Obituary: Nicholas Beriosoff

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The Independent Online
Nicholas Beriosoff joined the Rene Blum Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo as a member of the corps de ballet in 1935 and fell under the influence of one of the century's greatest choreographers, Mikhail Fokine, who, noting his remarkable memory, put him to work as a repetiteur.

Beriosoff stayed with the troupe for more than a decade, during which time it suffered changes of management and eventually became known as Leonide Massine's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.

Beriosoff's small stature precluded any rise to fame as a dancer; his style was demi- caractere - that of a character dancer - and he shone in cameos such as one of the waiters in Gaite Parisienne and the chauffeur in The New Yorker, both ballets by Massine. He made his mark after the Second World War as a ballet master who could reproduce the classics in some recognisable form. "To be a ballet master," he said, "one must be old, and know not only the steps of the ballet but the way the great artists interpreted them."

In New York during and after the war, he acquired an 11th floor apartment on Sixth Avenue which became known in the profession as "Ramshackle Inn". The abode of itinerant dancers, it was beset with cockroaches which dropped from the ceilings, the kitchen stove and cracks in the walls.

Nicholas Beriosoff was born in Kaunus, Lithuania, in 1906. He learned to dance at the National Theatre, Prague. Returning to Kaunus he performed with the local company and married a dancer, Doris Catana, who bore him a daughter Svetlana. Svetlana Beriosova studied with Anatole Vilzak and Ludmila Shollar in New York, and became one of the brightest jewels of the Royal Ballet during the Fifties and Sixties.

With a decade of corps de ballet work behind him, Beriosoff had acquired a large knowledge of the classical repertoire which he soon put to good use. After the war he became ballet master of Ballet International, Paris, and Metropolitan Ballet, London, from whence he hopped to La Scala, Milan. He never stayed long in one place but spent several periods with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Ceuvas and London's Festival Ballet for whom he produced Petrushka, The Nutcracker, Scheherazade, Prince Igor, among others.

Some of his stagings were run-of-the-mill and his Esmeralda (1954) was less than satisfactory. To top everything, the traditional goat which accompanies Esmeralda persisted in urinating on the ballerina's feet and legs at every appearance, and when the pools of water grew larger and larger it had to be eliminated. The ballet was eventually cut to a single pas de deux.

Beriosoff was never denigrated for his failures. His enthusiasm carried him through. Tough and down-to-earth, he was liked and revered by fellow dancers, and he never stayed long enough in one place to become stale; there were always contracts in the offing.

Beriosoff was thrifty and possessed a shrewd business sense. Having settled back in Europe, he acquired dwellings in London and Paris which he let to dancers when he was abroad.

In 1962 he became ballet master of the Wurttemberg State Opera, Stuttgart; two years later he was appointed director of the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki where he produced The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Esmeralda and Le Sacre du prin-temps, a formidable list for one man to undertake in two seasons. He went on to direct the Zurich Ballet (1964- 71) and the San Carlo in Naples (1971-72), and in the late Seventies was appointed Head of Ballet at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. By this time Ramshackle Inn had been demolished and Beriosoff was a man of affluence.

When his memory began to wear thin, he continued to churn out his own versions of Ondine (music by Henze), 1965, Romeo and Juliet, 1966, and Cinderella (both with music by Prokofiev), 1967, as well as Fokine works such as Le Spectre de la rose, Le Coq d'or and L'Epreuve d'amour. Always in demand, he was willing to travel to the ends of the earth to produce for companies large or small, and by now his sphere of influence extended to Canada, South Africa and New York.

More recently he spent several seasons in Rome, where he produced a Fokine Festival evening which in 1988 was performed at the London Palladium by a French company, the Ballet-Theatre Francais de Nancy, with Rudolf Nureyev.

John Gregory

Nicholas Beriosoff, dancer, choreographer and ballet master: born Kaunus, Lithuania 16 May 1906; married Doris Catana (one daughter); died Zurich 18 February 1996.