Obituary: Nina Stroganova
Saturday 16 July 1994
NINA STROGANOVA was a dancer of distinction whose rise to ballerina status coincided with the gradual decline of that exotic hybrid known in the West as the 'ballet russe'. She was lyrical and restrained - a Nordic blonde of gentle physique reinforced with an inborn determination that gave her the stamina to succeed.
She was born Nina Strom in 1920, in Copenhagen. She studied ballet in the Bournonville style from teachers of the Royal Danish Ballet. Later she studied the Russian style with Olga Preobrajenska in Paris and danced in the Opera Comique from 1935 to 1936. Making her way to the United States, she studied further with Anatole Vilzak and danced with the Mordkin Ballet. In 1937 she returned to Europe to join Massine's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with whom she danced a number of solo roles. Some may still remember her sprightly, elegant faun (with George Skibine) in the first movement of Massine's ballet to Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Massine did not make particular use of her qualities. However her presence in the company and her ethereal delicacy caught the attention of the poet laureate John Masefield, who corresponded with her.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Stroganova returned to New York and rejoined the Mordkin company, where she danced Queen of the Wilis in Giselle and important roles in Swan Lake, Les Sylphides and Voices of Spring choreographed by Mordkin. In 1940, with others in the company, she joined the newly formed Ballet Theatre of Lucia Chase. With them she danced Lucille Grahn in Dolin's Pas de quatre (1941) and the cat to Eugene Loring's Peter in Adolf Bolm's production of Peter and the Wolf (1940).
During this time she married Vladimir Dokoudovsky, a robust dancer with powerful technique who was in contrast to her demure personality. In 1942 they joined de Basil's Ballet Russe at the Colon Theatre, Buenos Aires, and several years of touring in South America followed. Her repertoire included Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la rose, Les Presages, Le Beau Danube and Giselle. After the war she appeared with de Basil's company at the Metropolitan, New York, and in 1947 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The following year she was principal ballerina during a long tour of Spanish cities. By this time the company was falling into a dilapidated state and when it folded she and her husband made guest appearances in European opera houses.
Stroganova danced with the Royal Danish Ballet in 1950 and was presented with a medal from Danish balletomanes in honour of her being the first Danish dancer trained outside the Royal Theatre to appear with the company. Later that year while she and Dokoudovsky were dancing in Belgium the ageing de Basil, no longer in control of his company, sat in the wings at the opera house in Ghent to watch their performance. Their can-can drew such tremendous applause that an encore was demanded and to please their old director they repeated the dance.
After the death of de Basil, Stroganova and her husband appeared with the reformed company under the direction of George Kirsta on a tour of England which later gave a season at the Festival Hall and the Adelphi Theatre. Stroganova was a leading ballerina but the standard of the company was regrettably low. After it closed she returned to America and with her husband formed their own ballet troupe which appeared at Jacob's Pillow, Massachusetts in 1956.
Thereafter she taught for many years at Ballet Arts in the Carnegie Hall studios and in her own school in Englewood, New Jersey. Stroganova was a gifted teacher and during the three decades which followed she was much revered by all who studied with her.
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