronouncement, "I am the best Fokine dancer." But he writes: "She was liked by everyone and she laughed all the time, usually when the joke was on her."

When Festival Ballet gave its inaugural performance at the Stoll Theatre in 1950, the critics praised Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin in The Nutcracker and hailed Krassovska and John Gilpin as new stars in Le Beau Danube. Charlie Chaplin was one of her admirers and would come backstage in Paris to congratulate her. On one occasion there was one of those awkward pauses in conversation, which Krassovska was heard to fill with the desperate question: "Are you still doing something in films?"

Despite her beauty, her dress sense was eccentric. When, for Festival Ballet's Canadian tour, she was designated the prima ballerina, the management insisted that she try to look the part, at least when the train arrived at its destination. She put on a ravishing black outfit that could not be faulted. "Wait until all the company get off the train and then you get out," the manager told her. "The photographers will be waiting for you, so pose in the carriage doorway." The train arrived, the company filed out, the photographers got ready and she appeared looking extremely exotic - except for a huge string bag full of onions. "I like onions," she replied in her husky voice when the manager furiously asked her why.

Her romantic life was reputedly eventful and she was briefly married to an Austrian count. She remained with Festival Ballet until 1955, and also guested with other companies, including Ballet Rambert. During her US tours, she had decided that Dallas in Texas was one of the nicest cities and, in 1963, she settled there. She opened a school and founded a student company, Madame Krassovska's Ballet Jeunesse.

Nadine Meisner

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor