Obituary: Oleg Kerensky

Oleg Kerensky, ballet critic and broadcaster: born London 9 January 1930; ballet critic for the Daily Mail 1957-71, New Statesman 1968-78, International Herald Tribune 1971-78; books include Ballet Scene 1970, Anna Pavlova 1973, The New British Drama 1977, The Guinness Guide to Ballet 1981; died New York 9 July 1993.

TO BE BORN with a famous name must be a problem as well as a help. Being grandson of Alexander Kerensky, head of the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, certainly helped Oleg in his Oxford days at Christ Church and as treasurer and Librarian of the Oxford Union. I heard about him and was interested long before we met in that same Union. Our years just overlapped.

The problem comes from people's expectations. Touched by history as Oleg Kerensky was, he would, I thought, be obsessed with politics. He wasn't. Well-connected and informed, having languages and an international outlook which made me jealous, he won his success at Oxford and later at the BBC through ability rather than his name. Political expectations remained unfulfilled along with interest in the bridges and motorways built by his designer father.

What absorbed him was the world and personalities of the arts, especially classical ballet, to which he was introduced by his mother. They appeared together at performances, he myopic and astigmatic, carrying powerful opera glasses to see the stage, she tiny beside his bulky height, a galleon and its pinnace sailing slowly among the Covent Garden crowds.

Companionship with words, written or spoken, was grounded, he told me, in education at Westminster School. Scattering them widely at first across broadcasts on many subjects, particularly for the BBC's European and World Services, he focused finally on arts commentary and dance criticism, where he made his name. He was for five years deputy editor of the BBC's journal the Listener before going freelance, from the late 1960s. His writing and speaking had neither the imagery of Gautier, the wit of Tynan nor the glitter of Buckle at his best. Instead he offered from 1957 to 1978 a plain man's guide to dance for readers of the Daily Mail, the New Statesman and the International Herald Tribune.

This practical approach led him to criticise both sides of the curtain. He condemned whispering, chattering, sweet-eating audiences as much as indifferent stage performance and was ready always to fuel controversy. In the Times, the Guardian and the Dancing Times as well as in his regular outlets he discussed male dancing and homosexuality and argued for changes in dance training and better employment for dancers after performing careers. Thus he was an opinion-former as well as a critic heard frequently on The Critics, The World of Books and other BBC arts programmes.

Words too were companions in daily life. Prolific in conversation, revelling in gossip, always entertaining, he stayed nevertheless an outsider, a loner, socially and professionally. His life, it seemed to me, remained always in the same key, the same smile, the same phrases and the same desires reflecting a world lived within himself but often sunless.

He moved latterly to the United States, where his occasional pieces in the Stage and elsewhere signalled across the ocean that his commitment to classical ballet remained even while he fought the cancer which killed him. Classical ballet, he wrote in Ballet Scene (1970), his best book, is 'the most international form of theatre . . . more poignant than spoken drama, more exciting than a sporting event, as entertaining as a variety show and as aesthetically satisfying as painting or sculpture . . . one of the highest forms of art.' At a time of threat to all art we need such champions.

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 People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?