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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral