Obituary: Alexandra Danilova

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Alexandra Danilova was a sophisticated lady with a champagne wit, both on and off stage, and to the end of her days, writes Marilyn Hunt [further to the obituary by John Gregory, 15 July]. Admirers love to tell stories of her pithy remarks and pungent punchlines, in her irrepressibly Russian English.

Her comments always had a light touch, even when they involved her awareness of her own worth or another dancer's foibles. Once during curtain calls when the stage filled with bouquets for a less stellar dancer, Danilova is said to have whispered to her, "Is maybe your funeral?" Of Tamara Toumanova's long-held balances, she remarked in a published interview, "While she busy balancing, I busy dancing." But when she taught the New York City Ballet principal Kyra Nichols as a student at the School of American Ballet, Danilova recalled with approv-al that Nichols was "very industrial".

First meeting her, my husband told her that seeing her dance had made a ballet goer of him, to which she replied with aplomb, "Ah, yes, many people tell me that."

She gave me an interview about the dancer Igor Youskevitch, with whom she danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, tellingly remarking that he was an excellent partner, "but he wasn't a lamb, you know." She clearly felt leading dancers should have backbone.

She was in her element at a party surrounded by her audience. Asked about a contemporary who never married, she replied, "No, she never marry. [Pause.] But she rehearse." And about herself: "I marry once, but after that I - how you say - freelance." A guest remarked that Danilova should have been a comedienne, to which she quickly responded, "Ah, but I am."

In one of the best Danilova stories, however, she doesn't say a word. A colleague tells of a banquet during a tour of Japan at which she noticed tears in Danilova's eyes. A Japanese gentleman was telling her that, after seeking for many years to reach a state of Nirvana, he had achieved it at the moment she lifted her famous ruffled skirts in Massine's Gaite Parisienne.