Zoltan Nagy: Leading figure in Hungarian dance

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The Independent Online

A leading figure in Hungarian classical ballet, the dancer Zoltá*Nagy was not just an outstanding artist but only a year ago had taken over the leadership of the Hungarian Academy of Dance, where there was every hope that his teaching would influence a whole generation of new dancers.

Nagy had ballet in his blood. Both his parents were dancers; they had been in the last class of the renowned ballet-master Ferenc Nádasi, and soon after graduation got married and had their only child, Zoltán. Young Zoltán's career path was very smooth. He had the good fortune to inherit the best attributes from each parent: perfect proportions and an appealing smiling face from his mother, Katalin; and a talent to create a character on stage from his father, Zoltá*senior.

He graduated from the Hungarian Academy of Dance in 1985 and was taken into the state ballet company straight away. The following year he received the First Prize at the International Dance Competition in Peru. He became a soloist in 1987 and a principal dancer in 1995.

During his career he danced the leading parts in Giselle, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty and Spartacus from the classical ballet repertoire and he had the opportunity to bring to the Hungarian stage two great British ballet characters: Colas in Ashton's La fille mal gardée and MacMillan's Rudolf in Mayerling.

The leading Hungarian choreographer Lászlo Seregi made the part of Petruchio in his ballet The Taming of the Shrew on Nagy and he danced Romeo for the same choreographer in his acclaimed Romeo and Juliet. He was also both Amintas and Orion in Seregi's charming, humorous Sylvia.

Zoltá*Nagy was a real danseur noble, with perfect figure, elegant technique, light jumps and secure turns. What is less typical of the classical princes, he was also a versatile actor and his stage characters were always believable, whether they were roles in the classical canon or contemporary figures. The audience loved him for these qualities. His colleagues, however, loved him for his sunny nature, his patience and his helpfulness. It is almost incredible in the world of ballet that he seemed to have no enemies. Everybody was delighted when he received the Kossuth Prize in 2000.

Zoltá*Nagy danced on many great international stages all over the world, and toured in Canada, the United States and the Far East. Although many distinguished companies would have welcomed him, he was never tempted to leave his native Hungary. He felt that his roots, his family, tied him to the country.

In 2006, aged 41, he was still dancing the classical roles and the choreographer Lilla Pártay – a classmate of Zoltán's parents – created the role of Rhett Butler for him in the world premiere of the full-length ballet of Gone With the Wind.

In ballet circles worldwide there are factions and cliques and Hungary is no different in this. When the Hungarian Academy of Dance needed a new Principal in 2006 it was to unanimous approval that Nagy was chosen. Last May I saw him in the director's office of the Academy and his enthusiasm and energy were infectious. There was no sign of the killer disease that took his life in less than a year.

He planned to invite foreign ballet masters from different traditions to observe the pupils and give their opinion on how improvements could be made. That kind of openness was typical of his attitude. He also hoped that the academy would achieve university status under his leadership. He was taken ill in the autumn and in his last interview, given by phone, when he was asked his goal for the following year, he answered "to stay alive".

Mia Nadasi

Zoltan Nagy Jnr, ballet dancer and administrator: born Budapest 18 February 1966; Principal, Hungarian Academy of Dance 2006-08; married (one son, one daughter); died Budapest 23 March 2008.